From crime to ghost stories: Why uncovering a home's gruesome past requires homework
Disclosure of a home’s structural or mechanical defects, covenants on the property and anything that could affect its physical integrity are legally required and are often discoverable through a professional inspection.
But when it comes to intangible characteristics, it’s “buyer beware” for British Columbia home owners because what impact’s one person’s desire for a property may not have any bearing for someone else.
Homicides, suicides, violent assaults, criminal activity or links with organized crime – even ghosts or other paranormal activity – are all considered “stigmas” that aren’t considered a defect under B.C. laws. If a prospective buyer asks about a home’s history, the sellers are obligated to tell them, but it’s not an automatic disclosure.
“A stigmatized property is different from a property that has a defect,” explained Real Estate Council Executive Officer Erin Seeley. “It's often subjective.”
One such property listed for sale several times was the former home of Gang Yuan. The wealthy Chinese businessman was found murdered in his British Properties home in 2015. He was shot and his body had been cut into a hundred pieces. Yuan shared the home with his cousin and her husband, Li Zhao, as well as their child, Florence. TV crews featured her inside the 11,000-square-foot house on the reality show 'Ultra Rich Asian Girls.'
Zhao’s criminal trial in connection with the 52-year-old's killing is still ongoing and there have been multiple legal claims to Yuan’s fortune.
The house at 963 King Georges Way was first listed for sale in 2016 for $10,800,000. That listing expired, as did the next one posted in April 2017. It was re-listed in November of 2017 under a new address: 961 King Georges Way. It sold the following spring.
CTV News reached the realtor who listed and marketed that property to ask her if she disclosed the property’s history to the new owners.
“Everybody knows,” said realtor Melissa Wu. “Who doesn’t know? It’s in the news.”
Wu says she notified the buyer’s agent in writing and when asked what led to the address change, she replied the owners did it of their own accord “for feng shui,” a traditional Chinese philosophy centred on energy flows and good luck.
The District of West Vancouver tells CTV News it currently charges $1,200 for address changes upon approval of an application through a one-page form. When asked for sample statistics, the district said it received 26 applications in 2015 and 18 in 2018, all of which were approved. The City of Vancouver says it approves requests for address changes provided there are sufficient numbers on the street, issuing 55 such permits last year.
The idea of changing the address of a stigmatized property has Simon Fraser University property law professor Ron Usher urging prospective buyers to go beyond the easy step of googling a property’s address.
“Talk to your neighbours. Ask around,” he said, suggesting making a list of factors that could affect your decision to buy a home, whether it’s noise considerations or a violent death on the property.
“Is the price lower than you expected? Ask why that is. The goal is to have a no-surprises purchase.”
Usher reiterated the Real Estate Council’s point that what may be a deal-breaker for one buyer, may not be an issue for someone else – especially if the final purchase price is what’s most important to them.
When Yuan’s King Georges Way house sold in May of last year it went for $6,450,000, at a time its BC Assessment value was $10,359,000. CTV News tried to speak directly to the new owners but couldn’t reach them.
Seeley reiterated how important it is for B.C. buyers to know “the law is still really buyer beware and that's where I'd emphasize the due diligence and giving direction to your representative to do that research and to ask direct questions of the seller before you enter any contract to purchase a sale.”