Would You Buy a House Where an Unnatural Death Occurred?

The tidy house on a quiet, suburban street immediately caught Abdelhafid Fajri’s eye. It had everything he and his wife, Kathryn, had been looking for - a big yard, a great kitchen. And the new carpet and freshly painted walls were more than they’d hoped to find in a foreclosed house.

But the Blaine house also had a grisly past, one they discovered just days after they moved in, when a neighbor told them that the previous owner was murdered there by her husband.

The Fajris have since filed a lawsuit in Anoka County District Court against Edina Realty Inc., arguing that the real estate company knew about the murder and should have told them about it.

In the suit, the Fajris contend that murder is a material fact relating to the sale of the house.

“They think they bought a lemon. They feel they were duped,” said Martin Melang, the couple’s attorney.

Maria Verven, a spokeswoman for Edina Realty, said Friday that the company had no comment on the pending litigation.

TCF National Bank, which owned the foreclosed home, was originally named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit but has since been dismissed.

The case raises questions about what real estate agents and sellers have to reveal about a home’s past.

In general, real estate agents and sellers should disclose to prospective buyers if a murder has taken place on the property, experts say.

“There are some exemptions, but murder isn’t one of them,” said Chris Galler, chief operating officer for Minnesota Association of Realtors. “If a licensee is aware of a murder and the seller is aware, they both have an obligation.”

Minnesota law requires licensed agents to disclose anything that they know of that could affect an ordinary person’s use or enjoyment of the property.

Among the exemptions listed are if the place was the site of: a suicide, a natural death, an accidental death or perceived paranormal activity.

At a time when home sales are down nationwide, it’s hard to measure what effect a past crime may have on a home’s marketability. But Galler says there is no proof that a house’s history - even one that contains a murder - has a lingering effect on the home’s value.

A 2001 study published in the Journal of Real Estate Practice and Education surveyed 102 real estate agents in Ohio and found that homes with grisly histories, such as murders, sold for 3 percent less on average, but sat on the market 45 percent longer.

The murder of Helen Tomassoni, 45, stunned the neighborhood when it happened on July 21, 2007.

Her husband, Gary Tomassoni, had amassed a crippling gambling debt and also owed large amounts to family and friends. His wife had a $500,000 life insurance policy, naming him as the beneficiary.

He shot his wife twice in the head with a pistol in the couple’s bedroom, according to court records. The couple’s then-14-year-old son was in the house at the time and called 911.

Gary Tomassoni told police that an intruder had shot Helen, who was found face-down in her bed.

Police blocked off the neighborhood, using dogs and helicopters to search the area for the supposed intruder.

Blood was found in numerous spots around the house, including on clothes that had been put in the washing machine.

Last August, a jury convicted Gary Tomassoni of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole one month before the Fajris closed on their first house, the one where the Tomassonis had lived for 10 years.

The Fajris paid about $200,000 for it, a price they say they don’t expect to recoup if they sell, now that they know about the murder.

Before the couple filed the suit, they asked Edina Realty to take the house back, but they were turned down, they say.

Although they’ve been living there, they say they can’t enjoy it because they’re constantly reminded of the house’s recent ghastly past.

Sometimes they say they hear noises in the home and they feel like they have to keep the lights on all the time.

“I think about it every day,” Abdelhafid Fajri said in court records. “Every time I lay in bed, I think about it. Every time I hear something, I think about it.”

According to the lawsuit, they’re seeking damages in excess of $100,000 for the difference in market value plus “severe emotional distress” caused, they say, by discovery of the murder. They’re also asking the court to rescind the contract they made to purchase the house.

“They just want something that will make them whole again and put them in the place they would have been before,” Melang said.

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