Murder houses: Why selling a crime scene is hell
Homicide houses, paedophile lairs, drug labs and brothels - selling homes with a nefarious past is a tricky business for real estate agents.
Disclosing a property's tragic and criminal history is an issue agents grapple with daily, says Real Estate Institute NSW CEO Tim McKibbon.
NSW property agents must disclose "material facts" to prospective buyers such as recent violent deaths and serious criminal activity which may affect their decision to purchase.
That law came into effect after the 2004 sale of the Sef Gonzales house to a couple who weren't told that 21-year-old Sef had slaughtered his family in the property in 2001.
While murders are clear cut, other material facts and crimes are less straightforward and there's no exhaustive list to refer to, he said.
"The issue of a serious crime is difficult for us because it's somewhat subjective," Mr McKibbon said. "Obviously on one end of the scale you've got murder, but a lot of us would also consider domestic violence a serious crime.
"So then, are we in a position we're where required to try and determine if there was domestic violence at a property?"
"It then gets worse … because the real estate agent has to make the disclosure if they are aware of it, but the vendor and the vendor's solicitor do not."
If owners do not disclose material facts, the agent must undertake reasonable inquiries to discover them, and if they do, they are obligated to make the disclosure to buyers - but need the vendor's consent to do so as it will adversely affect the price.
Mr McKibbon receives regular calls from agents trying to decipher the material facts matrix, from sex offenders to suicides, nightmare neighbours and homes of convicted killers who committed a murder elsewhere but washed the blood off at home.
When in doubt his mantra is " be safe, make the disclosure" and if a home is too problematic, such as that of a sex offender, he suggests the owner sells it themselves.
However in good news for vendors, after five years or by the second sale, a "stigmatised' property gets a clean slate.
"So in the case of the Gonzales home, the purchaser when he or she decides to sell it, they wouldn't have to disclose (the murders). Their purchase would have washed the stigma clean."
Mr McKibbon says while NSW Fair Trading has provided some guidance around material facts, more could be done to protect consumers.
"Once we know what a material fact is, then the duty to disclose that should be on both the vendor, the vendor's solicitor and the agent. And lastly, put it in the contract where everything else appears in relation to the property."
SYDNEY HOMES WITH A DARK HISTORY
Barker St, Kingsford
On 15 September 2003, Ram Puneet Tiwary brutally killed his flatmates Chow Lyang Tay and Poh Chuan Tan in their rented top-floor unit at Kingsford.
The Singaporean students were studying at UNSW when Tiwary committed the killings. He attacked Mr Tay with a softball bat before stabbing him in their lounge room, before beating Mr Tan so savagely, part of his brain was exposed.
The unit was last listed for rent in 2009 for $550 a week.
Loch St, Campsie.
Chinese student Qi Yu, 28, was killed by her roommate in their Campsie unit before her partially naked body was found dumped 40km away on the side of the M1 Motorway - nearly seven weeks after she disappeared on June 8, 2018.
Shuo Dong later pleaded guilty to her murder and was sentenced to 18 years. A court heard he lured her from her room by switching off power in their home and when a third housemate arrived home, she noticed a large red mark on the stairs. Prior to dumping her body, Dong had googled "How would homicide be sentenced in Australia". He was jailed for 13 and a half years. The property was last sold in 2019 for an undisclosed price.
Hill Rd, West Pennant Hills.
In a crime that shocked the nation, John Edwards shot dead his children Jack, 15, and Jennifer, 13, on July 5, 2018, in their northwest Sydney home. John took his own life shortly after the murders. Their mother, Olga, killed herself five months later in the home where her children died.
The West Pennant Hills home where the teenage children and mother died sold in July for $1.1 million and the bulldozers have moved in to demolish it.
Edwards four-bedroom home in Harris Rd, Normanhurst, where he took his own life, sold in 2018 for $1,050,000 after just 48 days on the market.
Just over a week after it came on the market in 2017, the Davidson home where a family of four died in tragic circumstances sold for an undisclosed price.
Martin, 10, and Elisa, 11, and their mother, Maria Claudia Lutz, 43, died in October 2016 when father Fernando Manrique, 44, rigged up a gas piping system at the family home in Davidson to kill himself and his family as they slept.
The property was marketed with a price guide of $1.25 million, well below the median house sale price at the time of $1.61 million. It was sold with full disclosure as required by law.
Collins St, North Ryde
Sef Gonzales, 21, killed his sister Clodine and parents Terry and Mary Loiva in their family home in Ryde on July 10, 2001. He then attempted to make the murders appear to be a hate crime by writing "F … off Asians KKK" on a wall and later made a public plea for help to catch the killers.
Gonzales was arrested in June 2002 and later convicted of the killings.
The sale of his family home in 2004 went on to highlight a major problem with Sydney property at the time, after a Buddhist couple put down a ten per cent $80,000 non-refundable deposit on the home without being told about its history. Real estate firm LJ Hooker later paid back the deposited sum and two agents were fined by the NSW Office of Fair Trading. The house sold for $720,000 after 65 days on the market to another buyer the following year. It later became mandatory for agents to reveal when a murder has occurred inside a home.
Boundary Rd, North Epping
In July 2009, Kathy Lin returned home to find the bodies of five of her family members. The murders were so brutal that blood had been splashed on walls and surfaces across the house. Her husband Robert Xie was found guilty in 2017 by a jury of murdering three adults and two children in the Boundary Rd home in the early hours of July 18, 2009. Xie's newsagent brother-in-law Min Lin, 45, his wife Lily Lin, 43, the couple's sons Henry, 12, and nine-year-old Terry, and Lily's 39-year-old sister, Irene, suffered horrific head injuries when they were attacked with a hammer-like object attached to a rope.
While it took nine years and four trials to convict Xie, the four-bedroom, three-bathroom house sold much faster. In 2012, it sold for $766,000 - the material fact of the murders disclosed to all qualified buyers, with death certificates included in the contract.
Kippax St, Surry Hills
Dubbed the "woman Sydney forgot", Natalie Jean Wood's skeletal remains were found in 2011 in the dilapidated Surry Hills home, where they had lain undiscovered for almost eight years. She was 86 years old.
A recluse last seen collecting medicine for blood pressure in 2003, by the time she was discovered, the home was uninhabitable. It was believed she fell and died on the bedroom floor of the home she'd spent most of her life in.
Since the grim discovery, the home has changed hands twice, selling for $1.105 million in 2016 and again in 2020 for $1.650 million.
Goodsir St, Rozelle
Defying the stigma surrounding the gruesome 2009 murder of the Frisoli brothers, who were murdered in the lounge room, the Rozelle property sold for $200,000 above reserve when it went under the hammer in 2014. Bought by a Byron Bay buyer for $2.265 million, of the 10 groups who showed interest in the property, just three walked away once they heard about its history. The man who stabbed Albert and Mario Frisoli to death after a soured business dispute, Guiseppe Di Cianni, was sentenced to at least 30 years in jail for the two murders.
Acting Justice Robert Shallcross Hulme, who described the ambush as "frenzied", said the murders were premeditated, with Di Cianni doing surveillance at his victim's home in the days leading up to the murders and wearing a woman's wig and a scar to avoid being caught on CCTV cameras located around the home.
Liverpool Street, Sydney
This luxury Sydney unit is where Simon Gittany threw fiancee Lisa Harnum to her death from a balcony in "a fit of rage" when she tried to leave him in July 2011.
CCTV footage showed Gittany dragging Ms Harnum back inside the apartment they rented 69 seconds before she plunged to her death.
He was found guilty by Justice Lucy McCallum, who found Gittany had "unloaded" Ms Harnum "over the edge" of the balcony as "there is not a doubt in my mind that he was in a state of rage at that point and had lost control of his temper."
The sprawling modern unit was sold four years later in 2015 for $2,250,000 after 96 days on the market, according to CoreLogic. It was last listed for rent in September for $1250 a week.
Cranbrook Ave, Cremorne
Father-of-four Michael McGurk, 45, was shot dead in front of a young relative as he climbed out of his Mercedes out the front of his Cranbrook Ave home on the night of September 3, 2009.
Millionaire property developer Ron Edward Medich was sentenced to a maximum 39 years' for the "abhorrent and heinous" murder of his business enemy and the subsequent intimidation of his widow. McGurk's estate, which had previously traded in 2000 for $1.65 million, sold for $4.5 million two years after the killing.
Originally published as Murder houses: Why selling a crime scene is hell