Janet Milliken was trying to escape tragedy when she moved from California to Delaware County in 2007 following the death of her husband. But her tribulations merely multiplied after she realized the home she purchased for $610,000 was the site of a murder-suicide – and she's now taking her case to the state Supreme Court.
"We think it's an important issue that should be decided by the highest court in Pennsylvania," said Milliken's attorney Timothy Rayne. "The issue being whether a psychological stigma – in this case, a murder-suicide – can be considered a material defect that needs to be disclosed in a residential real estate transaction."
A decision handed down last month by the state Superior Court found that, while buyers must be advised of a host of structural deficiencies and pest problems, shocking crimes of violence aren't included in that list.
"I think an average buyer would be more disturbed to learn that a gunshot murder-suicide had occurred in the master bedroom of the house than to learn that maybe the basement had a little bit of a leak or the roof leaked in the upstairs bathroom," said Rayne, who recently appealed the decision.
"Physical defects are things that can be fixed, but the fact that a horrible thing happened in this property is something that will never go away." Rayne said he has experts willing to testify that the event reduced the house's value by 10 to 15 percent.
For now, Milliken still lives in the home – ironically, she doesn't feel comfortable putting it on the market without advising potential buyers of its bloody background. "If she were to sell the home, she believes that she would have to disclose the issue and that it would reduce the value of the property," Rayne said. "That's what the lawsuit is all about."
Prior to the home's purchase by Kathleen and Joseph Jacono, who quickly flipped it to Milliken, it belonged to 50-year-old Konstantinos Koumboulis, who on Feb. 11, 2006 fatally shot his wife Georgia in the master bedroom before turning the gun on himself.
According to court documents, the Jaconos and their agents with Re/Max Town and Country knew about the property's bleak background, but at least two state real estate organizations told them they weren't required to share the information with prospective buyers.
Rayne said exactly what information must be disclosed "is one of those issues that is unsettled under Pennsylvania law."
But Re/Max counsel Abraham Reich said he's satisfied with the most recent court decision. "While it is certainly an interesting issue, we do not believe it is the type of issue that comes up with enough regularity to warrant the Supreme Court to look at it," he said.