Should I purchase a home that I found out, after submitting an offer, belongs to an alleged (charged but not convicted) pedophile?
June 28, 2012 5:21 AM   Subscribe

Should I purchase a home that I found out, after submitting an offer, belongs to an alleged (charged but not convicted) pedophile?

In the process of purchasing a home (we were haggling over price and very close to a purchase and sale agreement), I found out that the man I'm purchasing the home from is in jail awaiting trial on a charge of "indecent assault" of a child! His bail is set at about half the price of the home I was going to purchase. I found this out through a contractor I was going to hire to look at the home with me. He simply said, "Oh, yeah, that's X's house -- I've consulted with him on some foundation work." My partner -- curious about who the owner is -- googled him. She immediately found an article in the local paper from several months ago that states the mans name, his address (the address of the home I am to purchase), and discusses this charge and previous charges -- he was charged over 20 years ago with another sex crime (not with a minor) and was convicted of another charge, but not the sex crime. I think it's pretty clear he did it -- how many people get charged with two sex crimes in two different states in the course of their lives who didn't do anything? So, the dilemma is this: I can't get over the fact that I would be paying his bail if I bought the home and yet I'm pretty sure someone else would buy it if I didn't. We love the home and it's well priced (I gather they need money fast for attorney and such) but, ugh!!! An additional complication is that I dont think I can legally say "Well, you agreed to my offer that we both have signed (assuming they do and they very well might), but I don't want the home anymore because of who the owner is." That being said, I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to back-out after the inspection for whatever issues arise. Thoughts?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (41 answers total)
Innocent until proven guilty. Go through with the sale.
posted by smorange at 5:24 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are you certain that, by purchasing your house, that you would be therefore paying his bail? I'm not seeing the proof of that. Yeah, he'll be getting a big chunk of money, but he could be using that for paying off the debts he's got on the house, or starting a legal fund for his defense (yeah, good luck with that, dude) or any one of a number of things.

I'm not seeing where he'd definitely be using the money for bail. In fact, if you look at it as "I'm taking a house away from him so now he doesn't have a 'lair' to work in", it may even be a good thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:27 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My only worry with buying it would be some jackass 8 months from now thinking they're going to "show that pedophile what for" and dump a bucket of paint on your garage door and throw a rock through you window. People do stupid things for less than intelligent reasons.

And yeah.... innocent until proven guilty. Wouldn't you want that same level of respect?
posted by zombieApoc at 5:28 AM on June 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

I can't get over the fact that I would be paying his bail if I bought the home and yet I'm pretty sure someone else would buy it if I didn't. We love the home and it's well priced (I gather they need money fast for attorney and such) but, ugh!!!

Bail is part of our legal process, and paying it is not a morally repugnant act. Were you to directly pay this dude's bail you would not be making any sort of statement about your belief in his innocence, or his worthiness, or your support. You would simply be letting him spend his pretrial time outside of jail.

That said, you aren't even paying this dude's bail. You're buying his house, which has no moral implications whatsoever. If he were convicted, instead of awaiting trial, and his family was selling his house because he's going to jail, would you feel similarly? You have no moral imperative to avoid purchasing the house.

Innocent until proven guilty. Go through with the sale.

This is a legal position, not a moral or personal one. Everyone is welcome to come to their own judgements about matters like these as long as they aren't serving on a jury. Your choice here has nothing to do with whether he is innocent until proven guilty under the law.
posted by OmieWise at 5:30 AM on June 28, 2012 [25 favorites]

An additional complication is that I dont think I can legally say "Well, you agreed to my offer that we both have signed (assuming they do and they very well might), but I don't want the home anymore because of who the owner is."

You can absolutely back out for any reason and keep your "earnest money" at this stage of the game.

However, the only concern that should be on your mind is how the history of the home will affect its resale value. I don't really think it will. So if you like it, buy it.
posted by deanc at 5:32 AM on June 28, 2012

Check the size of the mortgage he'll have to pay off. He might not see a dime of that money, especially in today's housing market.
posted by mikewas at 5:33 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you feel uncomfortable with it, personally, then it's up to you if having a house you like cheaply is worth your personal discomfort.

But I don't believe anyone else will judge you for it, if you're worried about how other people will feel.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:33 AM on June 28, 2012

What is your opportunity cost for *not* buying the house? What do you lose in time spent looking for a new house, extra money being paid for a different house that isn't as low-priced, and differential in value with a different house that you simply might not like as much? Answering these questions will give you a number to weigh against the cost of being a party to a transaction with someone you believe to be a criminal.
posted by Citrus at 5:35 AM on June 28, 2012

You can't be worried about what someone does with the money when you purchase something from them. What if you were buying a house from someone who is selling it to buy cocaine to distribute to children at a schoolyard but that person isn't googleable? Buy the house, let the legal people do the prosecuting, your tax dollars are paying for the process of what to do with the bad people in our society.
posted by Yellow at 5:36 AM on June 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

A friend of mine got a house from a man awaiting such charges for a song -- you could say he was a motivated seller because he knew he wouldn't be needing a house for another 30 years or so. I'd say low-ball him and use the difference to renovate!
posted by mibo at 5:38 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't see any moral issue here. He is entitled to sell his property and use those proceeds for bail if he so chooses, regardless of the nature of the charges.

Is it just the yuk factor that's putting you off? Would it help if I told you that was an irrational fear? If you knew somebody died in your current home, would it change how you think of it? What about domestic abuse? I imagine you could overcome your discomfort with a bit of rationalising, time in the house and some generous redecoration, but it's something you're going to have to be sure of before going through with the purchase.
posted by londonmark at 5:43 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

How do any of us know that our homes weren't previously owned by pedophiles?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:50 AM on June 28, 2012 [20 favorites]

We have a court system; it's their job to judge whether or not release on bail is safe or appropriate. However, they're imperfect. Take some time to read up, and see if you believe the individual is violent and/or likely to commit crimes while on bail. If you feel that the court has made a serious error, then by all means, follow your own ethics. It's really more likely the judge has things under control.

Innocent until proven guilty is a civil right. Individuals are free are free to make honest appraisals of others, and to act on them (unless they judge on race, age, color, religion, sex, etc.), and you should act on your own set of morals(on preview, as the eponstyrical OmieWise notes).

I was deeply squicked out when told that my home was once occupied by a prominent KKK member. I made my own efforts to rid my home of any lingering bad vibes, and moved on. It's a house; it should have its karma adjusted by loving people, but living in a space a presumably bad man lived in isn't awful. Initially, there may be some talk about "Didn't Perp live there?" esp. if there's a trial, but I think it's manageable.

You've paid some earnest money? You need to talk to your real estate agent. Your agent should have known and should have informed you, because this really affects the value of the house, and the size of the offer. This information would have let you know the buyer was likely to take a low offer. Personally, I would ask my real estate agent to give up some commission for not doing any research, and not helping me make the best deal. No agent? Live and learn.

Personally, I'd buy the house, burn some sage, and rehab the house into a home where violence isn't tolerated.
posted by theora55 at 5:58 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is why we do arms-length real estate transactions. The moral nature of the seller is and ought to be irrelevant. If the house is on the market, you want to buy it, and it's at a price that you can afford and are willing to pay, buy it. Doesn't matter who's selling.
posted by valkyryn at 5:58 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

zombieApoc: "My only worry with buying it would be some jackass 8 months from now thinking they're going to "show that pedophile what for" and dump a bucket of paint on your garage door and throw a rock through you window."

This was my concern, along with having your house show up on those sex offender registry websites, if the records are not updated promptly or properly.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:01 AM on June 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Buy it. What the owner does with the money is irrelevant, and you should assume that he is innocent anyway until he's convicted.
posted by FrereKhan at 6:02 AM on June 28, 2012

I am a real estate investor. I buy and sell houses a lot. Personally, to me, buying a home should be a calculated, level-headed investment decision. To me, the personal life of the previous owner is completely irrelevant. I am interested in the future market potential.

At the same time, I know that many home buyers are emotionally and spiritually attached to there homes. This is a reality that I deal with buying and selling homes. It is very common. If you think that the knowledge of the previous owner is giving you bad karma or bad vibes - that will not go away, and may only grow over time.

If you are getting bad vibes about the home, be careful. Becoming emotionally invested in a home that gives you bad vibes might not turn out so well.
posted by Flood at 6:05 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My concern, like zombieApoc and Rock Steady, would be that you will end up on a sex offender registry, or you will get someone getting revenge on the pedophile by doing something to your house or car.
posted by jeather at 6:05 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, gotta agree with the folks saying that the seller's alledged immoral and illegal acts aren't real reasons not to go through with this purchase --- the house isn't the problem, it's the soon-to-be-former owner, and he'll be the former owner whether you buy it or someone else does.

The only real considerations I'd see here could be mostly solved by introducing yourselves (perhaps with a plate of cookies in hand) to your new neighbors --- who'll probably be thrilled to have you living there instead of him! plus, as you should with any real estate purchase, changing all the door locks. (And maybe, just as an extra touch: put your last name on your mailbox, to make it clear Mr. Pedophile is not the current resident.)
posted by easily confused at 6:07 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

If he's not in the house then that address shouldn't end up on the registry so I don't think vandalism will be a big worry (if it was anyway). If anything you could keep an eye on your local registry and make sure he doesn't give a false address, but I suspect the court would check on it.
posted by ftm at 6:28 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Buy the house. Let the legal system take care of him.

If you're squicked out by they whole thing, get some sage and smudge the house before you move in.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:32 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the sage, and have a big moving in party!
posted by mareli at 6:39 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I bought my house from a guy with a very shady reputation. Within the next year he was charged and convicted of fraud having played fast and loose with money that was not his. I don't know where much of the proceeds of the money I spent for the house went and I don't really care. At closing, I knew that a bit under half of it was going to pay off a loan that he had and the rest, as far as I know, went into his pocket. I had strong hunch at the time, but not hard evidence, that he owed others associated with his shady business deals. As far as I'm concerned, that's between him and them. Being aware of his nature during the purchase, I engaged a lawyer and made very sure that my purchase was on the up and up and that there would be no issues with the title. Morally, I don't feel any qualms about having made the deal. In fact, I'm very happy and satisfied that I was able to get this guy out of my neighborhood and physically away from other family members, friends, and neighbors. In the end, we do still deal with occasional calls from debt collectors trying to reach him (not sure why they don't just google his name to find out that he's in jail), but that's a very minor annoyance. I'd say you should consider using the information you have as additional leverage during the process to potentially get a better deal and buy the house.
posted by pappy at 6:44 AM on June 28, 2012

Yellow states it clearly & succinctly, IMO: "You can't be worried about what someone does with the money when you purchase something from them." That's the issue here.

The 'presumption of innocence' advice, while admirable, is irrelevant to this situation. Of course, if you're squicked, move on. But you're not buying his bail; you're buying his house. And we live in a market economy, so get the best price you can.
posted by LonnieK at 6:44 AM on June 28, 2012

Some years ago, I purchased an alleged "drug house" in an area where the struggle to keep the neighborhood from decline was paramount. I put a great deal of time and energy into turning that place around and the rewards were tremendous. I had the instant friendship and camaraderie of the neighbors and eventually when I sold off the place, I helped a young family get a start.

Maybe you're just feeling the proverbial "cold feet" about purchasing a home? You have utterly no way of knowing several things about the property you're negotiating to purchase, including whether the current owner is guilty of crimes (this is for judge and jury to decide, not for you via Google and hearsay to determine) and you most certainly are not "paying his bail" as you put it. I've worked in the office of a law firm in the past and criminal cases have complexities that you can't imagine (or Google).

If you truly want this house, go for it, and then make it your own! Put a fresh coat of paint, landscape the yard, remodel. Make friends with your neighbors and BE a good neighbor yourself. Those folks probably are desperate for good people to help make their neighborhood livable and safe.

Keep your eyes on the future, not the past and not your speculation of its present state. You have a wonderful opportunity to make a bad thing good, I would encourage you not to pass it up.
posted by kuppajava at 6:51 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Buy the house if you want the house. If you're nervous about buying the house, and this is just the tipping point/excuse you've been looking for, walk away. Or, if you're going to end up hating your house because you're constantly thinking about this dude, walk away. You don't want to live in a house you end up hating/worried about. Only you can know if this will make you feel that way.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:07 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not to be a cynic, but now you know that this guy may be very motivated indeed for a quick sale. Are you sure that nothing in the inspection makes you want to demand it be fixed before going through with it?
posted by tyllwin at 7:42 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your wife google/stalked someone you were going to buy a home from and you found out something unpleasant about him. That information has nothing to do with you or the home. Buy the home and focus your energy on other things. Your new neighbors will be so excited to have anyone other the the other guy living there. Grateful neighbors is the only thing that buying a house from a pervert will get you.
posted by myselfasme at 7:50 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd be careful about saying he is certainly guilty, I remember about a year ago there was a major murder story in the news where the police had a suspect who just looked the part, the media ran with the story, I was in a conversation with about 10 people and it was almost unanimous that he certainly did it (one of the most convincing pieces of "evidence" for some was that it had been reported that years earlier he had lived near the location of another similar murder that had never been solved) , turns out he didn't do it (they caught the guy who did) and he ended up successfully suing a couple of major papers for libel. Point being it's not always as simple as it looks and the media can easily mislead you when it comes to these sort of crimes.

Additionally if he needs this money for attorney fees the question you've got to ask yourself is does someone accused of a crime deserve competent legal advocacy, regardless of what that crime is? I would humbly suggest that they do and we probably don't want to live in a society where you can have your access to advocacy de facto denied (which is what it looks like would happen in this case if every potential buyer took your stance).
posted by purplemonkeydishwasher at 7:55 AM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Many police department's in the US maintain a "hazard file" in their in-house database (not part of networked state or federal law-enforcement databases). Incidents, arrests and other information are added to the file so that an officer en route to an address can learn if there has been a history of certain type of calls there or if a violent ex-felon or sex-offender lives there.

If you do buy the house, visit the PD and explain you just bought the house and want the in-house database updated. More to say on this but I am at work using phone. Feel free to email me for more info if you need it.
posted by mlis at 8:28 AM on June 28, 2012

have a big moving in party!

Heck, the neighbors will throw the party for you. Can you imagine how happy they will be to see you move in? You are single-handedly improving their happiness and their property value.

Take the house!
posted by Houstonian at 8:39 AM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think it's pretty clear he did it -- how many people get charged with two sex crimes in two different states in the course of their lives who didn't do anything?

Doesn't it make sense that after a person is charged/convicted once, having that incident on their record leads to more suspicion in the future, thus resulting in a second charge that may not have come about had they never had a brush with the law in the past? I am totally not saying this guy is likely innocent. Maybe he's guilty. But basing your decision on whether to buy the house on a knee-jerk reaction that only guilty people get charged with crimes doesn't seem like the most logical action. Take this guy out of the equation, his legal troubles are none of your concern.
posted by coupdefoudre at 8:56 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My only worry would be that the address is going to be in some do-gooder's website listing of area pedophiles; assuming this is the man's first offense, he's not on the sex offender registry (check that) and that would be the typical source of such a webpage. However, if the victim of the assault (whomever the true perp) has an acquaintance or relative who's willing to risk a slander charge to inform the world that your house contains a pedophile, that's something to find out.

After that, make it your own house and home. People will forget that whats-his-face ever lived there, whether he's guilty or innocent.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:04 AM on June 28, 2012

My father was wrongfully accused by his ex psycho wife. He had to sell his house because he wanted to get the hell away from her and her crazy family.

Sex offender databases are updated regularly; I doubt anyone will be coming by to harrass thinking he's there.
posted by KogeLiz at 9:25 AM on June 28, 2012

Buy the house in the knowledge that you're making the neighborhood a better place.

(also, your purchase of the house doesn't actually get him cash unless he's got significant equity. All you're doing is reallocating his assets, not "giving him money".)

Even if it's not your style, get a nameplate for the mailbox or a door-hanging name sign - aesthetically I've never been much of one for hanging "The Joneses" in front of Mr. Jones' house, but in this case it would serve a definite purpose, if someone comes by the address looking for the previous occupant.
posted by aimedwander at 9:41 AM on June 28, 2012

Buy the house. Walk around and introduce yourself to the neighbors. If, on the off chance, someone does egg the house or whatever, put a sign in the yard that says, "New owners! He is gone! Thanks!"
posted by haplesschild at 10:04 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd be more worried about that "foundation work" that your contractor mentioned.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 11:33 AM on June 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

If you want the house, buy the house and make it yours with paint, love, landscaping, and good vibes.

If you don't want the house, look for something else to make your home.

Don't be swayed by our logical advice. You're the one who has to live there.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:49 AM on June 28, 2012

The Spike Lee tweeting an incorrect address for George Zimmerman fiasco would make me a wee bit paranoid about vigilantism. Stay informed about his case and be aware of any and all public records - court filings, sex offender registry, police record, social media - that might contain your address. Put your name on the mailbox.
posted by moammargaret at 12:31 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Buy the house. Being charged twice with a sex crime in 20 years doesn't make you guilty of the sex crime. And even if you do in effect secure his release from custody by buying his house, that's not a bad thing. The redivism rate for sex offenders is very, very low (somwhere between 5 and 10 percent), and while he's awaiting trial, he may have some form of monitoring anyway (ankle bracelet/random checks with a probation officer, etc), so the community as a whole is probably not any more threatened by him being out of custody than by being in custody. Also, assuming that in fact, he isn't guilty (and remember, the presumption is that he is not guilty), he will have a better shot at a fair trial if he's not in jail. In the last 2 1/2 years, I've taken about 30 cases to trial, and only two of those times were the clients in jail at the time --- simply put, when you're in jail, you tend to make bad decisions, and take bad deals, and not spend the effort to fight for your innocence the way someone would if they were on the outside, pondering a jail sentence if convicted of the crime.
posted by Happydaz at 1:26 PM on June 28, 2012

N'thing that you should buy the house if you like it and feel it is a good value and fit for you. Also confirming that foundation is probably a more serious concern. Ignoring moral concern over potentially funding bail, better answers above.

DIsreard those who say buying a house should be a purely financial decision. Buying a "home" is an inherently emotional decision. If you truly aren't comfortable with the history of the home, that is your prerogative and it is legitimate. A home isn't an "investment" to be run purely by the numbers. Do the practicality checks, but listen to your heart. You want to build a life there, right?

Is it possible any of the alleged actions took place on the property? Even if not, due to public dissemination of addresses in sex offender registries (regardless of how quickly they are updated), this strikes me as a "material disclosure" not terribly unlike death on the property . (For California). Many states require this; if one can prove there was a material omission or misrepresentation in the disclosure statement, the contract should be void. IANAL and recommend you seek the advice of a real estate attorney should you choose not to proceed and they give you a hard time.

All this said, refer to original advice: if it makes sense financially and you love it, go for it. My hunch is that it is an opportunity to get a deal. Good luck!
posted by keasby at 11:55 AM on November 21, 2012

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