Listing for home where ‘recluse’ lay dead for weeks under investigation

A Sydney real estate agency is under investigation by NSW Fair Trading over a property where the home-owner lay dead for up to two months.

Photos of the derelict apartment with an asking price of $775,000 in Wollstonecraft, on Sydney’s lower north shore, began circulating online earlier this month.

One image of the bedroom’s damaged floor shows the area where a prospective buyer claimed the dead man’s body had been found.

Photographs of the flat which were posted to Twitter earlier this month. The two-bedroom Wollstonecraft apartment in Sydney's lower north shore was put on the market last month, with an asking price of $775,000. Source: Twitter

“Deceased estate sale in a Sydney apartment where the person literally died in the place and wasn’t discovered for 2 months,” the person posted online.

“This is the bedroom carpet where they were found. Estate selling ‘as is’”.

NSW Fair Trading confirmed to Yahoo News Australia that it was looking into the matter.

“Agents should ensure that all information in a publication (including photographs on a website, or in internet advertising) is accurate and does not create a false impression,” it said in a written statement provided to Yahoo.

“NSW Fair Trading is assessing this matter further.”

Under law, agents must not conceal or suppress information about a property if there is a reasonable expectation that the information will be of concern to a buyer or seller, and that information is not readily apparent.

A photo of the Wollstonecraft apartment's grimy bathroom which was posted online by a potential buyer earlier this month. Source: Twitter

Other photos of the property showed similar scenes of grime, dirt and neglect, which were not apparent in the real estate agent’s online advertisement for the two-bedroom property that has been described as “a blank canvas ready to be reinvented”.

Also not reflected in the listing was the apartment’s past history, including the fact that the body of the previous owner had lay dead in the home for several weeks.

ABC News reported that the owner, Udo Jan Van Der Meer, was a "recluse" who died in the flat in late 2017 but was not discovered until neighbours noticed they hadn’t seen him for some months.

"We noticed a smell and flies hanging around, so we called the police and they came to investigate and they found his body inside," a neighbour told the national broadcaster.

Following inquiries by the ABC to Di Jones Neutral Bay about the “doctored” images, the photos in the listing were amended.

The apartment's kitchen appeared spotless in the real estate agent's original listing. This image has since been deleted from the listing. Source: Di Jones

A spokesperson for NSW Fair Trading told the ABC an investigation had been launched into the use of doctored photos, adding that real estate agents "must act honestly, fairly and professionally with all parties involved in a property transaction".

However, the description for the listing still fails to mention that a person had died at the property and subsequently remained there for sometime.

According to the CEO of the Real Estate Institute of NSW (REINSW), Tim McKibbon, a real estate agent is required to “disclose a death if it happens within the legal definition of the property”, he told realestate.com.au.

The 'doctored' image of the apartment's master bedroom which was deleted from the real estate listing following inquiries by ABC News. Source: Di Jones
A photo of the master bedroom showing the damage to the floor which replaced the allegedly 'doctored' image. Source: Di Jones

This ruling came after a 2004 review into NSW laws surrounding disclosures to buyers about the history of a property, which was prompted by the sale of a Sydney home in which Sef Gonzales murdered his family.

The property was sold to buyers who were not aware of the house’s past. Upon learning the truth, the buyers refused to proceed with the purchase and the agent had to refund their deposit. The house was subsequently sold for less than the original price.

The law changed as a result of that review and real estate agents must now disclose any ‘material fact’ before they can sell a property. However, what a ‘material fact’ constitutes isn’t always clear.

NSW Fair Trading states that a material fact “is a fact that would be important to a reasonable person in deciding whether or not to proceed with a particular transaction”.

Yahoo News Australia has contacted Di Jones for comment in relation to the matter.

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