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**Buyer unaware of Orangeville home’s grim history, abandons sale **

September 30, 2011
Brendan Kennedy

The house in Orangeville, Ont., that had been owned by murder victim Sonia Varaschin was listed for sale last month for $209,000.
Curtis Rush/Toronto Star File Photo

*Soon after moving into their seemingly idyllic new home, a family learns of a brutal crime committed against former residents of the dwelling . . . *
That’s the one-sentence synopsis of Dream House, a new Hollywood thriller — opening Friday — starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz.
And it was almost a reality for Samuel Jacques, a 30-year-old Bolton resident who was all set to buy his family’s first home until he saw the two-storey townhouse flash across his television screen last month.
Jacques was watching the evening news on the anniversary of the unsolved murder of Sonia Varaschin, the 42-year-old Orangeville nurse who was reported missing Aug. 30, 2010 and found dead six days later.
Without knowing anything about the murder, Jacques had just days earlier handed over a $5,000 deposit on Varaschin’s former Spring St. home.
“. . . and Varaschin’s Orangeville home has just been sold,” the newscaster said.
Goosebumps sprung up on Jacques’s arms and neck while he watched images of white-clad forensics officers ducking under yellow crime-scene tape and into what was to become his new home.
“It’s not the way a person should find out about a situation like that,” Jacques said.
It took almost three weeks, but Jacques eventually got out of the deal and got his full deposit back. But he still filed a complaint with the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) claiming the broker for Varaschin’s estate, Lee Hill of iPro Realty Ltd., intentionally misled him by concealing the house’s checkered past.
The “first-time buyer dream home” was originally listed for $209,000. “Completely freshened,” reads the description, which has since been removed. “Nothing needs to be done here.”
Hill played down the controversy Thursday. “We let them out of the deal,” he said, adding, “There is no proof of the wrongdoings being done in the house,” and he did not hide the fact it was Varaschin’s home.
Ontario Provincial Police investigators have never revealed where or how Varaschin was killed. There was no forced entry into her home, but the woman’s blood was found splattered throughout.
Real estate agents in Ontario are obligated to disclose “any material fact about a property or its history they are aware of that could affect a person’s decision to buy,” according to RECO. But there is disagreement among local real estate experts on whether this includes “stigmatized” properties, such as locations of murders, suicides and alleged hauntings.
“I have never met an honest realtor who won’t disclose (a murder),” said Barry Lebow, who teaches the realtor’s course “Selling the Haunted House: Realtor disclosure.” “The last thing I always tell my students is, ‘Disclose unto others what you want disclosed unto you.’ ”
But Bob Aaron, a high-profile Toronto real estate lawyer, said vendors only have to disclose hidden defects which render the property “uninhabitable.”
“I don’t think a stigma is a defect,” he said.
California law explicitly requires an agent to disclose whether a murder took place on the property for three years following the incident. Thirty U.S. states and the province of Quebec have similar laws. But Ontario’s rules are less clear.
Whether or not there is a legal obligation, Jacques said Hill had an ethical responsibility to disclose.
“The killer hasn’t been caught. I have three kids . . . it’s not the supernatural stuff — I don’t want to be raising my kids around that,” Jacques said.
Lebow said a property is definitely devalued by stigma, but he said he could not put an exact number on it because there were too many factors, such as the time lapsed from the incident, the notoriety of the crime and the size of the community. “(Stigma) is much worse in smaller towns,” he added.
Hill said he has since found a new buyer for Varaschin’s former home, but he did not list the house publicly this time, “to avoid undue publicity.”
But Hill admitted he “disclosed much differently in this sale” and the new buyer is well aware of what happened to the former owner.
Hill said the house was not any tougher to sell, but he refused to say what price it sold at, or whether it was lower than the $209,000 Jacques was prepared to pay.