Fate of a Murder House
The 3-bedroom, 2-bath foreclosure home on Faria Road in Ventura, Calif., for example, has a brick fireplace and built-in bookshelves, as well as wood floors and stainless appliances in the kitchen. There is an open-beam ceiling living room with lots of natural light from patio windows overlooking 44-feet of ocean frontage. But you might want to think twice before you put an offer on this home or any of the others. That's because behind all of their doors, gruesome murders occurred.
What is the fate of a murder house once the blood splatters are cleaned, the crime scene tape is discarded and the media cameras are gone? And how would you know if that dream home you're eyeing was once the scene of a grisly crime?
The fact is, you probably wouldn't, but there are ways to find out.
About half of the states in the U.S. have formal seller disclosure laws, and for many of them sellers and their agents do not have to disclose if there was a murder on the premises unless the buyers ask. And even then, typically they do not have to reveal it if the crime happened more than a year or so ago. Seller disclosure laws mostly focus on structural and material defects on the home, such as termites, mold and squeaky floorboards.
If you're the squeamish type and would like to avoid a house linked to a death, however, your best bet is to simply ask around. Neighbors generally would know if a home had been the scene of a grisly murder. You can also pull police records by address at the precinct serving that neighborhood. If anything looks suspicious, you can ask an officer for more details. These days, even a Google search of the address or "block of" can be revealing.
The Faria house was on the market for $3.25 million in the days leading up to the May 20, 2009 fatal stabbings of a father and his pregnant wife, and there isn't a buyer in the area who isn't aware of that house's stigma, the home's former listing agent Gary Goldberg of Coastal Properties told HousingWatch.
"The value of a murder house goes down dramatically, right away, like OJ Simpson's house," said Goldberg, whose agency also had the listing when the couple bought the house in 2006 for $2.57 million and subsequently gutted it and remodeled extensively. But no amount of renovations and price drops will make the home more appealing to most prospective buyers.
The way most states look at it, though, is that if you're creeped out knowing a murder or suicide occurred on a property, well, that's your own issue.
The National Association of Realtors has a name for psycho-laden places like these: stigmatized properties. The group has even published a "field guide for dealing with stigmatized properties." Tainted real estate can be harder to sell, and the goal, of course, is to move properties for sellers and buyers. If a murder is disclosed, the home could take 5 percent longer than comparable homes to sell, and it could price at an average of about 3 percent less, according to an analysis of 100 "psychologically impacted houses" by Wright State University professors James E. Larsen, Ph.D. and Joseph W. Coleman.
Recently sold is a 2-bedroom home with updated kitchen on Potrero Hill in San Francisco. It was the scene of a November 2008 murder-suicide, where the owner-boyfriend is suspected of shooting his girlfriend and then himself. He bought it for $985,000 and it sold for $894,500 in October. When the murder is more high-profile, the real estate impact can be more devastating. The Brentwood, Calif. home where Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered in 1994 hit the market the following year with a $795,000 price tag. It sat on the market for more than two years before selling for $595,000, ABC News reported.
So, what might become of Nancy Kerrigan's dad's house since his strangulation at home last month at the hands of Kerrigan's brother? Or Jennifer Hudson's old family home after her mother and brother were fatally shot there? It is rumored she wants to sell the residence in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood, but her sister still wants to live there.
Whether heirs stay or shed these stigmatized homes, sometimes the addresses are legally changed, or the exterior given a facelift in an attempt to eliminate the blemish. Other homes were torn down, such as John Wayne Gacy's suburban Chicago home, where he hid 29 victims in crawl spaces and the walls. The lot sat empty for a decade before a new home was built on the site. Jeffrey Dahmer's Milwaukee apartment building, where he killed 17 people, was razed and still remains an empty lot, reported USA Today in 2006.
Then there are the homes that become major tourist attractions, with the owners collecting fees to let people inside. Scott Michaels of findadeath.com, leads "Deadly Departed Tours" of celebrity-linked stigmatized homes, such as the one in this video of the "Wonderland House," where four friends of porno star John Holmes were bludgeoned to death with lead pipes in Los Angeles, a crime that became known as the Laurel Canyon Murders.
Under California law, a seller must disclose if a murder was committed within the last three years. But some agents feel a duty to reveal beyond what the state mandates. "We felt that we should disclose for a much longer time frame because of the stigma," says Realtor Valerie Torelli, who has twice sold a murder house in Costa Mesa, CA. Plus, she adds, "you just know the neighbors would be over there the day the new people moved in letting them know about the past history."
Torelli's first client didn't care about the murder, which had occurred 18 months before. "There were several families that looked at it and would not consider it because of what happened there. Ultimately the property sold at full market value at the time, $729,000," Torelli told HousingWatch. Her other client has renters in the murder home.
For some, such as Dennis Fassett, murder houses spell opportunity. Fasset purchased a murder home in Mt. Clemens, Mich. "When the real estate market was really hot here in southeast Michigan back in 2005, it was difficult for new investors like me to find houses that would cash flow as rental properties," he told HousingWatch. "I finally got a call from a motivated seller. He was motivated to sell because he was the heir after his brother had beaten their mother to death in the living room. I got a smoking great deal on the house, and it continues to be an extremely profitable rental for me," he says.
Fassett purchased the home for $40,000 in 2005, and it appraised three months later for $107,000. He says his renters don't suspect a thing because he spoke to the neighbors about the value of keeping the information to themselves. "If they scared all the good tenants away, did they really want to live next to [those who] didn't care what happened in the house?" he reasoned.
If, like Fassett, you're looking for a deal, hitting the market soon is the property at 2854 Robert Drive in a lakeside subdivision in Columbia, Ill., just outside of St. Louis.
Wells Fargo, the bank that holds the mortgage on the house where Sheri Coleman, 31, and sons Garrett 11, and Gavin 9, were found strangled last May, filed court papers in January asking to take the property as a foreclosure, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The house, vacant since the crime, is owned by Christopher Coleman, who removed his wife's name from the deed several months before the murders. He is in jail awaiting a possible March trial on three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of his wife and sons. The bank says he owes $229,673.69 plus interest on the home.
Would you buy a murder home? Or have you? Let us know.
The Doomed Abode of 'DJ Adam' Goldstein [HousingWatch]