On several Internet websites, people were asked if they would live in a murder house. Some of their answers explain why prices usually need to be lowered and still houses do not sell after there has been a violent death in them. Should sellers have to tell you if someone died in the house you are buying?
A study by Wright State University professors, James Larsen,PhD and Joseph Coleman, published in the 2001 Journal of Real Estate Practice and Education and based on 102 stigmatized Ohio homes, noted that the “psychologically impacted homes” remained on the market 45 percent longer than the average home and sold for about three percent less than non-impacted houses.
The conclusion was that sellers had to wait until they eventually found buyers who didn’t care about the histories of the houses. Randall Bell, a California appraiser with Bell Anderson & Sanders of Laguna Beach who specializes in diminution in value issues, says that a well-publicized murder generally lowers a selling price by 15 to 35 percent.
Some of the responses to “Would you buy a murder house?” were:
- I would buy it and rent it out, but not live in it
- It depends on the size of the town. In a small town, no, because everyone would know; the larger the town, the quicker memories fade.
- Having children, no, because the neighbor kids would tell them and they would be scared to death and/or embarrassed.
- Yes, if the address could be changed.
- Demolish it and build a new house on the site.
- A great way to keep the in-laws from wanting to stay over
- If you can hold onto it for a few years, but not if you want to flip it quickly.
- No, I would be depressed thinking about what happened there–not a cozy feeling.
- Yes, I don’t believe in ghosts.
- No, the house would have bad karma.
- No, with the real estate slowdown, buyers are fussier about things that wouldn’t have mattered before like nearby power lines, a busy street, bad floor plan and stigmatized house. The odds are it would not be a quick sale if you needed to sell it.
- I wouldn’t want to go to sleep every night in a house that might attract unbalanced copy-cats bent on violence.
- Not if it had been gang or drug-related.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) calls these houses stigmatized properties and has published a Field Guide to Dealing With Stigmatized Properties. Their goal is to help move properties for sellers and buyers. So are real estate agents required to disclose that houses are stigmatized properties to buyers?
Only Alaska and South Dakota require sellers’ agents reveal whether a homicide or suicide occurred at a listed home within the previous 12 months, according to NAR spokesman Walter Molony. In Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Oklahoma, if a prospective buyer asks, real estate agents must answer truthfully. In California, a seller must disclose if a murder was committed within the last three years.
Holden Lewis, real estate expert at a consumer financial service website says “In most states, a seller isn’t required to voluntarily disclose nonstructural issues such as homicides on the property.” He cites the example of Minnesota law that says “the seller doesn’t have to disclose that the property was the location of a suicide, death or ‘perceived paranormal activity.'”
Neal Smither, founder and president of Crime Scene Cleaners, says his company cleans up three thousand to seven thousand crime scenes across the United States yearly. Some are just meth labs in hotel rooms, but some are “just too bizarre for anyone else to touch.”
Occasionally, as in when celebrities or legends are involved, it can be an asset for a house to have a gruesome history. Ghosts can bring in tourists and some people want the thrill of spending the night in a reported haunted building. But do you really want gawkers coming around your home?
If you want to find out if a home you are considering has a traumatic history:
- learn the disclosure practices in your state. The NAR suggests checking with the state’s real estate commission for statutes about disclosure or the recommended practice for Realtors working in that state.
- Google search the address and check its history. For example, Google 2854 Robert Drive, Columbia, Ill and pull up several stories about the Chris Coleman’s wife and two boys being strangled in the house at that address.
- check the NAR’s Realtor resource page in its Field Guide to Dealing With Stigmatized Properties for what realtors may or may not disclose.
- in states where disclosure isn’t required, just ask the seller’s agent if there are known violent crimes, deaths or other stigmatizing events related to the house.
- get the list of former owners of the property from county deeds and look on the Internet for local newspaper stories or obituaries for those names.
- ask the neighbors. They usually will love to tell you what they know or have heard.