Homes with sordid pasts: Creepy, but great bargains
Murder. Suicide. Homes with dark histories can be difficult to sell and often suffer severe drops in value. Here’s how to learn whether a home has a sketchy past and how to mitigate the stigma if you own one.
Chris Butler had a list of “musts” when he went house shopping in 2005 in Summit County, Ohio, near his hometown of Cleveland.
“I had a pretty strict list,” he says. “I play rock ’n’ roll and I was tired of having the neighbors yell at me.” The house needed to have:
● Plenty of space to accommodate his band mates.
● Distance from neighbors, so he could make music without getting angry phone calls.
● Ground-level living quarters, in case his aging mom needed to move in.
It was a tall order in this part of Ohio, outside Akron, where the style is Ralph Lauren and the real-estate market is replete with two-story colonials, Butler recalls.
Imagine his happiness, then, when his agent showed him a stunning, 2,000-square foot split-level home atop a rocky hill on a two-acre lot deep in the woods near the town of Bath. The house was a stylish, well-built 1950s specimen, with a flat roof, wrap-around deck and expansive windows overlooking Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The price — $269,000 — seemed ridiculously low.
The other shoe dropped when Butler’s real-estate agent called. The seller’s agent had made an important disclosure: The house had been the childhood home of serial murderer Jeffrey Dahmer and it was there — in 1978, while Dahmer was in his late teens — that he had committed his first murder.
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Butler, a native of the region, knew that Dahmer had lived somewhere nearby. But the news that a homicide had happened in this house that he’d fallen in love with was a startling disappointment.
“My initial shock was, ‘I can’t do this,’” he says.
Then he looked at it differently: In a way — an offbeat way — the home’s bizarre and outcast persona resonated with his own. “After I got over it, it was like, ‘I can’t not do this.’ It fits my alternative lifestyle, my musician-artist nature,” he told himself.
He also understood a rule of thumb in the real-estate market: Homes that have a stigma are harder to sell. They spend more time on the market and, when they do sell, it’s usually at a discount. Some are never purchased and the owner must destroy them to recoup any of the value from the property.
The sellers of Dahmer’s childhood home were at a disadvantage, Butler sensed, so he offered even less than the low asking price and purchased the house for $245,000.
Murder just one of many real-estate stigmas
A murder scene is just one type of stigmatized real estate. “Literally hundreds of things” can affect a home’s marketability, says Randall Bell, a Los Angeles economist, real-estate appraiser and expert in “real-estate damage economics.” A few other things that hurt a home are airport noise, landslides, soil problems, environmental problems, lead-based paint or hurricane damage.
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Real or perceived, a stigma creates a risk, or “market resistance,” in the minds of potential buyers, preventing them from paying full value. Bell has consulted on many famous real-estate cases, among them the scene of the Manson family murders, Bikini Atoll (a nuclear weapons test site), the Hollywood sinkhole and the World Trade Center in New York.
Bing: Search & decide
There’s no formula for finding or avoiding stigmatized properties, so buyers should educate themselves and use their wits. “There is no central MLS for distressed properties per se,” Bell says. “It takes good ol’ detective work.”
The most important thing you can do is learn the law in your state. Only about half the states have laws specifying what must be disclosed in a real-estate transaction. (Read: “Disclosure: What sellers need to know.”)
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California and New York have the most demanding disclosure laws. California requires sellers to reveal “anything material” that could affect value. Bell tells clients to disclose everything. “If it came to your radar screen to ask the question, the answer is, ‘Yes, disclose it.’ If you think it’s inconsequential, disclose it anyway. For example, in California, case law has established that you have to disclose if you have obnoxious neighbors. It’s very strict.”
On that last post.................................
I bought a house with a different past. One that included a time when the county had no zoning restrictions and people pretty much did what they felt like doing. Now the chickens are coming home to roost and a lot of houses are being sold that are still standing. Mine has six spots where insects, water and air get in. The original house is 27 years old. The wind blows down here from the west up to 90 miles an hour. All the windows leak air and dirt. If I replace them, I get a tax credit for being more energy efferent. The back door frame was cut too small and the door wouldn't fit, so they left the threshold where it was, and put the door behind it. The door is a hollow core closet and has most of the outside bottom missing. I can replace it with a door that is metal and a frame and get it all done correctly for the first time since about 1989, or so. The more I do to this house, the better the chances are of selling it and the person getting financing.
I worked for the Census for three weeks and got called today for another week or two. Every week I work for them is more things I can get done.
Whoa, I was helping sell a million dollar house where the two previous separate owners had committed suicide, after a few days in the house it really started to spook me, I had to leave.
I don't believe in hauntings, but the karma in that place was bad.
nice to hear from you!
Very interesting article especially since my wife and I are the sellers Mr. Butler purchased the "Dahmer" house from. There were a few other owners between us and the Dahmer's and we purchased the home from a single mother who underestimated the maintenance and upkeep of living in a forest. My wife and I had the same reaction as Chris when we looked at the house and were told of its history but were able to oversee this and enjoy the beauty of the house and especially the grounds. In the end our only concern was is if people or the media where a nuisance. Our seller indicated this was not a problem, but during the time we lived there we were contacted by the media, but refused to provide a story or make any comments. I would work out in the yard and would notice people driving by and talking about the history of the house. buying halloween candy. We fully disclosed the history of the house when we listed the property due to potential future liabilities.
One of the previous owners did a fantastic job landscaping the property with exotic plants (over 25 types of hostas, weeping hemlocks, special japanese maples, bamboo, mountain laurel) and rock lined trials which we referred to as manicured natural. It is unfortunate that the grounds are not being kept up. The property also has many mature cherry trees and a couple dead ones that yield marvelous Morel mushrooms in the spring.
What Mr. Butler did not realize is that we sold the house because of the high maintenance, the fact that we were living in China at the time and that we realized that the housing market was tumbling. We sold at the right time and apparently Mr. Butler did not do his research because we were not at a disadvantage and made money on the sell of the home. With the flat roof on the house this was the only home that I actually had to climb up on to rake leaves from the roof.
I also find it funny that our old neighbor friends indicate that the police are at his home quite often for noise complaints from his band playing music. Chris, pay to have someone cut that large tree down on the North East corner of the house (against the deck) since one day it WILL fall on the house. Also, the Omish community will pay you for those those large Cherry trees.
Strongholds on a house can ruin lives. Don't take the chance. God provides us with wisdom, and understanding to stay away from these things. Sometimes we think that we are made of steele and can battle these things, but we should never knowingly move in with it. Flaten the house to the ground and burn off the land.