The stigma and intrigue of “murder houses” make them common backdrops for cheap television and a trap for tourists. But selling so-called stigmatized houses, where a death – particularly a violent one – occurred, is a different story.
House hunters typically seek information – such as details about environmental and structural problems – about a house’s backstory before making a purchase.
But for some, the eerier details of a house’s history can play a role in whether they close the deal.
“From an agent’s perspective, there is a lot more preparation for those discussions than the discussions actually present themselves,” said local real estate agent Joe Clair. “By the time a buyer gets to a house where something occurred, in this day and age, it’s so well-known through news publications and people talking, it no longer catches people off-guard.”
Real estate agent Rick Lorenz said he has never fielded a question from a client about in-house deaths, though he did sell a house in the El Rancho Florida district where a murder occurred.
Colorado Real Estate Commission statute does not require agents to disclose a property’s death-related details, but Lorenz said he did anyway because his client wanted the fact known, and the buyer wasn’t deterred.
Most states don’t require real estate agents to disclose dark details that might daunt the superstitious.
DiedInHouse.com provides that information.
By providing a home address, the site can generate information about the property that is available through public records, including if a death occurred there, who died and when, cause of death, names of previous owners, whether the house endured a fire, and other unsavory details, including whether sex-offenders or meth-cookers resided there.
The website was created in 2013 as an aid for homebuyers whose state laws might not readily offer up that information.
Founder and co-CEO Roy Condrey said the site has had more than 95,000 users since its launch.
“It’s about transparency,” Condrey said. “It’s one of those things people don’t like to admit they care about, or they don’t even think about until afterward. It happened to me, with a rental, and I found out there was a couple that died that had HIV. This is for people who care about that. We want to provide all the information we can, then you decide for yourself how you feel about it.”
According to one study by Finder.com, the U.S. housing market loses about $2.3 billion each year to property devaluation because of homicides in homes. It also suggests that the stigma can extend to surrounding properties.
The report found the total market loss for Colorado in 2014 was about $7 million.
Real estate appraiser Orell Anderson, who valued the Nicole Brown Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey homes, told Realtor.com last year that “macabre residences” are typically discounted 10 to 15 percent.
Indeed, the legendary “Amityville Horror” house in New York, which foddered a book and films after its 23-year-old resident shot and killed his parents and younger siblings there in 1974, sold this year for $605,000 – about $250,000 less than the asking price.
“If people like the house, it’s no big deal,” said Don Ferris, a Durango real estate agent. “I had a client look at a house on U.S. Highway 550 where a guy committed suicide. He (the buyer) didn’t care. A suicide doesn’t denote a crime scene.”
The reverse can be true: Morbidly humored buyers seek out such real estate, which can even be assets in niche locations, such as New Orleans, where a certain level of ghoulishness is a virtue.
But more commonly, the unsuperstitious are able to take advantage of the sometimes-major markdowns. “If you don’t care, you can use it as leverage to get a discount,” Condrey said. “You may not get a discount, but it’s a reason to ask for one.”
In 2015, for example, a Washington, D.C., mansion sold for $3 million a week after it was listed and less than six months after the previous residents – a couple, their son and their housekeeper – were murdered inside.
The selling price was about half the average home value in the popular neighborhood, according to The Washington Post.
Such superstitions about homes aren’t worth putting stock into anyway, said local historian Duane Smith, who has spent a fair amount of time in some of Durango’s oldest and purportedly “haunted” homes on East Third Avenue.
“There are stories about a lot of those homes, where most of the well-to-do people lived in the 19th century,” he said. “But I’ve been in some of them, and I’ve never noticed anything unusual.”