There’s going to be a new home renovation show that focuses on murder houses. How crazy is that? It’ll be called Murder House Flip and it’s going to air in 2020. I can already imagine adding shiplap to the walls to erase a heinous history… Anyway, here are some things on my mind.
1) Not the home’s fault: Often when talking about notorious homes we hear things like, “It’s not the home’s fault” or “It’s unfair to penalize the house.” I get that, but let’s remember buyers aren’t just purchasing the home. They’re inheriting all the stories and history too. Anyone who has ever owned a home knows this is true because neighbors will definitely tell you about the previous owners and especially anything big that happened at the property. While a home is technically innocent, it doesn’t mean buyers aren’t discerning or making judgement calls about value.
2) Stigma fades: A property with a crime in its past can certainly have a diminished value, but the loss in value may not last forever. What I mean is right after a gnarly situation buyers might react quite negatively, but over time the tendency is to care less, forget, move on, or not even know what happened decades ago. It would be like saying, “A man was murdered here yesterday” compared to “A man was murdered here in 1917.” Would there be a difference in your mind? Maybe so. But for something really notorious the question becomes how long stigma can last. This is why I’m watching the John Wayne Gacy property. The original home was actually demolished, but can stigma remain with the site despite the new home?
3) No one-size-fits-all adjustment: How much does a murder affect value? There’s no one answer to satisfy all situations. It likely depends on when the murder occurred, the nature of what happened, and whether it took place inside or outside. It could also depend on the price range or location as some sub-markets are more sensitive than others. My experience locally is buyers at lower price points tend to be more forgiving about certain issues compared to higher price points (generally speaking).
4) One buyer vs the market: It’s possible a particular buyer might not care about a property’s history, but market value isn’t just about one buyer. What would most buyers pay? Last year I ran a poll about the alleged Golden State Killer’s house and asked people to consider if there would be any price impact if this home came to the market. It was a fascinating conversation with many layers, but one thing that kept coming up was the idea that one buyer might not even care. That’s true. But again, market value isn’t just about what one buyer would do. It’s like this. Imagine lining up 100 qualified and interested buyers. What would be reasonable for them to pay? That’s sort of what market value looks like.
5) Crunching numbers: I appraised a murder house recently and interviewed about ten local real estate agents who sold a murder property in the past. Here’s a blurred view of my data collection. Some agents said there wasn’t any impact to price and others would say stuff like, “It probably sold $25,000 lower.” In short, the answer wasn’t always the same, which meant I had to consider which data points were relevant for my situation. This is huge because it’s easy to find one murder house and call it a day because now we have data. But what happened with one home under $200,000 may not mean anything at the $800,000 price point. Thus some data toward the lower end of the market ended up being less relevant during my appraisal.
An episode of Murder House Flip in Sacramento: There’s going to be an episode set in Sacramento to focus on the Dorothea Puente property. If you didn’t know, she was an older woman who ran a “boarding” house in the early 80s, but instead of giving clients respite she drugged them, buried them in the backyard, and collected their social security checks. This property has sold four times in the past twenty years as seen below.
By the way, there was a documentary made about this house and the owner has even given tours. This goes to show another aspect of a famous home is monetization. In this case though the owner donated tour proceeds toward organizations working with the homeless.
Keep in mind entire books are written about this stuff and I’m only scraping the surface here. I hope it was interesting or helpful though.
Questions: Are you going to watch this new show? What stands out to you above? Any other thoughts?