Real Estate News

House hunting? Former murder scenes can be bargains

The little cul-de-sac was quiet and peaceful; tree-lined, far from the madding crowd, the perfect place for the community of mostly retired folk.

They visited from the driveways and kept an eye on one another.

Then came that September day in 2014 when a monster slaughtered five of them with beatings and shotgun blasts, leaving all to die in his bloody wake.

Now jump ahead six months. Here comes Mary Spicer, a retired grandmother who likes to bowl. She’s looking for a condo to buy.

She knew what had happened there, and thought perhaps a dark aura would fall over her when she walked inside. Especially when she descended the stairs to the basement. That’s where the two beaten victims were found.

Could she live there? Could this place in Woodbridge in south Kansas City be her new home?

“I certainly understand why some people wouldn’t even look at his place — because of what happened,” Spicer said. “But for me, I couldn’t be happier.”

The condo Spicer purchased is what is known in real estate jargon as “stigmatized property.” That means something has cast a pall over the place — a house with a grisly back story. Fact is, some people just don’t want to live a house where somebody got killed.

Some might say it’s creepy; eerie. They can clean the blood, but worry they could never scrub away the screams. Noises in the night. Ghosts, even.

On the other hand, with reduced interest, the homes can be a bargain.

Randall Bell, a California realtor who has written extensively about stigmatized property, says the discount can amount to 10 percent to 25 percent.

A $200,000 house for $150,000?

“If they can live with the back story, that’s a bargain,” said Bell, who worked on the sale of Nicole Brown Simpson’s condo on Bundy Drive in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles. That’s where she and friend Ronald Goldman were brutally stabbed in 1994, the crime leading to the sensational murder case against O.J. Simpson.

Spicer, who moved in April 2015, about six months after the killing spree, says she got an okay deal.

At first, she hesitated to even look at the place in Woodbridge, between Holmes and Wornall roads just north of the Martin City area. She had lived in a house in the Timber Trace subdivision just to the north.

Acquaintances knew she was looking for a smaller place close by, so when the sign went up, they let her know.

“Sure, I had my doubts at first,” she said. “But all that other stuff sort of went away as soon as I got there. Place seemed like home so I bought it.”

Today, the two-bedroom condo is neatly decorated with family photos and, of course, her bowling pins prominently displayed. She is home.

Disclosure rules

Quick question: What’s more important to know when shopping for a new house — that the basement leaks or that two people were stabbed to death in a back bedroom?

For most buyers, both.

But while sellers and realtors must disclose a leaky basement and other physical issues, some states, such as Kansas, don’t require the same of violent crimes. Some states have laws; real estate commissions make rules in others about deaths, natural and otherwise. In Missouri, violent crimes are part of disclosure, realtors say.

“I have to disclose pet stains, but not a murder?” said real estate agent Curtis Jay of Kansas properties. “I think we need to take another look at that rule.”

He didn’t know that’s how things were until recently, when he looked at a house freshly listed in a working-class area of Kansas City, Kan. While in the house, he noticed a piece of paper on the floor. It was a warrant for police investigation a murder.

He went outside and talked to neighbors. Turned out that in early May, three people were killed in the house.

What happened next could be a chapter in a stigmatized real estate book.

Neighbors say someone that day called news media about the murders. A TV news crew, thinking the crime had just occurred, showed up along with real estate agents and potential buyers.

“People got trapped in the dead-end street, they couldn’t get out, my phone wouldn’t stop ringing,” said Sally Riley, the listing agent. “It was a circus.”

But. as she said, Kansas does not require murder disclosure. Oddly enough, the listing included “crimes in the area,” but not the one inside the house.

The home, the last house on the right on a dead-end street, went on the market at $30,000 and recently sold for $18,000.

Bell, the California real estate agent, thinks it’s always wise to disclose, regardless of requirement.

“There are a lot of lawsuits over lack of disclosure,” Bell said. “Because some people wouldn’t even walk into a house where someone was murdered. And they’re going to find out.”

Dan O’Dell, a realtor who helped with the sale of one of the Woodbridge condos, said his company always discloses violent crime even though it typically reduces the sale price.

“Look, I know how I would feel, so we make the public aware and if a seller disagrees with that then we won’t take the listing,” O’Dell said.

But stigmatized property is a fascinating subject, he said.

“Just today, I found some snakes in a house — that’s stigmatized for some people,” O’Dell said. “And they don’t teach you about stigmatized property in real estate school.”

‘Life goes on’

Bill Hain was tired of yard work.

He and his wife, Peggy, both retired, had lived in a house with a big yard. They were ready to downsize.

“Here, they cut the grass, trim the trees and paint every few years,” he said. “And, technically, nobody died here.”

Slight smile. Splitting hairs.

The couple bought the condo next to Spicer. The woman who lived there had been shot on the driveway.

Neither Hain nor his wife ever had any qualms.

“Sure, I knew the story, but walked in, looked at the place and said, ‘Write it up,’” Hain said.

The story was that on Sept. 2, 2014, a man who initially tried to steal a car later shot and beat five victims in the cul-de-sac. All would die. Brandon Howell’s trial for five first-degree murder counts is upcoming in Jackson County Circuit Court.

A woman who bought the condo where two persons were shot on the driveway said she was absolutely hesitant when friends told her about the place.

“Okay,” she told them. “I’ll look at it, but I don’t know.”

But she loves it now. Especially after the driveway was replaced.

Three years after the killings, the folks on this little cul-de-sac — the newcomers and the ones who lived through it — get together and go out to dinner the first Monday of every month.

“It’s about healing,” one said. “We all know what happened here. But now it’s our homes and life goes on.”

Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182