How Do You Sell a Stigmatized House?

As you follow the winding path up the hill you leave a clump of trees and just above the curve of the brambles you see the lightkeeper's house raise above as if it were an illusion. From these windows is it said appear the face of a ghost called "Rue" or The Gray Lady. Today the house is a bed and breakfast.
At the Atavist, Will Hunt and Matt Wolfe have a great feature story up about a family who spent six years in court trying to have the sale of the house they bought rescinded after they discovered that it was the site of a gruesome murder-suicide.

One afternoon, not long after, Milliken introduced herself to an older woman who lived in a nearby house. The neighbor shook Milliken’s hand warmly, welcoming her to the neighborhood.

“We were all surprised that you bought it,” the woman said, giving Milliken an odd look. As the woman walked into her house, her comment hung in the air.

Milliken noticed that the house attracted a strange sort of attention. On Halloween night, she was standing on her front steps when she spotted a group of girls in costumes rounding the sidewalk outside her house.

“That’s where that thing happened,” one girl giggled. The group moved on without stopping for candy.

While some states require sellers to disclose to buyers about recent deaths on a property, Pennsylvania, where Milliken purchased her home, is not one of them.

To aid their case, the family consulted with Randall Bell, a real estate expert who specializes in appraising stigmatized property. Bell helped sell the condo in West Los Angeles where Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were found murdered:

When Bell sat down with Brown, he could see that the condo was a painful reminder of his daughter’s death. How, Brown wanted to know, could he get it off his hands? Bell thought about what made a property repellent to buyers. He realized that most people had developed a negative impression after seeing the condo in countless stories about the murders. If he could alter the condo’s appearance, thus blurring its picture in the mind’s eye, that connection might diminish. So, at Bell’s suggestion, Brown replaced the building’s much photographed facade, added trees, planted flower beds, even swapped out the street number. It was the same location, but the small aesthetic differences rendered it unrecognizable. It took another two years, but the condo eventually found a buyer, though one who paid well below the asking price.

After the condo sold, Bell parked near the property and spent several happy hours watching perplexed tourists walk up and down the street, trying and failing to find the house they’d seen so many times on TV.

Bell put together a report for the family arguing the power of “stigma.” I won’t spoil the ending—it’s a fascinating story!

Photo: PhotoAtelier

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