Life inside homes where grisly deaths took place

By Krisanne Alcantara

The handsome, Spanish-style home on the corner of Beachcomber Lane and Sea Lark Road in Houston couldn't look any more idyllic. With its charming brick exteriors, and leafy, tree-flanked lawn, the cosy three-bedroom property is picture perfect.

But behind its pretty doors lies a gruesome past. It's where 37-year-old mom Andrea Yates drowned her five children -- including her 6-month-old daughter -- in a bathtub in 2001. Yates was later convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Three years later, a man named Peter Muller purchased the house -- which had, unsurprisingly, become a neighborhood "attraction" -- and has been living there ever since. Unlike many house hunters who are uneasy about purchasing a stigmatized home, Muller had no reservations about buying the infamous "Yates murder home."

"I really don't care about [the home's] history," Muller told AOL Real Estate. "I don't think about it, it doesn't bother me."

Its horrifying history aside, it's not hard to see why Muller bought the home in 2004 for $87,000. (It is now valued at $110,000; Muller believes it is worth more than $120,000.) It boasts a wealth of desirable qualities, including its proximity to Houston's city center and a number of schools and hospitals.

"It's in a good location," Muller said. "Plus, it's got a great layout. There's a living area and combined dining area."

Muller, who lives in the 1,620-square-foot home alone with his dog, Chotty, said that despite the hefty return he might make from the sale of the home, he doesn't plan to sell or leave 942 Beachcomber Lane in the near future. When asked if he was happy living there, Muller said: "Sure. It has everything I need."

A "Killer" Deal

Though many may balk at living in a home where brutal murders have occurred, studies reveal that murder homes can be excellent bargains if potential buyers can accept the property's tainted past.

A buyer can expect to pay 10 percent to 25 percent off regular market prices for stigmatized homes, said real estate consultant Randall Bell of Bell Anderson & Saunders, which specializes in assessing disaster-damaged properties and murder homes -- such as the one where Jon-Benet Ramsey was killed.

Depending on the severity of the crime, the discounts can get even steeper. Take, for example, the Los Angeles home where O.J. Simpson was accused of killing ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. After two years on the market, it sold for only $590,000 -- $200,000 less than the initial asking price. Similarly, the Southern California home where 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult killed themselves in 1997 was sold for $668,000 two years after the event. That was less than half of the mansion's $1.6 million listing price before the infamous mass suicide.

For some, such hefty markdowns are enough of an incentive to push any initial reservations aside. That was the case for Chris Butler, who happened upon a beautiful, split-level ranch nestled in the lush forests of Akron, Ohio, in 2005. Butler immediately contacted the home's realtor, Greg Greco, who showed him around the three-bedroom home and its 2-acre lot, a property that Butler swiftly "fell in love with." The going price? A mere $269,000.

Days later, Butler received an unsettling phone call from Greco "in the interest of full disclosure," he was told. Greco revealed that the property was priced so low because of its past: It once was the home of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and the site of Dahmer's first murder. It was here that Dahmer killed 19-year-old Steven Hicks with a barbell, dismembered his body and buried it in the woods surrounding the home.

"My first reaction, of course, was 'eww,'" Butler told AOL Real Estate. "But then I went and really thought about it, and it was actually kind of creepy-cool. Besides, the house was perfect. So I went ahead and bought it."

Butler ended up purchasing the home for an even lower price of $245,000 -- more than $100,000 less than comparable homes in the area.

Even with the savings, however, there are still some common -- and valid -- concerns for prospective owners of a stigmatized home.

According to Bell, homebuyers often worry about the property's resale value. (This doesn't concern Butler, who, after seven years, is selling his home for $329,000 to move East.) Additionally, Bell said, homes where homicides or other heinous crimes took place will typically stay on the market from two to seven years longer than they would otherwise.

But Bell said that, generally, homebuyers -- particularly bargain hunters looking for fixer-uppers -- can be convinced to buy a notorious crime scene if the price is right.

"In large, it all comes down to finding the right discount to entice a buyer to accept the property along with its tainted history," Bell told AOL Real Estate.

Making a "Killing"

For some strong-stomached -- and business-minded -- buyers, purchasing a stigmatized property has turned out to be quite a lucrative investment. It certainly was for the owners of 3322 DeMenil Place.

The sprawling, Victorian-style mansion in St. Louis, Mo., was the place where four members of the high-profile Lemp family committed suicide. In fact, Mark Halim, the property's manager of 14 years, said the home has been the site of "full-body apparitions" and paranormal activity, which has been confirmed by "certified electronic voice phenomena technicians" and paranormal investigators. (The mansion was once named by Life magazine as one of the "nine most haunted homes in America").

Instead of exorcising or razing the supposedly haunted property, however, Halim said the Pointer family, the home's current owners, turned it into a bed and breakfast in 1975.

"It was a natural progression," Halim said. "They had already begun to start using [the home] as a boarding house."

Currently, Halim said, about half of the guests visiting the bed and breakfast come there in hopes of Lemp ghost sightings. Historical and haunted tours are offered there, and the wildly popular "Lemp Mansion Restaurant and Inn" is booked almost every weekend until 2014. Room rates begin at $125 a night.

Similarly, the Fall River, Mass., home where Lizzie Borden purportedly hacked to death her father, Andrew, and stepmother, Abby, is now the famous Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum. ("Where everyone is treated like family," is the B&B's motto). Room rates start at $200 off-season, and the entire house can be rented for weddings and events starting at $1,500 per night.

Sticky Stigmas

Though there are upsides to purchasing a stigmatized property, many house hunters are adamantly opposed to living in a home where a crime once occurred. From blogs to online polls, it's obvious that people struggle with the idea of living in a home where someone was murdered, no matter how low it's priced.

Even if a potential buyer can somehow wrap their mind around the idea of living there, neighbors' perceptions and third-party judgements can still act as a deterrent. Butler, for instance, described a time when a FedEx deliveryman refused to even come to the door. He added that his neighbors have also stayed away during his seven-year residence at Dahmer's former home, only making appearances "when their dogs ran away."

"Some people are concerned that their kids will be teased or hassled by other kids," Bell said. "[They] feel that the crime stigma will distract from just living peacefully."

But to such skeptics, Butler advised this: "Come out to my home in the summer, and sit on my deck in the sun with a gin-and-tonic in hand. Look out at the forest, breathe in the clean air, and get a feel of just how un-scary it is.

"It may have a terrible history," he added. "But the house didn't kill anybody."


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