Is the house you’re buying haunted ― or worse?
Here's how to find out what happened in that house before you move in
Like most people, I enjoy Halloween but wouldn’t want to celebrate the holiday every day of the year. Unfortunately, every day, unsuspecting buyers purchase properties with a spooky past. How do you protect yourself from celebrating Halloween in perpetuity?
I saw an interesting statistic that a death in a home, especially a violent death, can decrease the home's value by 25 percent and increase its days on the market up to 50 percent. Many people think of crimes and associate it only with a house, but commercial properties can also have similar issues.
For example, there is a grocery store-anchored center in Atlanta called “Murder Kroger” and a Wikipedia page has been set up to talk about the various murders that have taken place there. This violent past greatly limits the tenant mix in the center; how many baby stores want to be tenants in the Murder Kroger center? In the vast majority of states there is no rule requiring disclosure of a death. How can you protect yourself and ensure you don’t end up owning Murder Kroger or other “haunted location”?
Obviously, the first line of defense against a spooky past is a bit of common sense. For example, if you see crime tape in front of the property, bullet holes in the wall, or blood stains on the floor, that is usually a good indication of a problem. Since many spooky pasts are not that easy to uncover I wanted to focus on two major issues property owners may discover.
First, a murder or other violent crime is definitely something you want to avoid. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, from a resale perspective it is typically not a top selling point to advertise a death! If a major crime occurred at a property, more often than not if you google the address of the property you will likely see a news article or some other mention of the property.
If you are suspect, also go to the county records and there is typically a list of prior owners. Google each name that was on title to see if anything comes up that is related to a crime. One of these two methods should help you identify any major issues. Finally, there is also a new service that started called: Diedinhouse.com that purportedly has access to death records that can supposedly tell you if a death ever occurred in your house. There is a fee for each report.
Along with deaths, methamphetamine is also a huge problem for unsuspecting purchasers and can turn into a huge financial strain. Colorado’s neighborhood revitalization program found that 7 percent of single family properties and 11 percent of their multifamily properties showed some sort of contamination, according to the Denver Post. This is not just happening in Denver, there was an interesting story in Colorado Springs about a couple buying a $200,000 home and never moving in after discovering meth contamination.
According to an NPR article, cleanup for an average house can be $30,000 and up. Cleaning up a meth house can be prohibitively expensive, since many times the house has to be taken down to the studs to get all traces out. Meth is also very corrosive, which can impact metal pipes and wiring.
Although most states require disclosure if the house was a meth house, many sellers may not even know and therefore not disclose any issues. There are two ways you can protect yourself. The Drug Enforcement Agency has setup a database of meth houses by state. The Department of Justice also has a list of Colorado meth houses (DOJ list updated in 2012). Unfortunately, I’m not sure how up-to-date their database is; when I searched Colorado, the vast majority of records were older than 2007.
There is another method to see if your house has been used for meth. Many companies carry over-the-counter testing kits: You can swab a surface, and it changes color if meth is present (there are also many professionals that can do this for you). If you have even the slightest indication that there could be an issue, it is worth the money to spend a few dollars to ensure you are not buying yourself a problem.