How to sell a house with a notorious past? Sometimes it means getting creative
The Los Feliz house where a murder-suicide occurred in 1959 is for sale but sat vacant for decades.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
The Rancho Santa Fe home where the 1997 Heaven’s Gate suicide occurred was rebuilt.(Denis Poroy / Associated Press)
Neverland no longer has amusement-park rides and has a new name: Sycamore Valley Ranch.(Jim Bartsch / Jim Bartsch)
O.J. Simpson’s Brentwood estate eventually sold for around its asking price.(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
As soon as the ramshackle house in Los Feliz hit the Multiple Listing Service last month, people began lining up in droves to see the property.
That’s normal in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s fastest-moving markets. But this time, the wave of interest wasn’t sparked by the home’s impressive location, on a hillside overlooking downtown L.A., nor was it for its asking price of $2.75 million. Instead, the looky-loos were drawn by the home’s grisly past.
The 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival gained notoriety on the night of Dec. 6, 1959, when then-owner Dr. Harold Perelson used a ball-peen hammer to bludgeon his sleeping wife to death in their bedroom. The 50-year-old cardiologist then turned on their teenage daughter, striking her with the hammer, before committing suicide by drinking a glass of acid.
In most cases, the stigma attached from a murder-suicide will fade over time. But the legend of Los Feliz’s so-called Murder House has only increased as it sat dormant for more than half a century — and led many to wonder who would want to buy such an infamous home, and for what price.
Homes tainted by homicide typically go for a discount of between 10% to 15% on the low end, and 25% on the high end, he said. They may also take longer to sell. In California, a death at a home must be disclosed for three years.
Selling a notorious property sometimes means finding creative ways to give it a fresh start.
When Neverland, the onetime home of Michael Jackson in Los Olivos, came up for sale last year for $100 million, the property looked markedly different from the fairy-tale setting the international superstar had built.
Gone from the 2,700-acre estate were such whimsical details as the amusement park rides and the zoo animals Jackson kept on the grounds. Listing details also showed that the Neverland name had been ditched for a more ambiguous moniker: Sycamore Valley Ranch.
The changes weren’t a huge surprise, given the circumstances. The property became the scene of police investigations in the 1990s after allegations of child molestation arose. Jackson was acquitted on all charges.
“There is obviously a lot of affection for him and his talent,” Bell told The Times last year. “But it’s hard to get by the fact that Neverland is closely associated with child molestation.”
Still, a home’s infamy can often be superseded by locale, particularly in Los Angeles’ luxury markets.
No property was as high profile in the 1990s as the Brentwood mansion where O.J. Simpson made his home, where the tail end of his infamous freeway chase played out, and television crews camped out during his criminal trial.
When the home on North Rockingham Drive came up for sale in 1997, it was priced in keeping with market rates. The place eventually sold that year for about the asking price of $3.95 million.
“I definitely don’t think it was a plus — probably a minus,” said Joe Babajian, an agent with Rodeo Realty who co-listed the property. “The location was just so prime.”
Even the most blighted home can make a break from its sordid history, but it sometimes requires tearing down walls.
In Rancho Santa Fe, residents went to great lengths to distance themselves from the mansion where 39 Heaven’s Gate cult members committed suicide in 1997.
The street in which the 9,200-square-foot home sat was renamed in the months that followed the tragedy. The address, too, was changed.
The home was sold in 1999 for $668,000, a fraction of its $1.6-million asking price before the suicides. The buyers eventually demolished the structure and built anew.
Public records show that the property has sold twice since then: first in 2004 for $1.8 million and, more recently, in 2010 for $4.6 million.
Given the ghosts in its past, the most recent transaction was a remarkable resale. And proof that with enough time and reconstruction, stigma can fade away.
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