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Was Anyone Killed in This House? All About Stigmatized Properties

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By Bill Primavera

My wife Margaret thinks that I’m a nut (hopefully just sometimes) because of some of my interests, a few of which might seem macabre.

For instance, I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Lizzie Borden who as the children’s jump rope rhyme went “gave her father 40 whacks and when she was done, gave her mother 41.” At the age of 32 she was accused of the double homicide of her father and stepmother.

On Aug. 4, 1892, Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby (Durfee) Borden were killed in their family home in Fall River, Mass. Although it was Mr. Borden who was the initial victim discovered, Mrs. Borden died first sometime after 9 a.m. from receiving 19 blows with a heavy bladed object in an upstairs bedroom to be followed by her husband who is estimated to have been killed two hours later by receiving 11 blows with a similar weapon. (See how I know my stuff about the macabre aspects of real estate?)

No murder weapon was officially confirmed; however, a “handle-less hatchet,” later discovered to be tainted with cow’s blood, spurned the conception of Lizzie Borden as an ax murderess. The murders have never been solved.

One might think that if ever there were to be a stigmatized property, it would be that house in Fall River. However, it has fared quite well, certainly commercially, operating today as a bed and breakfast. In fact, it’s on my bucket list to visit the Borden home and to sleep in the bedroom where Lizzie’s stepmother was hacked to death. Again, Margaret has concerns.

I remember some years ago, a house was sold in Poughkeepsie where, if I remember correctly, a dozen or so corpses were found buried in the basement. As I recall, that home had no problem selling. I guess some home buyers are more fearless than others, or the property was devalued enough by its stigmatization that it was a really good deal.

In a survey conducted just a year ago, it was determined that two out of three Americans wouldn’t live in a home the previous owner believes is haunted;

67 percent of Americans agree that sellers should disclose hauntings and other stigmas; and women feel particularly strongly that stigmas should be disclosed (73 percent).

My wife and I have a very personal experience with stigmatized properties, having lived in one. When we bought our first home, back in the dark ages of the late 1960s, we were lucky enough to purchase a two-family house, combined with an antiques shop. It was a four-story house with the antiques shop on the first floor, our living quarters on the second floor and a rental to another family on the third and fourth floors.

When we met our tenants for the first time, the wife casually asked, “I hope it doesn’t bother you that the house is haunted.”

Okay, I thought, so we have a bit of a weird person living here. However, in checking around with some neighbors who had lived on our block for many years, we learned that there was once a gas leak in the house, which wiped out a whole family, including several children, in their sleep. Here’s the spooky part: Many nights we would try to fall asleep while hearing a faint sound of children crying. As far as we knew, there were no children in close proximity to our house. In bed, I would ask my wife, “Do you hear that crying?” and she would answer, “Yes,” but we could never determine its origin.

In New York state, courts will rescind a home sale if the seller creates and perpetuates a reputation that the house is haunted and then takes unfair advantage of a buyer’s ignorance of the home’s ghostly reputation. For example, if a seller invites a reality television ghost hunter to a home, then later sells that poltergeist palace to an unwitting buyer who prefers sitcoms, a court could make that sale vanish.

As for me, I really don’t believe in stigmatization. And I anxiously await my date to visit the haunts of Lizzie Borden.

Bill Primavera is a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

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