But the house had a sad history told only in crime stories: A year ago, two children died there. Police charged their mother, Julie Schenecker, with murder. The house was cordoned off and photographed for evidence. Then quietly, last fall, it sold for $385,000, just over its estimate on real-estate site Zillow.com.
“Tampa Palms Beauty!” the Florida ad said. “Move-in ready. NOT a short-sale. Can close quickly.”
But the house had a sad history told only in crime stories: A year ago, two children died there. Police charged their mother, Julie Schenecker, with murder.
The house was cordoned off and photographed for evidence. Then quietly, last fall, it sold for $385,000, just over its estimate on real-estate site Zillow.com.
Some landmarks of tragedy do not change hands so easily. Real estate agents consider them stigmatized. The homes draw unease and superstition. Long after police have left and families have gathered personal effects, strangers remember.
The problem is not as rare as one might think. In 2010 alone, according to the FBI, 14,748 people were murdered in America. A year earlier, 15,241. A year before that, 16,272.
A man in California makes a living consulting on stigmatized sites –– from those of lesser-known deaths to some of the country's most notorious. Randall Bell is known for his specialty in damage economics. They call him Dr. Disaster.
Bell has calculated that a public, traumatic event like a murder can take 10 percent to 25 percent off a home's value. But not always. The Schenecker house, which sold for $63,000 less than its 2008 purchase price, seemed no more affected than any other Florida property in a down market.
Urban homes suffer less, Bell says, with the bustle of city life diluting the trauma; rural homes are hit hardest because memories linger in quiet places.
To help with the damage, he typically suggests "mitigations." The O.J. Simpson condo got a new facade. The JonBenet Ramsey house got a remodeled basement and an address change.
However, the mansion where 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed suicide met a much more drastic fate. Bell had the opportunity to buy it, he said. Cheap. His wife looked at him as if he was out of his mind.
"She just thought it had too much baggage," he said. So, apparently, did the owners. The mansion eventually came down. Every blade of grass was ripped out of the ground.
Sometimes, people call Bell for help, saying they didn't know a house had a history until after they bought it. For example, one family in New Jersey said neighborhood kids refused to come inside for a birthday party. Those situations end up in court, Bell said.
"My No. 1 rule is to always be upfront and honest. Don't try to conceal things because that tends to amplify problems."
Laws vary from state to state about whether real estate agents are required to disclose a murder on a property.
The question didn't exactly cross 28-year-old Chris Galbraith's mind when he decided to rent a charming bungalow. He learned of its history when a Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times reporter showed up recently with a news article calling it a "torture scene."
At trial, federal prosecutors said two men were killed there. The "torture room" was toward the back. Investigators removed floorboards, where they found a victim's DNA.
Galbraith wasn't happy about the revelation.
"Just put yourself in the situation," he said. "You go in the back garage, it doesn't have a floor in it.
"Well, now I know why ..."
"There's no question about it. We would've kept looking."
The woman who owns the house did not return a message left by the Times, and the leasing agent declined to comment.
Others, too, shy away from the subject. Not surprising, Bell said.
"It can be a very touchy topic."
They're just buildings, right? Cement, and brick, and tile? Or are they vessels of sadness?
Maribet Balestena is certified to practice feng shui, the art of the physical and the unseen. She believes energy flows like water and wind, but bad energy gets stuck. Being in a negatively charged space can make one feel uneasy, or depressed, or even sick, she said.
"Every house has some energetic footprint," she said. "We impregnate these houses. These spaces in which we live absorb our energy, and the spaces affect our energy as well. When all these awful things happen, the energy becomes accumulated in there. All that negativity ... It's necessary, then, to make a shift."
For a $270 fee, Balestena performs three- to four-hour cleansings, which incorporate forms of prayer and remedies like incense, music and the intentional placement of objects to facilitate flow. She customizes the ceremony for the family and concludes with a lengthy report, with suggestions to foster peace and harmony in the home.
She has been consulted for a cleansing at the scene of two suicides. Dr. Disaster's thoughts?
"Whatever people are into," he said. "If that provides peace of mind, they should do it. Some people aren't bothered, and that's fine, too."
In 2003, the Guardian tracked down an owner of a London building in the heart of Jack the Ripper's one-time haunt. Ron Harley said he knew about the woman poisoned with nitric acid on the second floor of 16 Batty St. He said that one of his friends claimed to get a funny feeling about the place, and that in the winter, the old walls creaked.
"But," he added, "it is just wood."
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com.