The Scandal of Stigma Homes

It’s time to set up a monitoring service.

UPDATE: February 17. For details of the Channel Seven report, please click here.

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by Neil Jenman

In the pretty Sydney suburb of Sylvania, there’s a cute little home for sale at 39 Formosa Street. At $520,000, it seems well priced.

If you turn up at the open-inspection, you’ll probably meet Rodney Spink of Sanders First National Real Estate. Like thousands of agents, Spink’s job is to maximise the positives and minimise the negatives of the homes he’s selling. 

For instance, the Formosa Street home is in a “great location”. That’s true, it’s right opposite the Bowling Club. It’s got two bathrooms, a spacious kitchen, three bedrooms and is close to the Southgate Shopping Centre. All positive stuff. 

No mention, however, of the lounge room, where a woman was shot in the head by her estranged husband. 

Although Rodney Spink (who advertises that he is a Justice of the Peace) has been made aware of the murder, he’s not telling the buyers. 

But, after all, the murder happened back in 1968. (Update – March 21, 2006: It now appears that the murder occured in the early 60s)

So who cares?

Well, for starters, the young man whose father witnessed the murder cares about it. He also cares about the people who will buy his former family home. He believes all potential buyers should be told about any past murders at any home. Further, as a TV actor, he doesn’t want his named linked with adverse publicity.

Down in Mornington in Victoria, a beautiful looking two-storey cottage at 116 Prince Street is being advertised with the heading “Seaside Cottage Charm”. 

Among the gushing 250-word ad is the promise that this “cottage offers a surprising interior”. 

Surprising? Well, ‘shocking’ would be more accurate. 

This is the home where, in 2004, a snivelling coward murdered his pregnant wife by firing a spear into her head as she slept. He buried her in the garden. 

Three days later, this low-life murdered his 20 month-old daughter in the same manner. He then dug up his wife’s body and cut it up with a chain saw. Both bodies were thrown in a dumpster. 

In Tasmania on Saturday (February 11), an auction was held at 4 Arnold Street, Penguin. In 2004, two men were axed to death in the home. 

The agent, Gerry Howard of Elders Real Estate, is upfront about the home’s history. The murder is even mentioned in the contract and was announced at the start of Saturday’s auction. 

“If there’s a fault with any property, it’s the first thing I tell buyers,” said Gerry Howard yesterday. 

He also said there had been a few suicides in his area and he always disclosed such tragedies when selling homes. How refreshing to find such an attitude. 

It’s a pity that a young couple from the NSW country town of Dubbo were not dealing with Gerry Howard when they bought their first home last month. 

After they signed the contract, they discovered that a man had killed himself after molesting a child in the home. 

“We are disgusted, emotionally drained and so angry,” said the buyers. “If we had been told about the history of the home, we would never have bought it.” 

Previously, the home, at 15 Galloway Drive, had been for sale with Town & Country Real Estate who were disclosing the gory details to buyers. When the home didn’t sell, it was given to Anita and Tim Skewpeck of Western Plains Real Estate. Without disclosing the history, the home soon sold. 

When confronted by the angry buyers, the boss of Western Plains Real Estate, Christine Barber, reportedly said, “Please don’t go to the media. Dubbo has had enough bad publicity.”

The buyers can’t afford a legal fight. They tried to re-sell the home; but, as soon as they mention the suicide (which was particularly horrific), they are offered thousands of dollars less. 

To have any chance of getting their money back they will have to conceal the home’s history. To them, concealment is not an option. They must disclose the truth.

So what is the law in Australia about disclosing a gruesome history of a property? 

In essence, there is no specific law – just a few wishy-washy statements about being honest and fair. But, the measure of what is fair, especially in real estate, depends on which side you are on. 

In the United States, homes which have been the scene of a gruesome death are known, as ‘Stigmatised Homes’. There are clear rules about disclosure. In some states, a gruesome history must be noted on the home’s title. 

The same should apply in Australia. But, like any idea to protect consumers, it will be vigorously opposed by a selfish industry. 

You can just imagine the excuses and stalling tactics. How do you define a stigmatised home? How long does a home carry a stigma? And, besides, some will say, many people are not fazed by a home’s past. 

Well, all excuses can be destroyed by considering one fact. A stigma almost always lowers the value of a home. The worse and the more recent the stigma, the worse the effect on the value. 

The home at Mornington where the murders occurred in 2004 is more stigmatised than the home at Sylvania where the murder occurred in 1968. Nevertheless, both are permanently ‘stigmatised’. 

No matter when a gruesome event occurred, buyers have a right to know. If it doesn’t bother them emotionally, it’ll probably bother them financially.

Just consider the notorious Gonzales murder house at 6 Collins Street, North Ryde. When the agent concealed the triple murders the home sold for $800,000. Later, when the agent was forced to disclose the murders, the home sold for $720,000. That’s an eighty thousand dollar fall in value. 

This home is forever stigmatised. In a hundred years, some buyers will still shun it.

With no laws in sight to protect buyers, it’s time for someone to monitor all stigmatised homes.

Watch this space.