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Want to buy a haunted house?

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Infamous deaths can make houses especially hard to sell. Think of Nicole Brown Simpson's townhouse or the house where 39 members of Heaven's Gate killed themselves to join a spaceship hiding behind the Comet Hale-Bopp or the house where Charles Manson's followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four other people.

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Randall Bell, a property appraiser for Bell Anderson & Sanders of Laguna Beach, Calif., specializes in "stigmatized" properties. Often a property is stigmatized because of an environmental or structural problem -- earthquake damage, contaminated soil, a faulty foundation. But some properties are stigmatized because something horrible happened there.

Bell says it took 2 1/2 years for Nicole Brown's house to sell in a neighborhood where it otherwise would have been sold within three months. It eventually sold at a deep discount. The buyer simply was looking for a good deal. Following Bell's advice, the buyer renovated the fašade. Afterward, Bell visited the house "and he had changed it so much that at first I didn't recognize the property."

The house where members of Heaven's Gate committed mass suicide "was heavily stigmatized," Bell says. "The owner tried very hard to sell it. Eventually he gave it back to the bank, and the bank sold it at a very deep discount. The property has since been bulldozed and may be redeveloped in the future." If that happens, it will have a different address. Neighbors changed the name of the street.

The Manson Family's first murder spree, one of the most infamous crimes of the 20th century, happened in July 1969 at the home of Sharon Tate and movie director Roman Polanski. The bungalow in Benedict Canyon was on a prized site in Beverly Hills, with a stunning view of Los Angeles. "It sold in the early '90s for full value," Bell says. "The new owner bought it and tore it down and built a 10,000-square-foot, Mediterranean mansion. That showed that no matter how heinous the crime, eventually, things can return back to normal. It can take many years."

What about ghosts? "If it ties to a real event, where there was a murder in the house, that's a whole world apart from a ghost that has been there since the 1800s," Bell says. "If it's a fun story, it probably has little effect on the house or might bring a small premium."

The Schaibles' house in New Jersey has a fun story. People ask Schaible if he's scared. "No," he says. "You have to live there to understand. It's not like a rattling of chains go bump-in-the-night." Apparitions happen fleetingly, "so fast that it's over before you know it."

His dream is to grow old in the house -- just as all the previous owners did.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Updated: July 31, 2006
 
 
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