Homes where murders happened overcome dark legacies

The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee)
June 26, 2013 Wednesday

 By Bobby Allyn

April 2011, banking attorney Randall Winton purchased a five-bedroom home in a leafy neighborhood dotted by historic homes off West End Avenue.

Three years earlier, the house was the site of a stunning murder: the death of 44-year-old millionaire Jim Cannon. Prosecutors say he was strangled and then left in a bedroom closet by his wife, Kelley Cannon. The couple were separated.

Winton bought the 1938 brick home on Bowling Avenue for half a million dollars, a third less than its appraised value of $720,000 a few years before Winton’s purchase.

The home’s past, Winton says, should be a closed chapter.

“It doesn’t come up in daily conversation,” said Winton, 59. “I didn’t find it to be an insurmountable obstacle.”

Later, after a bit more reflection, he added: “It would be a lie to say in the first couple days living here that it didn’t cross my mind. But I haven’t thought of it in a while.”

Rarely do real estate transactions involve a discussion about a property’s murderous past life. But a home’s dark history becomes harder to ignore when events that unfolded within its walls were once a cause célèbre.

In Tennessee, real estate agents don’t have to reveal that a death occurred in the home, as long as it did not cause structural concerns. Some in the real estate business refer to such provisions as “ghost in the attic” clauses.” States such as California and New York have such disclosure rules, referred to more formally as stigmatized property laws.

“Certainly the notoriety clouded this one,” said real estate agent Sue Chilton, who sold the Cannon house. “My experience was there were some people who would not buy at any price after they Googled the address.”

Although Chilton acknowledged that state law does not make her volunteer anything about a property’s lurid past, she said it was a smarter business move to be transparent.

“We must answer honestly, to the best of our knowledge,” Chilton said. “If anything is important to a buyer that can be confirmed, it is important to ask and investigate.”

The impact on value

Although the Cannon house sold at a sizable discount, it’s hard to quantify exactly what kind of market effect a notorious murder has on a property. Business professors Joseph Coleman and James Larson of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, studied more than 100 “psychologically impacted” homes and the effect on their market value.

They found that homes where ghastly events once occurred take as much as 50 percent longer to sell – and that they sell, on average, at a 2.4 percent discount.

Recently, real estate agent Christie Wilson sold a home in which a murder-suicide occurred in the 1960s, but she said it did not affect the home’s value. “Events that happen in homes are very subjective. They’re not often very concrete.”

Thus, Wilson never revealed the property’s blemished past to the buyers.

Randy Bell, who studies the economics of stigmatized properties, said there are many factors to consider when calculating how a murder affects a home’s value.

Did the murder happen in a rural home? If so, the market drop will be more pronounced. Did the murder occur inside or outside? Inside murders have more of a dampening effect. Was there legal resolution? If there was, the economic damage is typically less, Bell said.

“I’ve seen rational, sensible people who had no idea they were buying a house where there was a murder or a crime, and they become very tweaked about it,” said Bell, who is based in Laguna Beach, Calif. “I’ve heard members of families not going in rooms where crimes take place. It affects human behavior in a real way.”

The McNair condo

Former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was slain in a murder-suicide in July 2009 when 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi shot him and then herself.

After the deaths, reporters from all corners of the country descended on McNair’s modest condo off Second Avenue, cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape.

Two months later, after some interior renovations that included a new paint job and carpeting, new tenants moved in.

Landlord Charlie Cardwell, who is Metro’s former finance director, owns the four-unit building where McNair lived – in Unit 4. Cardwell, in fact, lives in Unit 1, just around the corner from the crime scene.

Cardwell, 77, said he scarcely thinks about the condo’s grisly past. He doesn’t advertise the McNair unit, which is now a rental, online. Instead, he posts a “for lease” sign outside the building. Filling the unit, he said, “is pretty routine.”

“What happened yesterday shouldn’t be an issue tomorrow,” Cardwell said. “I have no reason to tell them on the front end, and I’m not accustomed to doing that.”

Recently, two Belmont University students lived in the McNair unit. Their lease ran out in May, and Cardwell is now looking for new tenants.

There was more foot traffic than usual in the aftermath of the McNair tragedy. Now, though, nothing seems out of step with normal life, he said.

The Bellevue case

In September, after Craig Garber murdered three family members who lived two doors down from him, the homein which the atrocities occurred languished.

It eventually fell into foreclosure and was purchased by an investment company in an auction in April.

Today, the home is being refurbished. Nobody lives there. On a recent visit, a “Stop! Wet Floor!” sign was taped to the front door.

After the murders, said Jacki Allison, 52, who lived next door, quiet life gave way to bewilderment.

“Living next to a crime scene isn’t easy, especially when you know the people who were killed,” she said. “You have to drive in the driveway and look at it every day.”

Allison said she had planned to sell her home even before the murders. When she put the home on the market last month, it took one hour to sell – even though her real estate agent was open about its history.

“She did know what had happened over there,” said Jeff Hoover, 24, who sometimes stays at Jacki’s old homewith his mom, Lisa, who bought it for $169,000 on May 17. In 2013, county appraisers calculated that Allison’s house was worth $133,200 – the sale price likely because of upgrades she did on the property.

“My mom didn’t seemed too concerned about living next to where it all happened,” Hoover said. “There are probably lots of stories like that one most places you go.”

In many high-profile home murders, the properties are bulldozed. Over time they assume a new character, such as a public park or a university building, said Bell, the expert on stigmatized properties.

“People who buy those properties are beneficial to society,” Bell said. “They buy a property that is tainted and has reputational problems, and they’re helping communities move forward.”

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