Fall House Hunt

Some properties have murderous pasts. Realtors don’t have to tell you that.

“Stigmatized properties’’ are homes where murders, suicides, or alleged paranormal activity took place. Continue reading at realestate.boston.com.

“Stigmatized properties’’ are homes where murders, suicides, or alleged paranormal activity took place. Ally Rzesa/Globe staff

O’Necia Simpson felt she had to say something.

The realtor was showing a property to a client in the Court Square Press Building at 9 West Broadway. Tucked in South Boston close to the South End, the luxury condominium building was everything her client was looking for.

“She loved it, and it fit perfectly,’’ said Simpson, a realtor with Coldwell Banker Realty in Cambridge.

As Simpson walked through the property with her client, the listing agent’s associate asked whether they would like to see the garage.

“I was like, why are we going into the Macallen Building?’’ said Simpson, recalling the gruesome murder of two Boston physicians in the building’s penthouse in 2017. While the Court Square Press and Macallen buildings are not adjacent, the garage is located in the Macallen, and the buildings share a condo association.


Simpson’s buyer had asked specific questions about safety and was new to the area. As a result, Simpson faced a conflict.

“This incident that took place here,’’ she explained. “I know is going to be relevant information for her to make a decision on whether or not she wants to live in this building.’’

But in Massachusetts, which is referred to as a “buyer beware state,’’ real estate professionals aren’t required to disclose this information. According to Massachusetts law, “the fact or suspicion that real property may be or is psychologically impacted shall not be deemed to be a material fact required to be disclosed in a real estate transaction.’’ These are known as “stigmatized properties’’ and include homes where murders, suicides, or alleged paranormal activity took place. They do not have any material defects that could affect the health of residents, but their troubled histories may cause potential buyers to think twice.

Simpson said that the lack of a responsibility to tell her buyer about the murders left her feeling uncomfortable. When she mentioned the situation to others, they suggested she avoid saying anything.


“They were like: ‘What are you telling her for? It has nothing to do with you,’ ’’ she recalled. Her legal counsel confirmed she had no obligation to tell her client. Still, she felt uneasy.

In the Salem area, real estate agents are used to dealing with stigmatized properties due to the area’s paranormal activity and spooky sensibility. Dana Bull, a realtor with Sagan Harborside Sotheby’s International Realty on the North Shore, was at a rental property in Beverly that had a significant amount of “Satan-worshiping stuff going on.’’ During the inspection, Bull found a tapestry covering a bifold door. The rest of the home was disheveled, but the door opened to a spotless room with a shrine and a deck of cards on a table. Quickly the inspector and Bull realized what they were looking at.

“This was a room where they sacrificed animals,’’ said Bull. “I’ve learned you never know what’s going on behind closed doors.’’

But across the rest of the Northeast, some buyers are a bit more skittish. As a result, some notorious, stigmatized properties change their address to avoid the spotlight. After prying eyes from tourists got to be too much of a hassle, former owners of the Long Island home where the infamous “Amityville Horror’’ murders took place in 1974 changed its address from 112 Ocean Ave. to 108. However, the history didn’t stop the property from selling, going for $605,000 in March 2017.


In the digital age, when Google can lead anyone with a phone or a computer to information about a property, address changes are rare. Across Boston, several properties where Albert H. DeSalvo, known as the Boston Strangler, killed women have been bought and sold recently. In April, 79 Gainsborough St., Unit 205, sold for $770,000. Formerly numbered 77 Gainsborough St., it’s where DeSalvo allegedly killed a 55-year-old Latvian seamstress named Anna Slesers in 1962.

Scott McNeill, the real estate agent with Compass who sold unit 205, said he was aware that the Strangler had murdered someone in the vicinity, but wasn’t sure of the address. During the selling process, nobody bothered to inquire about the killing.

“I think it just depends on how recent it was. I just don’t think people realize, and it was so, so long ago,’’ McNeill said.

Of course, in a competitive real estate market, some prospective buyers and renters may be willing to bypass a stigmatized history. In 1963, Bessie Goldberg was brutally murdered in her home at 14 Scott Road in Belmont. Roy Smith, a worker hired to clean the Goldbergs’ home, was ultimately convicted of Goldberg’s murder. But his guilt was questioned in Sebastian Junger’s book “A Death in Belmont,’’ and some believe Goldberg was actually one of the Boston Strangler’s victims. Fast forward to 2015, and an open house at the property was so overcrowded that police had to be called to shut it down. Clearly, the stigmatized history didn’t harm its value: It sold for $750,000 ($51,000 over the asking price) in May 2015 and for $1,325,000 the following year. Now, it’s estimated to be worth $2 million-plus, according to Redfin.


That same high demand can go for stigmatized rentals. Dimitri Petrosian, an agent with Elevated Residential, was securing tenants for a Boston rental building when one unit was left vacant. It came as a shock when the mother of a prospective renter sent him an article about a brutal murder that took place in the building’s basement several years prior, where a man was stabbed nearly 100 times and his teeth had been pulled out.

“A guy was stabbed and dragged into the alley over a card game happening in the basement,’’ said Petrosian. But the property had been gut-renovated and was “beautiful’’ now. Ultimately, the tenant decided to move into the unit. But that doesn’t mean its history doesn’t give Petrosian the heebie-jeebies.

“We still were able to rent out the unit,’’ Petrosian said, “but I did feel uneasy going into it after learning that.’’

Because of Massachusetts’ unique laws, prospective buyers with a sensitivity to stigmatized properties need to ask the right questions.

“Buyers need to be educated and understand that in our state, you need to know what questions to ask,’’ said Bull, who notes that listing agents and sellers who are unaware of stigmatizing events are relieved of responsibility. “You can’t squeeze water out of a stone; if they don’t know the answer, they don’t know the answer.’’


But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your homework.

“I always tell buyers to Google the addresses, [check] police logs, and talk to the neighbors. I am always nervous when someone buys a property without talking to a neighbor, especially a condo’’ in a homeowners association, said Bull. “Speak to someone with a pulse. They always have the scoop.’’

As for Simpson, she ultimately told her potential buyer about the Macallen Building murders. The client determined she still wanted to live in the property and put in a lower offer than she would have prior to learning about the murders.

“She was able to read the story herself and realize that it was a God-awful situation that occurred one time, and it’s not something that continuously happens in the building,’’ said Simpson.

Megan Johnson can be reached at [email protected]. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp. Follow us on FacebookLinkedInInstagram, and Twitter @globehomes.


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com