Surveying Houses with Hidden (Or Not So Hidden) Horrors.

Original Article
October 31st, 2016


Surveyors and valuers are commissioned to undertake surveys for all kinds of properties – old and new, big and small, simple and complex. It is not unusual, then, for a surveyor to visit a property with a somewhat sinister past.

What do these addresses have in common?

  • 23D Cranley Gardens
  • 10 Rillington Place

The answer? They are all infamous ‘murder houses’. 23D Cranley Gardens was the home of serial murderer Dennis Nilsen and 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill was the home of killer John Christie – both of which carried out a number of grisly murders in their own homes.

So, when faced with the prospect of surveying a ‘murder house’, what does this mean for the surveyor and, furthermore, what effect does such a gruesome history have on the value of a property?

When completing a survey on a property, it is the surveyor’s responsibility to carry out desktop research to uncover as much detail about it as possible, and to fact-check any information given by the neighbours, the homeowner and indeed even the estate agent. If something sinister is uncovered during desktop research, the most immediate impact is on the surveyor.

Chartered Surveyor, Alan Appleby, shares his story:

“…when inspecting a property where the previous owner sadly had hanged himself, I was somewhat uncomfortable when inspecting the integral garage in which, according to the agents, the unpleasant event had supposedly occurred.

“When speaking some months later to a policeman who had attended the incident at the time, it turns out the actual location was the hallway which of course I had happily inspected without any reservations. So is it all in the mind? Of course it is, but it is the mind that likes and buys houses so this effect cannot be ignored when valuing the property.”

Generally speaking, when assessing a property with an unsettling past it is fair to say that the likely effect on value is proportionate to the severity and the notoriety of the circumstances. Take, for instance, Dennis Nilsen’s property in Cranley Gardens. This property sold for just £300,000 in 2015, whilst surrounding flats have sold for prices in excess of £400,000. The nature of the incidents that took place in the property has likely affected the demand and therefore the value. In thirty years’ time it is possible that the value will start reflecting that of comparable properties in the area.

Appleby comments:

“In most cases, the effect will be far less dramatic and usually fades away over the ensuing years. Even when the matter is fresh in the public mind, a reasonable discount on current market prices will usually find a bargain hunter ready to pick up the property and rent it out (perhaps also at a discounted rent to start with) in order to rebuild the ‘emotional integrity’ of the property (so to speak) and sell on for a profit in future years.”

The question remains, however, when does a property’s history stop being important?

Furthermore, whilst it is true that properties tend to lose their notoriety over time, many ‘murder houses’ never shake their unsavoury reputations. Residents living on the same street as John Christie petitioned to have the street name changed from Rillington Place to Ruston Close in 1954, but sadly this did little to rebuild the street’s infamous reputation. The release of 1971 film 10 Rillington Place based on the Christie Murders only served to increase Christie’s notoriety. The property was subsequently demolished. Many other ‘murder houses’ have suffered the same fate – in 1987, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley’s property in Hattersley was torn down after a succession of tenants complained of a bad vibe in the building; and in 1996, Fred and Rose West’s house on Cromwell Street was demolished and converted into a landscaped footpath.

It could be argued that, for as long as estate agents and surveyors alike are obliged to disclose all their findings to their clients, a property’s past will remain a significant factor for homebuyers considering a purchase. It appears, then, that sometimes the only way for a property to truly lose its notoriety is to tear it down and remove any physical signs of the atrocities that happened there.

Another interesting question would be – does the appearance of a ‘murder house’ in a Hollywood film make a property more or less marketable? Perhaps we’ll cover that another day.