With Halloween nearly upon us, and the attendant horror movies highlighting all the terrible, terrible things that can happen in a house, it’s natural to wonder: did something terrible happen in my house?
While few Americans outside of the 12-year-old girl demographic are actively interested in investigating their home’s spirit population (the Ouija board remains among the oddest of items in the toy aisle), a lot of people would be interested to know if the place they call home has a lurid history. Aren’t you curious what might be lurking in the dark corners of your house, rustling curtains, slamming doors, lying in wait when you get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Well, a new website—the bluntly named Diedinhouse.com—may not be able to give you any definitive answers about resident spirit populations, but it could help put your mind at ease. Or on edge, whichever the case may be.
For the cost of $11.99 per search, a person can get pretty much get instantaneous results for any address in the U.S.—though buyer beware—the results are far from comprehensive and the F.A.Q. section of the website is littered with disclaimers. The biggest drawback of the record search is that it’s not much help when it comes to deaths that occurred before 1990, when most records were digitized.
Investigating the history of for-sale and rentals properties is what co-founder Roy Condrey sees as the site’s primary use, much as second-hand car buyers rely on Carfax to vet a vehicle’s history. But he also anticipates a clientele among curious homeowners (is the corridor just drafty, or is it something more sinister?) and paranormal investigators—not a bad bet given the second-wave spiritualism that’s been sweeping the nation of late.
“You might be in your home, watching a horror movie, and say: ‘I wonder if anyone died in this house,’” noted Mr. Condrey. (We have, in fact, asked ourselves this very question on multiple occasions.)
A software developer and National Guard communications officer, Mr. Condrey said that he hit on the idea when he found out that a person had died in one of his properties. He was surprised to find that this wasn’t information a seller had to disclose in South Carolina, where he lives (in fact, only three states require sellers to disclose deaths). And though the death had come after a long illness—meaning a low risk of lingering spirits, according to popular lore—he said that when he told his tenants what he’d discovered, they were mildly disturbed. It’s the kind of thing a lot of people would prefer to know before moving in, he explained.
Stigmatized properties—those where a death has occurred, particularly a violent one—are one of the thornier issues in the real estate community, with few states requiring disclosure of a home’s gruesome history before a sale. Of course, though many brokers insist that they would be as forthcoming about a house’s unsavory history as they would a bad roof or a crumbling foundation, unearthing a home’s horrific past is a little more complicated. Unlike a material fact that can be uncovered by a competent home inspector, a seller might not even know that their home was the site of a horrific event 50 years earlier.
How Died In House does its research is not exactly clear—Mr. Condrey was reluctant to go into much detail about what records the website’s algorithm searches to produce reports, citing trade secrets, but he said it uses the same type of public records that he scoured when he was trying to research the history of his property. Reports include whether or not there was any information relating to a death at the address, as well as known residents, both living and deceased. Some even include a notes section—when The Observer ran 875 S. Bundy, the address where O.J. Simpson’s wife Nicole Brown Simpson was stabbed to death along with Ron Goldman, we got a note describing a few details of the murders, but disconcertingly Nicole Brown was described as a known resident associated with the address who was not deceased.
Mr. Condrey acknowledged that the website’s results aren’t super extensive at the moment, though he hopes to beef them up, particularly as more records become digitized. And, he noted, even if the report isn’t comprehensive, Died In House provides information about who lived at your address before you—a valuable first step in trying to piece together a house’s history. He said that he’d originally intended for the site to be a free app, but ended up charging because of the cost of obtaining records.
He also pointed out that even if home buyers don’t care about evil spirits, former crime scenes generally merit a discount. In fact, in a recent poll, 69 percent of Americans said they would live with ghosts for significantly cheaper rent.
Of course, a search that only goes back to 1990 leaves some big holes, particularly for very old houses, like the 1860s wood frame house in Bed-Stuy where this reporter lives. The Died In House search results for my address came up clean—no deaths—although when my landlord bought the house in the early 2000s, multiple neighbors told her that the house, an infamous crack den in the 1980s, had been the scene of three to six murders.
Which highlights another great way to find out if someone died in your house—ask the neighbors.