Far out Friday: Valuing murder

by Mackenzie McCarty25 Oct 2013

If there’s somethin’ strange in your neighbourhood, (or you’re trying to sell a home where Satan worshipers made bloody sacrifices on the hardwood floors), you don’t ask questions: You call Randall Bell.

Bell’s a US-based real estate appraiser who’s travelled to seven continents over more than twenty years researching the affect that disasters and horrific crimes have on real estate values – and his case load is essentially just a list of all the places where famous (and nasty) things have happened over the last two decades.

According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, as well as his own CV, Bell has been charged with appraising everything from the Rancho Santa Fe mansion where 39 Heaven's Gate cult members committed suicide, to JonBenet Ramsey's house in Colorado, to the World Trade Center site and Bikini Atoll nuclear testing location.

"I love a challenge — the biggest, baddest, bring it on," Bell tells the newspaper. "Every day of the week, there are new places to go and new disasters."

Like all real estate appraisers, Bell uses sales of similar properties to judge value. However, the fact that each of the sites he deals with has experienced some sort of traumatic event, whether it be a natural disaster or a mob hit, means he needs to travel a little further afield to find viable comparisons.

As a result, Bell travels around the world collecting relevant information and anecdotal evidence on the effects disastrous events have on property values. While he’s gone to a number of eerie (or just downright terrifying) places, he admits he has reached his limit on one occasion. In 2010, Bell travelled to Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, searching for sites in places attacked by terrorists. Near the Ibrahim mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron, where an American-born Israeli settler massacred 29 praying Palestinians in 1994, he encountered a man waving a machine gun who threatened to kill him and his guide.

“Then, reports the LA Times, “came the whine of an air-raid siren, the crackle of machine-gun fire and a bomb going off in the distance.”

"I hit my limit with Hebron,” says Bell.

Luckily, he’s amply rewarded for his efforts: Bell reportedly charges a cool US$375 per hour.