The Price Of Plots: A Look At The Cemetery Real Estate Business
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Buying a cemetery plot is a lot like buying a house. You shop around, find a good location, and then commit to your final resting place. But what happens if you move or you change your mind about where you'd like to spend eternity and decide you want to sell that plot? Stacey Vanek Smith from our Planet Money podcast has this look at the cemetery real estate business.
STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Amber Carvaly is a funeral director. Her company, Undertaking LA, is just a few years old. It's a startup. And Amber is very young for this business. She's in her early 30s. She's a little crunchy. She has this long red hair.
I mean, you don't look like a mortician.
AMBER CARVALY: Yeah, I don't think I do either.
VANEK SMITH: Do you get that a lot?
CARVALY: Yes, I get that all the time.
VANEK SMITH: I met Amber at a cemetery, of course, Pierce Brothers Memorial Park in Los Angeles. A 6-foot-by-8-foot plot here costs as much as a house. Square foot by square foot, this is some of the most expensive real estate on the planet. And the reason comes down to one very famous resident.
Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Monroe's grave is very simple. It almost couldn't be more simple except for all the kiss marks.
CARVALY: Yeah, all the kiss marks.
VANEK SMITH: Marilyn's grave is set into a very plain mausoleum wall, just a square stone with her name on it and a dozen fresh lipstick kisses. It stands out from the stones around it.
Is that why it's pink?
CARVALY: I have been told - and I don't know if it's a legend or a myth - that it was turning pink because of all of the kiss marks.
VANEK SMITH: Marilyn is in good company. Hugh Hefner, Rodney Dangerfield, Natalie Wood and Truman Capote are also in this cemetery. It is a very exclusive place. To get a plot here you have to know a guy.
BARON CHU: Hi, my name is Baron Chu with Plot Brokers.
VANEK SMITH: So you're basically a real estate agent for grave plots.
CHU: It's very similar, yes.
VANEK SMITH: Baron can sell you a double plot near Marilyn for $600,000. That is not his most expensive property. He's got a crypt across town going for more than a million.
What are the amenities that it offers? Like, why does it cost so much?
CHU: Private entrance, 18-foot ceilings, marble from floor to ceiling, family names as big as a freeway sign.
VANEK SMITH: Baron has been in the cemetery real estate business for 15 years, and says plot prices in cities like Los Angeles and New York almost always rise for the same reason all real estate prices tend to rise in those cities - populations are always growing, and space is at a premium. Baron says cemetery real estate is a really good investment. Demand is steady, and supply is always decreasing. After all, once people move into a cemetery they don't leave. So even in less expensive cities grave plots start at around $1,500.
Amber Carvaly of Undertaking LA says the cemetery plot is almost always the most expensive part of a burial. More and more she sees her customers skipping that part entirely and opting for cremation. But she doesn't think demand for cemetery space will ever go away. She says graveyards will always play an important role in her business.
CARVALY: This is the one place, I think, for me in the world where everything feels universal. It's like standing at the edge of the ocean. They're just nice places to be.
VANEK SMITH: And people will keep paying for them. Stacey Vanek Smith, NPR News.
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