Nightmare Before Closing: A Housing Horror Tale Why should one be scared if they find a toilet in the sunroom? This is only one of the lessons a California couple learns when they try to become homeowners for the first time. A bank-owned property in California doesn't require a disclosure form, which makes it easy to miss the ghosts of a home's past.
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Nightmare Before Closing: A Housing Horror Tale

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Nightmare Before Closing: A Housing Horror Tale

Nightmare Before Closing: A Housing Horror Tale

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This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick. Now, just in time for the season, a Halloween housing horror story. Here's NPR's Heather Murphy.

HEATHER MURPHY: What makes a haunted house scary is, when one least expects it, something pops out from a dark corner.

Ms. MARY LOU ROSATO: It was huge. It was about the size of a quarter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MURPHY: For Mary Lou Rosato and Gregory Walker, the first sign came in the form of a black widow spider.

Ms. ROSATO: Tried to assassinate it.

MURPHY: But the shocker that really hinted at the nightmare to come was the toilet in the sunroom.

Mr. GREGORY WALKER: From that toilet, we had a really good view down the street.

MURPHY: Why had the previous resident installed it there? It was a question they chose to ignore.

Ms. ROSATO: The crapper in the sunroom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MURPHY: They were head over heels in love with a house, just a few signatures away from tying the knot with the bank and becoming proud homeowners finally, at ages 40 and 50-something.

Ms. ROSATO: Everybody told us, buy the house, go on. It's time, you know.

MURPHY: Now, this was back in 2003. The housing market was blood hot.

Ms. ROSATO: It felt like it was the height of the insanity, but it was only about the fifth rung of the insanity.

MURPHY: Mary Lou and Walker had been saving a little here and there, but on their modest incomes as an actress and an art teacher, everything was far too expensive. And then, in Lincoln Heights, a supposedly up-and-coming neighborhood close to downtown L.A., they found it. A charming 100-year-old Victorian for just $220,000, more than 100,000 less than similar houses nearby. They knew very little about the place, except it was a bank-owned property, and a front window was gone. But that price - they nearly beat out another bidder. And then, the day before closing, they met the neighbors.

Ms. ROSATO: And this guy came striding out of nowhere, and he said to us, do you know what kind of a neighborhood this is? That question was like - donnng - a smash in my face, you know. Do you know what kind of a neighborhood this is?

MURPHY: He told them their dream home was the scene of a gruesome crime. The previous residents, gang bangers who kept watch from the sunroom, ready to flush crack rocks down the toilet if the police showed up. Some rival gang members were in jail, he said. But they're about to be released, and when they saw the house was occupied, they'd shoot out that front window yet again.

Ms. ROSATO: Merry Christmas. Here's the story of the house you're about to buy.

MURPHY: A neighborhood watch, she suggested cautiously.

Ms. ROSATO: The people looked at us like, you are kooky people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROSATO: You got to get out of here.

MURPHY: And they did. They verified the facts with the police and wrote a letter to the bank, getting out of the deal. And after that, they never returned to the house again. Why hadn't anyone told them that their house was haunted by violence? Because, when one buys a property from the bank, there's no such thing as a disclosure form. Drive bys, a rabid bat colony, an individual seller would have to fess up. But representatives from the bank aren't legally expected to know or tell.

(Soundbite of a violin)

MURPHY: Five years later, Mary Lou and Walker are still renting the same apartment. Spooked, they've never tried to buy again. But they can't help wondering, what if. Wouldn't it be nice if, in these moments, we could borrow the abilities from the characters on the TV show "Heroes," make them paint a picture of our other future and then decide which one to pick.

In the case of Mary Lou and Walker, I can only offer them the stats. In 2004, on the block that you would have been living on, there were three aggravated assaults.

Ms. ROSATO: Oh my god.

MURPHY: In 2005, there were five aggravated assaults, including one homicide.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROSATO: Oh god.

MURPHY: Even their little Pekinese is alarmed.

(Soundbite of creaking)

MURPHY: I arrive at the house where Mary Lou and Walker almost lived. A Great Dane the size of a cow is taking a stroll without a leash. I walk up to the Victorian home and meet one of the current residents.

(Soundbite of chit chat)

MURPHY: After some chit chat, we cut to the chase. Do they have any problems with the house or neighborhood? Josefina Guzman nods and pauses. She says that ice-cream truck sure is a nuisance. Round and around and round it goes. How much ice-cream can a person eat?

(Soundbite of voices in the street)

MURPHY: I tell Josefina and her family about the ghost that haunted their home, but she says the crack-addicted toilet was gone by the time they moved in. They haven't had any trouble with gangs.

Mr. SENOR GUZMAN: No. Over here, you can do whatever you want. Right now, it's a dream.

MURPHY: A dream. I take this news back to Mary Lou and Walker. I also tell them that, even after the housing collapse and all the problems in the neighborhood, a real estate agent says the house they walked away from is worth more today than it was five years ago. But, she says, a house is not supposed to be a gamble. Anyway, even if she had managed to tame the violent ghosts in the house, Mary Lou and Walker figure their dogs would have never made it.

WALKER: They probably would have been stolen or hurt or, you know...

MARY LOU: Eaten.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WALKER: Yeah. Eaten.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MURPHY: Or worse, crushed under the slow-moving wheels of an ice cream truck. Heather Murphy, NPR News.

(Soundbite of ice-cream truck and scary noise)

CHADWICK: So, if you've got your own housing horror story, you can share it at our blog, Boo!

BRAND: Oh. Aah! You know, those ice cream trucks, they are always a little bit creepy. Anyway, it's your last chance also to send us a photo of your Halloween costume. If you're going out dressed as someone in the news, we want to see you!

CHADWICK: And we're putting together a little photo gallery. Let's face it, deep inside, you really want to be a part of that gallery,

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