Randall Bell is not a fan of the macabre—even though he’s best known for valuing the real estate where some of America’s worst crimes and atrocities have occurred.

The 65-year-old real estate appraiser, who has a doctorate in socioeconomics, saw his career catapult after he valued the condo where Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were fatally stabbed in 1994. Former NFL star O.J. Simpson, who died from prostate cancer on Wednesday at the age of 76, was acquitted of their murders in what was dubbed “the trial of a century.”

Since then, Bell has appraised the home where 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey was found murdered as well as the house of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza. He appraised the World Trade Center site, the mansion where 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult killed themselves, and Jeffrey Epstein‘s real estate portfolio.

In addition, he’s also valued neighborhoods destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey and the wildfire that gutted the town of Paradise, CA, among many others.

Nicole Brown Simpson’s condo propelled Bell’s career

Bell’s career reached an inflection point when he appraised Nicole Brown Simpson’s infamous condo.

“Nicole’s dad didn’t know what to do with the property,” says Bell. “I had this reputation for damaged properties, and he lived 5 minutes away from me.”

He remembers little things like candles around the bathtub or the ring left on a surface where Brown Simpson had set a bowl down.

“In some regards, it was another assignment,” says Bell. “But on the other hand, it was surreal. I’m sitting with the family at the kitchen table, and beyond the hype and media and headlines, it was a family stricken with profound grief.”

Bell valued it the day before the crime and again when it became a crime scene.

Former NFL player O.J. Simpson was charged with the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. He was acquitted of the crimes. Randall Bell appraised Brown Simpson’s home in the wake of her brutal murder.

(O.J. Simpson via X)

“I literally had reporters fly from Japan to interview me,” says Bell. “I had a very minor role to play in the whole thing. [But] I went on CNN multiple times. I went on about every news outlet you can imagine.”

Brown Simpson’s father had thought the property would sell for more than what his daughter had paid because of the notoriety. He was wrong.

His daughter had purchased the condo in January 1994 for $675,000, according to Realtor.com® data, just a few months before her death. It should have sold in three to six months, instead of the 2.5 years it took, says Bell.

It sold for $525,000 in 1996, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Fame doesn’t equate to more dollars,” says Bell.

After the murders, the condo’s address was changed and the trajectory of the walkway was altered to make it harder to identify.

It was listed about a decade later, in August 2005 for $1.85 million. It sold for $1.72 million in November 2006.

“For whatever reason, [Bell] seems to have a knack for it,” says national real estate appraiser Jonathan Miller. “He’s been associated with [nearly] all of the disasters that are chronicled on cable news by providing a level-headed take on how to approach a damaged property.”

Aerial view of the condo

(Courtesy of Randall Bell)

The door to the condo owned by Nicole Brown Simpson

(Courtesy of Randall Bell)

A fateful epiphany

Bell grew up in Fullerton, CA, about 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles, known as the birthplace of the Fender guitar. Valuing the homes of serial killers wasn’t exactly his childhood dream. He wanted to become a real estate developer. He was on his way, too, studying real estate in a master’s program at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Appraising “was pretty lucrative” at the time, so he did the coursework to get his license. However, he couldn’t see himself valuing property for the rest of his life. So he took the LSAT and got accepted to law school.

Then, before he started school, he had an epiphany while playing in a pool with his young son. He had learned about what created the value of real estate in his coursework. Now he wanted to figure out what diminished that value.

“Nobody was really doing that,” says Bell. “No one had really dedicated themselves full time to that.”

Randall Bell is a real estate appraiser specializing in distressed properties.

(Courtesy of Randall Bell)

The next day, he called up his commercial clients, for whom he would refinance loans or do appraisals, and told them he wanted to specialize in “damaged” real estate.

This was in the early 1990s, when damage could be an environmental leak at a shopping or industrial center.

“As dumb luck would have it, my timing was stellar. We had the L.A. riots, we had the Northridge earthquake, we had the wildfires in Malibu and elsewhere,” says Bell. “I was getting just tons of work.”

Then, of course, came Nicole Brown Simpson’s condo.

Nicole Brown Simpson’s condo

(AP Photo/Eric Draper)

Natural disaster and murder home discounts

These days Bell divides his time between his homes in Las Vegas; Laguna Beach, CA; and Park City, UT—when he’s not traveling for work.

He works for individuals, corporations, communities, and domestic and international governments. He often testifies in court about property damages.

“He has no peer,” says Miller. “He’s the guy to credibly value the damage of a natural disaster or a traumatic event on a property.”

Value isn’t determined only by the extent of the damage.

When homes are affected by natural disasters, he takes into account the price of repairs, the cost to rent another residence while the property is uninhabitable, and the stigma that the home now faces. Future buyers might be averse to purchasing these homes if they’re prone to storms, flooding, wildfires, and other disasters.

“The sky’s the limit,” Bell says of the size of the price cuts.

Then there are murder homes, which are typically discounted between 10% and 25%.

The values can drop even more, though, depending on the nature and scope of the crime, how much media attention it receives, where it’s located (such as a small town where this is the biggest news in the county versus a large city where crimes are more common), and if children were involved.

“Anytime you cross a line and a child is harmed, it’s a different world,” says Bell. Discounts often swell when the crime involved children. “Some properties are so stigmatized that you can’t sell them. They’re worthless.”

Some of these properties are torn down (such as Jeffrey Dahmer‘s apartment building and the Idaho house where four college students were slain last year), left vacant, or turned into memorials. Others are purchased by people who raze the existing structures and put up new ones, alter the existing facades and change the addresses, or simply live or work in them.

The apartment building where serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer resided and mutilated his victims

(Steve Kagan/Getty Images)

However, those who purchase these distressed properties at a discount might pay an additional emotional price.

It can be the more mundane looky-loos, who stop to take photos of the home or ring the doorbell to ask for tours. Or it can turn sinister.

After the Heaven’s Gate suicides, a man kept trying to jump the fence on the property so he could get inside the home to commit suicide, says Bell. Owners of these homes have also reported break-ins and people doing Satanic rituals on site.

“That’s a pretty common phenomena,” says Bell.

Rules for appraising the world’s worst real estate

When Bell visited the site of the Heaven’s Gate cult suicides, he wouldn’t go into the mansion until all of the bodies had been removed.

( Axel Koester/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)

To cope emotionally with the grisly nature of what he does, Bell has rules: no blood, no bodies.

“Some people think I have some sort of morbid curiosity. It couldn’t be more false,” says Bell, a father of four. “When I come home and my girlfriend says my kids want to watch a horror movie, I don’t want to watch it. I get enough of that at work.”

When he visited the site of the Heaven’s Gate cult suicides, he wouldn’t enter the mansion until all of the bodies had been removed. At the site of the World Trade Center, he stepped on a manhole that burst into flames and “had to sit on a curb and just grieve,” he says.

He wasn’t emotionally ready to visit the memorial site for about five years after it was finished.

“These are real people who lost their lives. There are real families that are grieving,” says Bell.

His home and office in California overlook the water, which he finds very grounding. He earned a doctorate in socioeconomics in 2012 and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2019. He goes to magic shows in Las Vegas and has a large collection of magician Harry Houdini memorabilia.

Bell climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2019.

(Randall Bell)

He also collects Fender guitars. (His father was a mechanical engineer who worked for the guitar company.) He even teamed up with Phyllis Fender to write a book about her late husband, Leo Fender. He’s written and co-written a total of five books, including “Leo Fender: The Quiet Giant Heard Around the World” and “Real Estate Damages,” the latter of which is now in its third edition.

Bell has no intention of retiring anytime soon. He hopes to work until he dies, like his hero Leo Fender.

“I pray for world peace,” says Bell. “But in the meantime, there’s a lot of work to do.”

Source link