Selling a House With a Story

Every house that wasn’t built yesterday has its own history: Perhaps a famous person lived there, or the house was one of few to remain standing during an earthquake, or it’s where the former owners always put up the best holiday display.

When a house’s history is dramatic enough, it can actually affect the property’s market value, for better or for worse. The court cases usually emphasize the instances of “worse” — for example, when sellers fail to disclose a violent murder on the property, which despite having no affect on its physical condition, creeps most people out enough that they don’t want to pay as much for the place.

But even something like the aforementioned holiday display can affect a buyer’s enjoyment of the property. A couple I know bought a house where the owners had accompanied their holiday light show with a “Santa’s workshop” setup in the garage — with the result that, for years after my friends bought the place, kids would show up demanding to see Santa. (Fortunately, the sellers had warned them in advance, so there was no need to drag Santa into court.)

The question when selling a house is, do you play up the history or not? I imagine this was discussed by the owners of a property sold last week in North Oakland. The house was once owned by Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale’s parents. Back in the 1960s, Seale, Huey Newton, and others met there — they apparently drafted the Panthers’ manifesto in the dining room.

Some prospective buyers, upon hearing this news, might have said, “Cool.” Others might have wondered what they’d tell the folks back in Peoria. Perhaps in response to this possible mix of audience responses, the sellers here took a low-key approach. They didn’t mention — much less play up — this bit of history in the house’s listing materials. It merely received a quiet mention in the disclosure packet. Instead of focusing on history, the sellers played up all the contemporary features they’d added to the house — maple cabinets, quartz countertops, and so on.

That didn’t stop the sale from becoming a local news item, however:

Here are the stories from the Huffingon Post (“Black Panther House Sold in Oakland“) and the San Jose Mercury News (“Black Panther birthplace flipped and sold as trendy Oakland showpiece“).