Nine Creepy Abandoned Mansions
By Morgan Brennan and Michelle Cerone
By the time Thomas Brennan and Mary Alice Shallow bought their 5,000-square-foot farmhouse from Union State Bank, it had sat abandoned for nine months. At a paltry going price of $275,000, the Putnam County, N.Y. abode was nearly 60% cheaper than the other neighborhood homes, thanks to a foreclosure discount and years of neglect.
The property needed repairs, with some the worst damage having been inflicted by squatters, looters and vandals in the nine months leading up to Brennan and Shallow's purchase.
"The copper plumbing had been stolen out of the house, the windows were busted, the front door broken down," says Brennan. "Kids were inside vandalizing the house, and other people were stealing the antique furniture."
Homes across the U.S. sit abandoned, empty and vulnerable to vandalism, due in large part to the ongoing housing crisis. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the national homeowner vacancy rate for the fourth quarter of 2010 was 2.7%. That represents more than 2 million empty homes--including some mansions.
A quick search on real estate listing sites like Realtor.com andTrulia.com shows thousands of palatial estates deserted and patiently awaiting sale, as pools turn green and dust settles on granite countertops. Some of these abodes belong to owners who have listed the properties and relocated. Many more face foreclosure or are already bank-owned.
"What's different about this foreclosure cycle is it has taken houses out of every aspect of the housing market," explains Rick Sharga, senior vice president at RealtyTrac, an Irvine, Calif., foreclosure listing site. "You rarely saw mansions in foreclosure [until recently], and now you are seeing much more expensive types of properties in foreclosure."
RealtyTrac has seen an unprecedented level of default activity in some of America's ritziest neighborhoods. For example, Beverly Hills, the sixth-most-expensive ZIP code in the country, had a 700% increase in foreclosures of homes $2 million and up over the last three years.
We compiled a list of creepy abandoned mansions. They've all been empty for years. In a few cases, the homes have recently been sold to buyers willing restore them. Some are foreclosures; some the targets of longstanding legal battles; some are still actively owned from afar.
What do we mean by creepy? We confined our search to homes decaying into the ground, boasting spooky legends or tragic murders, or serving as sites for sordid illegal activities. Many of them are for sale: Boxer Mike Tyson's deserted former Southington, Ohio, manor is listed for $1.3 million, and the allegedly haunted New Hampshire castle once inhabited by railroad tycoon Benjamin Ames Kimball can be had for a steeply discounted $880,000.
The bullet holes, gaping fissure in the wall and cracked windows have been patched up by new owners in the Florida estate vacated by Khalil bin Laden, Osama's brother, following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The asking price: $2 million.
For anyone tempted to take ownership of an empty estate, a plethora of challenges await. Creditors often hesitate to repossess them due to the high taxes and steep maintenance expenses they would assume. They can take ages to sell as well, partly because of a lack of available credit. Nearly 96% of mortgages currently being written boast backing from government affiliates like Fannie Mae ( FNM - news - people ),Freddie Mac ( FRE - news - people ) and the Federal Housing Administration. Their loan limits are typically well below what would be needed to purchase a posh pad.
Since many mansions sit behind gates or in seclusion, looters can slip in unnoticed. Fixtures and construction supplies get stolen, as they were in Brennan's and Shallow's new home.
Sometimes "mansion squatters" move in. Last fall actor Randy Quaid and wife Evi were arrested for squatting in the guest house of a California home the actor once owned. In 2009 a former Wells Fargo ( WFC - news - people ) executive got canned after crashing a $14.9 million Malibu manse repossessed by a bank.
Abandoned homes have also become a political hot potato across the country. Unfortunately there is no easy answer for what to do with empty structures, whether they're mansions, more typical single-family residences or unfinished developments. One modest source of support is a federal abandoned property program set up under President George W. Bush and supported by President Barack Obama; it, however, may also fall into disrepair. The cost-conscious U.S. House of Representatives is looking to abandon the program--like a creepy home that costs too much to keep up.
17920 W Colonial Drive, Oakland, Fla.
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Khalil bin Laden, Osama's brother, fled this lakefront estate. During six years of vacancy, damage to the property included bullet holes in the walls. More recently acquired, it is currently up for grabs for $2 million.
3737 State Route 534, Southington, Ohio
The vacant manse was home to boxer Mike Tyson in the 1990s. The current asking price is $1.3 million, despite overgrown lawns and a moss-colored pool.
2475 Glendower Place, Los Feliz, Calif.2475 Glendower Place, Los Feliz, Calif.
The owner of the Los Feliz murder mansion pays the taxes every year. Yet the notorious site--where a doctor bludgeoned his wife to death before drinking acid--has remained empty since the 1960s.
Mudhouse Mansion, Lancaster, Ohio
This 19th-century red brick building, rumored to be haunted, has not housed a regular occupant since the 1930s, despite a financially fastidious owner.
Kimball Castle, Gilford, N.H.
For $880,000 you can investigate whether this eerie hillside castle "in need of total rehab" indeed deserved a cameo on reality TV series Ghost Hunters.
1915 Moonlight Road, Surry, Va.
Vacant since NFL quarterback Michael Vick operated an illegal dog-fighting ring on its 15 acres. "Bad Newz Kennel" is set to become "Dogz Deserve Better," a nonprofit dedicated to rehabilitating canines.
Land's End Estate, Sands Point, Long Island, N.Y.
One of two estates rumored to be F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby inspiration, this crumbling North Shore manor once hosted Winston Churchill. It now awaits demolition.