The Neighborhood Haunt Next Door: Living Near Graveyards
Baltimore real estate agent Lynn Ikle was showing a property to a prospective buyer. Things looked promising — lush landscaping and a backyard pool — until they explored far back into the property, behind the pool, and came across a cemetery.
“Ew,” the client said.
“We left that property, and they bought a different home,” remembers Ikle.
From small family burial plots on historic properties to cemeteries woven into the cultural fabric of many of America’s biggest cities, there are plenty of areas where people can live among the dead.
A 2013 study by real estate agency Redfin found that while properties with headstone-related considerations might spend a longer time than average on the market, home sales weren’t adversely affected. Interestingly enough, the homes closest to the graveyards sold for more on average (per square foot) than those farther away.
“There are also often strict zoning rules about development in these areas, which limits new inventory, putting upward pressure on prices,” says Ikle. “It’s also common for older homes near cemeteries to have recently been gutted and renovated, further increasing their value.”
If a buyer’s tastes lean toward old and historic homes, it’s more likely they’ll have to come to terms with the reality that it might be impossible to get the original owners to move out. It was very common to bury family members on the property for either cultural reasons or the lack of a municipal cemetery while the country was being settled. Now, buyers more than often not embrace the presence of the graves as part of the home’s history.
But even if you’d rather live in a modern subdivision than an 18th-century farmhouse, there’s still a chance your dream home might be near a resting place. As modern urban development encroached into previously rural areas, it’s now not uncommon to find family cemeteries tucked into suburban neighborhoods or on larger properties in the ex-burbs.
There’s even a small family burial ground adjacent to Ralph Wilson Stadium, home to the Buffalo Bills.
These small family plots can lead to big issues for developers. Homeowners may not mind the ancestors, but dealing with their descendants can be a whole different matter.
A number of laws and statutes govern and protect cemeteries and graveyards. Some, like those of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, can be quite comprehensive about matters like care and upkeep or affording access to the family members.
Developers and even municipalities can face issues with such laws and historic societies when graveyards are concerned. In 2009, a group of Kansas City, MO, preservationists won a ruling from a Missouri appeals court to stop the city from moving four cemeteries in order to develop a motorsports park. In 2010, celebrity fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg was granted a zoning permit for up to 20 headstones on the property of her New Milford, CT, home.
Dying to Get In
Some buyers get creeped out by graveyards, but that situation is a rarity in highly competitive real estate markets.
“I think one reason it comes up so rarely is that people do so much research online and look at homes on a map on their Redfin app or website before seeing a home in person,” says Ikle. “They know a lot about the home’s location, and if it’s near something that’s unsavory to them they won’t waste time to go see it.”
Philadelphia real estate agent Blakely Minton remembers a time when homebuyers could afford to be pickier. Now, though, Minton notes a good school system is more important for many prospective buyers than nearby tombstones, a sign that living near a graveyard is more for younger folks.
“The older generation tend to have a more negative feel toward living so close to the deceased,” says Minton. “Or as one of my buyers put it: She didn’t want a constant reminder of her next stop.”
Dark humor aside, in cities that have become more and more crowded over time, living in and around graveyards is unavoidable for many. This holds especially true in spread-out cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore that were colonized long before most of the U.S.
Graveyards that have been around for quite some time can become a part of the neighborhood character. Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC, was revitalized by the dog walkers of the community and has become a destination for tourists. Events such as Outdoor Yoga Mortis, The Tombs and Tomes Book Club, and the “Dead Man’s Run” 5K race are hosted there.
“I think it just has to do with geography and location,” says Ikle. “Cemeteries in cities are often located in the older, historic centers of town. Most people would say that these neighborhoods with historic homes, buildings, monuments, and cemeteries have ‘character,’ and that’s something a lot of buyers look for when choosing a neighborhood.”
Quiet Neighbors, Lush Lawns
The option of a toned-down neighborhood within the confines of a bustling urban environment is also a selling point.
“In densely populated neighborhoods, a cemetery next door can offer some privacy you wouldn’t otherwise get in a populous area,” says Ikle. “It’s one way to feel like you’re not living ‘on top’ of other people. Living near a cemetery also can often mean less traffic in your neighborhood.”
Adds Minton: “I tell buyers ‘these neighbors will never complain about noise or borrow your stuff!’”
Of course, graveyard maintenance varies in quality from location to location. A well-maintained cemetery can add to the mystique of the neighborhood whereas a poorly maintained one can act as an eyesore that drops property values. To that end, Ikle encourages all prospective buyers to look closely at the view out of each window before buying a home.
“I think the relative proximity of the living spaces to the graveyard is another factor,” says Ikle. “If your own yard is so small that it feels like the cemetery is your backyard, or you look out your windows and all you see are tombstones, that’s more likely to turn buyers off.”