Two years after Chris Watts murdered his pregnant wife and two daughters, the Colorado house at the center of the macabre tragedy remains in purgatory.
The nation was horrified and captivated in 2018 when Chris Watts murdered his picture-perfect family in Frederick, CO—then scrambled to cover his tracks. The case is about to achieve new notoriety thanks to a new Netflix documentary, “American Murder: The Family Next Door,” which will start streaming on Wednesday. But the home at the center of the macabre tragedy is languishing in its own kind of legal purgatory.
The documentary details how Watts strangled his pregnant wife, Shanann Watts, in their five-bedroom home during a fight in the early hours of Aug. 13, 2018. Chris told her he was having an affair with a co-worker and asked for a divorce. Shanann reportedly shot back that he’d never see his daughters again. So he killed her.
That same night Chris murdered daughters Celeste, 3, and Bella, 4, after driving them to Anadarko Petroleum, where he worked as an operator, and smothering them in his car. He went on TV the following day, begging his wife and children to return home. But he would eventually fail a polygraph test and confessed his grisly crimes to the police.
Shanann’s body was found in a shallow grave on the Anadarko site, and his daughters were discovered in oil tanks.
He is now serving multiple life sentences behind bars. But the fate of the Watts’ roughly 4,200-square-foot, brown house, at 2825 Saratoga Trail in Frederick, is still uncertain. The unassuming, single-family house in the suburbs sits in legal limbo.
The lender that owns the mortgage on the home, built in 2013, foreclosed on the property and put it up for auction. But no one bought it within a year of when it went up for sale. So the county took it out of foreclosure.
That means that it’s still owned by convicted murderer Chris Watts.
“It’s not getting any bids because people know the sordid history of the house, and nobody wants it,” says Denver-based bankruptcy attorney Clark Dray, who works with foreclosures.
“It just sits in limbo until [a creditor] comes along and tries a foreclosure again,” says Dray, who is not affiliated with the home or its former owners.
The couple purchased the brand-new home for $399,954 in May 2013. It’s now estimated to be worth $648,100, according to realtor.com®.
“Usually at least the mortgage company will attempt to buy the home so they can resell it,” says Dray. That could mean the lender is worried the home won’t fetch a good price or simply won’t attract a buyer. Real estate investors also shied away.
It’s also likely to lead to significant price cuts.
“The longer the house sits vacant, the bigger the discounts. [And] it’s been vacant over two years,” says real estate appraiser Orell Anderson, of Strategic Property Analytics.
“When there are kids involved, the discounts are higher. People really don’t like that,” says Anderson, who specializes in real estate damages, which include properties where crimes occurred.
The Netflix documentary will likely exacerbate the stigma, making the house even more toxic. Anderson expects the house will need to be discounted by 15% to 25% to sell.
“It’s a great neighborhood of nicely built homes. It’s family-friendly. It’s a great location. You can get to Denver quick from there, you can get to Boulder,” says local real estate agent Tanja Nelson, of Sellstate Peak Properties, of the upper middle-class community. But the crime “was a huge deal. … It was talked about for months.”
If it sells at all, it will likely be to an out-of-state buyer, Nelson says.
“Everybody knows the story around here,” says Nelson. “It’s a nice enough house and the neighborhood’s awesome. It would have sold by now if someone local felt comfortable enough to buy it.”
For the Watts house to be auctioned off, one of the creditors owed money from the property would have to put it back up for foreclosure. Or the state could do it if the delinquent taxes pile up. Creditors are those who have liens on the property for unpaid bills. They include Shanann’s parents, Sandra and Franklin Rzucek, who won a $6 million wrongful death lawsuit against Chris, according to the property’s title report. There is also the mortgage lender, water company, and local homeowners association.
Potential buyers who aren’t scared off by the heinous act that occurred in the home may be scared off by the attention it will likely continue to receive. They may want to alter the home’s appearance, with a new color of paint or different landscaping. Or they may want to knock it down and put up a new home on the property.
“If you can make the house look different from [how it was portrayed in the media], you don’t get all the looky-loos,” says appraiser Anderson.
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