Taking Money Out of Their Own Graves

August 6, 2009
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Nevadans down on their luck are selling what they don?t immediately need: Burial plots. This real estate calls for careful advertising: ?Prestigious and matured garden,? ?near water feature and tree,? ?includes vault and headstone.?

In Clark County and across the country, a tough economy is prompting people to sell burial plots intended for later use or inherited from family. The plots have been stacking up in Internet classifieds (those quotes were taken from Las Vegas Craigslist postings) and on Web sites where online brokers keep databases of plots for sale by owner, a multiple listing service for cemeteries.

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Baron Chu, owner of California burial resale site Plot Brokers, says listings have grown at least tenfold in the past year. And Ken Brant, sales director for national Web site Grave Solutions (which currently has 117 listings in Nevada, mostly multiple plots), says resales have increased as the economy sinks. People are going online to get around mortuary prices, just like any shopper who shudders at retail prices.

Either way, Brant says, ?it?s about the worst product in the world to sell.?

Especially when you don?t want to.

Susan, who asked that her real name not be used, was laid off from a white-collar job last year and hasn?t found work. The single mom has spent savings and emptied bank accounts. Last month she realized she had no choice. She had to sell her own plot ? the space next to her husband, who died years ago, soon after a sudden, terminal diagnosis.

?If I had a job, I?d never be selling it,? she said. ?Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing aren?t the same thing.?

Susan?s husband asked to be buried days before he died, so she bought them both plots in a northwest Las Vegas cemetery, despite her wish to be cremated.

?I was grasping at any chance to be together,? she said.

She chose the site carefully. It?s near water, but not too close. It?s near trees, but not too crowded.

Her space cost $6,900. Today she?s selling it for $5,000.

She feels both awful and hopeful about selling the grave site. She figures it might be healthy, somehow, to let go.

Nobody has made an offer yet.

Because available burial plots outnumber buyers, prices have been driven down. Moreover, this kind of purchase is usually made in the days surrounding a death, Brant says, making it hard to predict when a plot will sell. The average waiting time is 15 months.

?This isn?t the kind of thing that?s going to generate some cash real fast,? he said.

This is hard to explain to customers who seem increasingly anxious about quick sales and profits, he said.

?More people are scratching around the house for something to sell,? he said.

Cemetery companies are generally too busy selling unclaimed sites to get involved with buybacks or resales, Brant says, so they refer clients to classifieds, as they did with Susan.

In transient Clark County, people often resell plots they purchased for themselves, unlike in cities with longer histories, where family sites are handed down, leaving younger generations with plots they might rather sell than keep, Brant said. These large properties can fetch thousands of dollars. A multi-person private memorial garden in Henderson recently sold for about $50,000 ? more than 30 percent off the appraised value, the seller claimed.

Chu says this is the second tide of burial site resellers. The initial rush was people who didn?t have much looking for a quick sale. Lately he has seen an increase in higher-end properties belonging to wealthier people.

?When those types of people are selling their things,? he said, ?it?s not a good sign for the recession.?

Sites that don?t sell can be donated to charity for a tax deduction, Brant says. This is what Las Vegas resident Russ Martino hopes to do if he can?t sell his spot in a veterans? area at Bunkers Memory Gardens Cemetery in northwest Vegas.

Martino bought the space years ago, before he realized he could be buried at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City. An Army band musician, Martino, 77, spent more than 30 years playing piano in Vegas casinos before he was laid off in October. He can?t be buried in two places, and he could use the money, so he?s selling his extra spot for $1,675 or best offer.

?I?d like to sell it while I am still here,? he said.

Source: Las Vegas Sun

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