By Jesse McCarl
An unsuspecting family moves to big house to get a fresh start, only to find that their new digs are haunted by spirits. You’ve seen it in everything from Casper the Friendly Ghost to American Horror Story. Crazy as it might sound, that horror cliché might not be too far from the realm of possibility. Most states don’t require disclosure on paranormal activity when selling a property.
If you’re rolling your eyes already, let’s take a look at how even the US Supreme Court acknowledged the reality of haunted houses, and then we’ll look at how they play a role in modern real estate.
Did you know the US Supreme Court has technically acknowledged the existence of haunted houses? In 1991 a home in Nyack, New York went on the market. Jeffery Stambovsky agreed to purchase the home for $650,000 and paid a down payment of $32,500.
Nyack, NY Haunted Estate via 1000Words1000Days
What Stambovsky didn’t know at the time was that the owner of the Nyack residence, Helen Ackley, had publicly claimed the house was haunted on numerous occasions. She had even written stories about the eerie estate in publications as renowned as Reader’s Digest. Neither Ackley nor her real estate broker made mention of the alleged haunting before a contract was signed.
When Stambovsky found out about the house’s reputation, he demanded that he be released from his contract, insisting that the listing party had not properly disclosed all information. The case ended up in the US Supreme Court.
The decision on the property was that since the seller had informed the public at large about the existence of poltergeists on the premises, she was estopped to deny the existence of spirits at the time of sale. The house was deemed haunted as a matter of law!
As for the rest of that real estate transaction, Stambovsky was able to get out of his contract but was unable to retrieve his down payment. The house eventually sold to a couple and there were no subsequent reports of paranormal activity.
How to Sell a Haunted House
Selling real life haunted houses can be tricky for all the obvious reasons! If you disclose a house is haunted too early, you look crazy. If you don’t disclose it at all, there could be legal ramifications, as seen above. Here is a list of five things to consider if you’re tasked with selling a house with reported paranormal activity.
1. Look for Alternatives
As the listing agent of a potentially haunted property, your first job is to check for other explanations for seemingly ghostly events. For example, your client may think a ghost is flicking the lightswitches, but you could probably figure out pretty quickly if it’s just some faulty wiring.
2. Research Disclosure Laws
Most states do not require you to disclose paranormal activity when selling a home. This is why those movie characters always wind up in haunted houses. If the state does require such disclosure, it is lumped in with ‘stigmatized properties.’ Stigmatized property laws are the same ones that require you to disclose if there was a murder or suicide in the home recently, etc. Those disclosures are considered ‘emotional defects,’ and are not usually as damaging to property value as ‘physical defects.’
3. Know When to Speak Up
Regardless of local law, it is usually best to at least mention the possibility of spirits squatting in the house. Any disclosure shortcomings, even if legally acceptable, are damaging to reputation. Furthermore, the US Supreme Court case described above proves that if you fail to disclose something, even in the gray area of paranormal dwellings, the court is likely to side with the unsuspecting buyers.
4. Have the Home Cleaned
There are services which enable you to hire experts to clean the home of any negative spirits. These people claim to communicate with the dead, and give them the direction and strength to move on from their current residence. Even if you don’t buy any of this nonsense, it could be enough to calm the fears of a tepid buyer!
5. Hope for the Best
There have been stories of agents who experience paranormal occurrences during their open houses or private showings. These experiences could range from baffling to terrifying. At the point that a haunting affects your prospects, there’s really nothing you can do. Perhaps the best thing to keep in mind is that if you see twins at the end of the hall or ‘REDRUM’ scratched in a mirror, you should probably just drop the listing and get out of there.
Whether you believe in the idea of haunted houses or not, the issue may arise more often than you would expect in real estate. Do a little bit of research so that you know how to address the matter if you should ever come across such a listing. Even if you never have to sell haunted real estate yourself, it’s still kind of fun to look up those stories around Halloween time!
If you’ve ever had a haunted real estate experience, please let us know in the comments! We’d love to help you share your story.