Everything You Need To Know About Buying or Selling a Haunted House
Some homes have a bad reputation, not due to the pipes or the foundation, but their past. It may sound somewhat childish but even in this very grownup and real world we live in, you could find yourself buying or selling a haunted house.
So whether you are buying your first home, or your tenth, it’s not a bad idea to be aware that there are some subtle differences between haunted and non-haunted homes. If you’re oblivious that occasionally a house might be perceived by others as being haunted, it could lead to a scary outcome.
Know your state’s laws on haunted homes
Yes, your state may have a law on whether a buyer can knowingly sell a haunted home — and there may even be a process surrounding how the seller and buyer discuss the topic. If you want to stay in the good graces of the law, you’ll want to be on top of this.
Of course, no law refers to ghosts and goblins in a house, but there are situations in which a house might be considered haunted. If somebody died in the master bedroom, you might want to know that. If somebody was bumped off in the living room where you plan on entertaining guests, you’d almost certainly appreciate a heads up, if for no other reason than it would make for an interesting topic of conversation.
And if you’re selling a home with a checkered past, you’ll want to brush up on the law. You don’t want to anger a litigious homeowner and possibly get sued for not disclosing required information. For instance, “states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey have laws that state sellers and agents will not be held liable for failing to mention that a murder was committed on the property,” says Alex Capozzolo, co-founder at Brotherly Love Real Estate, a real estate company in Philadelphia. “However, in states like Oklahoma, the buyer has to ask in writing if the house is psychologically affected, and the seller is required to clear the facts in writing as well.”
Most states don’t require you to disclose whether a house is haunted, or more specifically, whether someone has ever died in the home. California, interestingly enough, requires home sellers to mention a death in the home only if it has occurred within the last three years.
And while it may seem unethical to not mention that something bad happened in your home, you can definitely make the argument that if you have been living in your home without experiencing any sense of foreboding, why should you say anything? Some people would argue that you should reveal your home’s unsettling past, but arguably, it’s far worse to cover up a black mold or electrical wiring issue.
Consider holding an open house
Capozzolo has dealt with homes that have given off a creepy vibe, but open houses often help with that.
“We had a residential property on the market that neighbors called haunted because of its age and Gothic features,” he says.
Capozzolo says that he and his agents held several open houses, hoping to break the ice among nervous buyers.
“The fact that anyone who went inside the so-called haunted house actually came back put everyone's mind at ease and became the talk in the neighborhood generating traction for the property. It was sold within six weeks of going on the market,” he says.
Listen to your gut feelings
Just because you think a house is creepy doesn’t mean it’s haunted — but there may be something “off” about the place, and it can’t hurt to check out why you feel the way you do.
Christian Ross is the managing broker for Engel & Völkers, a real estate firm specializing in luxury real estate, based out of Atlanta, and she was recently showing off a condo.
“The power was off,” Ross says. That wasn’t particularly weird, however. “I see that all the time where power is off because of an issue with the power company,” Ross says.
Still, she and the client toured the home, and the client remarked, “This is creepy.”
“Maybe it’s because we can’t turn on any lights,” Ross suggested.
But no, that wasn’t quite it. Ross could feel the unsettling vibe as well.
“Clothes were hung in the closet, a large music collection was displayed, all of the furniture was intact but it looked like no one had been there for a while and not because it was unkempt,” she says. “My client looked at me and asked, ‘Did someone die here?’” Ross said that she didn’t know but would ask. But before she could, a headless ghost appeared and—
OK, no, phew. Fortunately nothing like that happened, but before Ross could inquire if somebody had died in the house, the client went searching the internet and soon discovered that the previous owner did actually die, although perhaps not in the home. The client also learned that a daughter inherited the home and ran into legal trouble. The home was raided and padlocked, and for a full year, it sat empty before going on the market.
The house, of course, is probably perfectly livable and not haunted — but the client’s sense that something was off was spot on. If, for instance, you experience an unsettling feeling of dread that you’re being watched and you bring in a professional, you may learn what the issue is. Sure, you could hire a paranormal professional to do a spiritual clean of the home, but maybe if you just hire somebody to do a home inspection, you’ll learn that you aren’t being spied on by unearthly spirits but something worse…rodents!
Be careful about marketing a house as haunted
It’s understandable to want to lean into your home’s haunted identity when trying to sell. People are creeped out by your home so let’s embrace it. Talk up your home as the go-to place for kids when they’re trick-or-treating. After all, a lot of people enjoy seeing horror movies and find the afterlife intriguing. Maybe sharing with your prospective buyers that you think your house is haunted will actually seal the deal.
Maybe — and maybe not.
“Do not assume that the word ‘haunted’ will hurt or help the value of your property,” Capozzolo says.
Ross agrees. It may help — or hurt — your cause. “When someone dies in a home, it can make it harder. Some people don't care and love a good story associated with their home, while others do care,” Ross says.
She recalls that once she had a listing that had a small cemetery, built in the early 1900s, right behind the home's small yard in this posh neighborhood of newly-built homes.
“A woman came through our open house and literally ran out after seeing the cemetery,” Ross says.
The husband stopped to say that his wife’s reaction was due to the culture of the country where she was born and raised, and that there was no way she would ever live near a cemetery.
But the home did sell, Ross says. “There are definitely people who value a killer — no pun intended — location and home features more than they dislike the idea of living in close proximity to a cemetery,” she says.
The main thing to remember when it comes to buying or selling a haunted house
Really, buying or selling a haunted house isn’t all that different from buying or selling any home. If you think there’s something creepy about your own house, you have an ethical responsibility, if not a legal one, to share everything important that you know about your home to buyers. So if you know that you have termites, especially since homeowners insurance doesn’t cover termites, you really should say something. Have a leaky roof? Say something. Are there unexplained thumps or shrieking that you keep hearing from the attic in the middle of the night? Well, you really should mention that.
And if you’re the one buying a home that’s possibly haunted, and you notice something odd, don’t dismiss it. Investigate it. Maybe you’ll come to realize that your dream home is actually the stuff of nightmares, and you’ll be grateful you did some further digging before purchasing it. Or maybe what you initially found unsettling won’t turn out to be a problem at all.
So, if you’re on a tour with your broker, and you see a translucent fellow with mutton chops or a woman wearing a hoop skirt floating over the living room, it might be time to invite your prospective roommates to a friendly chat. You can get acquainted over a cup of coffee in your dream kitchen, you know, the one with the walk-in pantry and Brazilian granite countertops.
About Geoff Williams
- SFGATE. "Laws Regarding Death Disclosures in Real Estate Transactions in California." Accessed September 29, 2022.