Horror Show: You Could Buy a Haunted House Without Knowing It

published Oct 22, 2018
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Truth be told, those flickering lights in your home are more likely caused by an electrical problem than a ghost.

But if you’re trying to sell your house, and you do suspect it’s haunted, are you legally obliged to put that in the listing? Also, could marketing your house as a haunted one help drum up interest—or will it just spook those potential buyers? And if you’re buying—is that Bates mansion-esque Victorian priced that low because of a pesky resident ghost?

With Halloween around the corner, we’re delving into the real estate laws and selling tactics surrounding potentially haunted houses. Read below—if you dare!

The spookiest real estate law

Doors slam shut on their own. You hear unexplained footsteps above you. Temperatures swiftly change, hinting at some paranormal activity in your home. You’re all-out convinced Casper is a roommate who hasn’t been paying rent.

But, in most circumstances, there’s no law requiring you reveal this when selling your house. (And, if you’re a buyer, that means you probably won’t be clued in on any suspected hauntings while you’re looking at listings).

The major exception is in New York, where Stambovsky v. Ackley (a.k.a. the “Ghostbusters” ruling) requires that if homeowners make public that their home is haunted, they can’t deny the paranormal activity when they put that house on the market.

“The ‘Ghostbuster’ ruling was less about the disclosure of ghosts, but more about the fact that the homeowners had actually gone out of their way to notify various news outlets of the alleged supernatural happenings without having disclosed it to a potential purchaser who was not from area and did not know of the potential issues,” explains real estate attorney Mark Hakim of New York law firm Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas LLP.

The court felt it was a material non-disclosure and, as a result, allowed the potential buyer to rescind the contract and obtain a refund of the downpayment, Hakim explains.

These types of incidents are rare, though, he says.

His recommendation? “Always consult with your lawyer to see what is required to be disclosed in the state or county where your property is located, and remember that the Stambovsky case is a New York case, and other jurisdictions may not have the same requirements.”

So, what about other states?

No other state has such an explicit law about hauntings, but it varies from state to state whether or not a property owner needs to disclose any sordid history to its buyers. Legally, homes where homicides, suicides, and other criminal activity occur are known as “stigmatized properties,” and how local statutes deal with them vary by region.

For example, in South Dakota, sellers need to disclose whether a “human death by homicide or suicide” happened on the property in the last year. The state also requires sellers to say if the home has been the scene of a felony within the last year.

Should you advertise your house as haunted?

So you want to creep it real with potential sellers and let them know about ghosts in your home? Don’t do it, warns Gill Chowdhury, of Warburg Realty in New York City.

“While the saying ‘all press is good press’ may normally be true, in this specific situation, the possibility of backfire is high,” he says. “A haunted house is cool to come by and look at, but probably less cool to live in.”

Since you’re not required to disclose if you think your house is haunted, he recommends selling the house and moving on. (Here’s hoping the ghosts don’t relocate, too!)

But if your house is haunted, or you unknowingly bought a haunted house, there just might be a way to fix it (if you believe in that stuff in the first place, of course.) Tara King, employing broker at HomeSmart Cherry Creek Properties in Denver, Colorado, has offered professional cleansing services to her clients in the past and has some good ghost stories.

One of her clients brought in “ghostbusters” after the house languished on the market. There were accounts of strange things happening in the home:

“The last straw was they got the carpet cleaned and a hose was mysteriously turned on after the cleaning and the basement flooded,” she says. “After she brought in the ‘ghost chasers’ and a three hour seance was performed, the home was clear of the ghostly energy.” The home sold a week later.

While not a ghost story per se, Melissa Breyer, of The Hive Law, says in one of her firm’s real estate closings, the seller refused to close on any other day than the 23rd. Why? She was told by a palm reader that 23 was her lucky number.

“Even when signing the documents, she wanted to make sure it was at the 23rd minute of the hour,” Breyer says. “She was adamant about it, so we ended up sitting around for about 15 minutes just waiting for it to finally hit 3:23 p.m. on the 23rd of March.”