How to Sell a Haunted House
CNBC.com News Editor
It’s fun to visit a house that’s thought to be haunted, but what do you do if you’re trying to sell your house — and you think someone’s still hanging around?
Do you ask it to leave? Do you call Ghost Busters? Do you tell prospective buyers?
Imagine how that conversation would go: “Yeah, it’s got three bedrooms, two baths, hardwood floors, nice breezes from the lake — oh, and the occasional moan from the attic.”
Some states require you to tell prospective buyers — just like you would have to disclose if there was a fire at the house or mold in the basement. (You can find that out through your state's department of real estate.)
Some people say regardless of your state’s policy, it’s just good business practice to tell people about any squatters from the past. But consider that not everyone believes in ghosts. So, will they just think you’re crazy and run away without even seeing the finished backyard?
We checked in with real estate pros in some of the most haunted cities in Americaand here’s what they had to say.
Check all the common sense things first.
Funny noises and shadows, coupled with all the scary movies out there, often make people think there’s a ghost when there’s not.
If you’re seeing shadows, check to see if you can recreate them — where they may be coming from, and when they happen. Maybe the shadow is caused when a car passes by.
Funny noises could be due to a loose pipe, while flickering lights could be an electrical problem — not a paranormal problem.
An unnerving feeling could be due to how your house is wired — or a vibe someone in the house is giving off.
Mary Pope-Handy, a real-estate agent in Silicon Valley who also runs the Haunted Real Estate blog, said prospective buyers get a vibe from the house the minute they walk in — and it’s not always good.
Think of it this way: “If you walk into a room where someone just had a fight, you can’t see anything, but you can still feel the tension,” Pope-Handy explained.
So get your own spirits and demons in order before you go blaming the ghosts!
Bring in someone to “clear” the space.
If you’re pretty sure it’s a ghost, consider bringing in a medium or someone to “clear” the space.
“Some buyers will welcome a famous old ghost or a ghost with a sense of humor, while others will find the space too tight and won’t want to share it with anyone else — It’s like the live-in help!” explains Wendy Sarasohn, a senior vice president at the real-estate firm The Corcoran Group in New York City.
Sarasohn said she’s seen it all in the city that never sleeps: She recalls a spirit who didn’t want the owner to move so he did everything to sabotage the sale, and a client whose late wife didn’t like that he married a much younger woman so she used to slam doors and hide things.
She recommends bringing in a “space clearer,” someone who communicates with those from the other side who can help ask any “rent-free visitors,” as she likes to call them, to please move it along. This usually involves lighting sage, which some believe helps cleanse the home, and carrying it around the house. But do yourself a favor and make sure you have a receptacle to catch any ashes as you go, lest you set the house on fire before you sell it.
Usually it’s a medium who provides these services, so search for “medium” and your town to find someone locally. Or, ask your real-estate agent.
Now, even if you don’t believe in ghosts, if you’re hearing funny noises, it might not be a bad idea to bring in such a person — remember, a first impression is everything and if a prospective buyer gets a bad vibe the minute they walk in, that’s all it takes to turn them off.
Pope-Handy said it’s particularly tricky in California, where there are a lot of Chinese immigrants, many of whom think any and all spirits are bad luck.
So, to improve your luck for selling the house — be sure it has a good vibe.
Bonnie Vent, a psychic medium who runs the site SD Paranormal, which helps match buyers and sellers with haunted properties, said she’s not a fan of the sage “clearing” method — maybe all you have to do is bring a medium in to try to communicate with whoever is there and help them move on — or at least quiet down.
Quietly put the word out.
“If it’s a benevolent ghost, I would not be afraid of asking your agent to let the word out quietly,” Pope-Handy explained.
There are paranormal and ghost-hunting groups pretty much all over the country, so all it takes is connecting with someone like that to find your target audience.
There are actually buyers interested in haunted properties, and often they start putting the word out about their interest to find just the right spot.
When Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, the stars of the SyFy series “Ghost Hunters,”were looking to buy a haunted property, they just started spreading the word. (Disclosure: SyFy is a sister network of CNBC, owned by GE .)
“A close friend of mine knew were looking for a haunted property,” Hawes explained. “He was aware of the stories and claims on the Spalding Innand wanted us to be aware it was up for sale,” he said.
Hawes and Wilson are now the proud owners of the inn, located in Whitefield, NH, that is thought to be haunted by its original owners, Anna and Randall Spalding.
A good place to start is with a local paranormal group, like Hawes and Wilson’s “The Atlantic Paranormal Society.”Hawes also recommends the site, The Shadowlands, which is run by Dave Juliano, the director of South Jersey Ghost Researchand author of "Positive Energy for Haunted Homes." The site lists haunted properties nationwide.
Don’t assume it will help or hurt the value of your home.
“Myself, I would pay more for a haunted location!” Hawes quipped. “Others may not want to touch it at all,” he added.
And, let the seller beware: Pope-Handy said she gets a lot of calls from prospective buyers, usually from those who don’t believe in ghosts, who ask if she has an allegedly haunted properties – because they think they’re going to get them on the cheap, like distressed properties.
On the flipside, sellers who believe in ghosts tend to think a haunting will help boost the value of their home.
Typical buyer-seller delusions!
In fact, an alleged haunting, or a home where a famous murder took place, can have varied impacts on the value of the home.
If it’s not famous, it probably won’t affect the value — or if it does, it would just slightly lower the value, Pope-Handy said. If it’s a house where a famous murder took place, it will initially hurt the value, but later help it as the house becomes famous.
Though, if it’s a commercial property, say a restaurant or a bed & breakfast, it can often help with business. Most people are curious to poke around an allegedly haunted place — or even sleep there for a night. For most people, though, they’re not interested in sleeping with ghosts EVERY night.
If it’s a famous haunting, change the address.
You want to be very careful with homes where famous murders — and potential hauntings — have occurred.
A family who bought the “Amityville Horror” house on Long Island were surprised to find their house wasn’t haunted by the dead at all, but by the living! So many people were camped out watching the house and taking photos, their children couldn’t play comfortably in the front yard.
The address on that house was actually changed to deter visitors.
Pope-Handy said that’s a common practice with famously stigmatized homes.
The Los Angeles house where the Manson murders occurred has also gotten an address change. Pope-Handy said she knows of a few Chinese-Americans living in California who've requested address changes as some believe the number four is bad luck (because it sounds like the word for death) and the number eight is good luck.
Find out what your state’s disclosure law is.
Guess what the No. 1 reason for real-estate lawsuits is?
If you try to fudge a disclosure, saying you once had a leak in your roof when, in fact, it’s a five-year leak that’s still running, that’s a lawsuit right there.
And, while it’s not common to sue over a ghost, just make sure you know what your state requires. That’s where having a good real-estate agent comes in handy — they’ll know what you have to tell and how to do it. They want to sell your house just as badly as you do!
“The moral of the story about disclosure is: It will be expensive if you don’t disclose!” Pope-Handy said.
Advice for buyers.
“In many states, they don’t have to tell you,” Pope-Handy said. “But if you ask — they have to tell you the truth.”
She recommends open-ended questions – not questions that can be assuaged with a simple yes, no or I don’t now.
If you hear noises on your house tour, ask simply: “Tell me about the noises in the attic.” Or, “This is an interesting old house. Are there any stories?”
“Being open-ended gives them a chance to be more forthcoming,” Pope-Handy explained.
And, for buyer and sellers alike, the pros universally agree: Don’t believe what you see in the movies.
“They’ll have you believe there’s a demon under every bed!” Vent said.
“For me, haunted is just a word to scare people — it doesn’t mean its bad, good or ugly,” said Dawn Leslie, a real-estate agent with Ethel Kidd in New Orleans’ French Quarter. “It’s a term for spirits that are still lurking around,” she explained. “Ghosts aren’t harmful.”
Everyone has a different piece of advice but most agree with that: If there is such a thing as ghosts, and if they are in a home, the odds are that they’re probably pretty nice — and not under your bed.
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