A trope as old as horror movies: a family moves into a beautiful house that they bought for well under market value. They’ve put all their savings into the move, and they’re looking for a fresh start. When they meet the neighbors and other townsfolk, they quickly learn that there’s a history to the home that they weren’t aware of.
When they start to experience the abnormal, it’s easy to brush off as new home jitters. The children who hear noises in the closet, and a husband who starts sleepwalking, are chalked up to stress and anxiety from the move. It’s only when the experiences escalate beyond control that the family finally realizes the extent of the haunting.
While sharing a home with the supernatural can be a selling point for some buyers, it’s quite the opposite for others. In fact, a 2017 survey by Realtor.com found that 33% of people were open to living in a haunted house, 25% would consider it, but 42% said it was a deal-breaker. So how do you make sure you’re fully informed about a home’s history? Knowing the right questions to ask is the first step:
Ask to see the seller disclosure form
In the famous 1991 case Stambovsky v. Ackley, the new homeowner, Jeffrey Stambovsky, won a lawsuit against the previous owner for not disclosing the history of hauntings.
In this case, the previous owner had published stories about the family’s experiences in Reader’s Digest and their local newspaper. In her writings, she explained several interactions with ghostly beings in the home, including finding that her children had been given rings, which would later disappear, bed shaking, and conversations with the floating specters.
The court took this evidence and ruled the “defendant is estopped to deny [the ghost’s] existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted.” Setting a new standard, this case created a basis for future seller disclosers. In this instance, they found that the history of the home, and the seller’s experiences in the home, would have influenced the marketability, and therefore, omitting these facts was unfair to the buyer.
Fast forward to 2019, there is not a specific section on seller disclosure forms for hauntings or ghostly sightings, but thanks to Stambovsky v. Ackley, sellers in many states are obligated by law to disclose things that affect a house’s marketability.
Ask Google about the history of the home
In 1991 when Mr. Stambovsky bought his haunted house, search engines didn’t exist. Today, we’re lucky enough to have things like Google which would have found the previous home owner’s stories in mere seconds. Search keywords like the address or town name, and words like “haunted” or “ghosts”, as well as “murder” or “news report” should help you start your dive into the history of the home.
Ask the neighbors and your agent
This is where nosey neighbors come in handy. When you find a place you’re serious about, contact the neighbors to see what they know about the home’s history. The same goes for your real estate agent; he or she can reach out to the listing agent to see if there is anything haunting you should know about prior to buying. While many states don’t require sellers to disclose paranormal activity or deaths in the home, if asked, all real estate agents must, by law, answer truthfully.
While you hear a lot about ghosts in October, they’re actually a year-round phenomenon (and they’re not all as friendly as Casper). Specters come in all shapes and sizes in real estate, and they can be spookiest to prospective buyers. So, if you’re in the market for a home right now, you might want to consider your threshold for the paranormal. Here are some ways to identify – and avoid – ending up with a haunted house.
Something doesn’t feel right. When it comes to finding a home, we talk a lot about how a home feels. People generally feel it in their gut when they have found “the one”. Same goes for ghosts. If you feel like something is off, but you just can’t put your finger on it, you probably want to investigate a little further. This is the perfect time to break out the Ouija board and grab a bottle of something strong for your nerves (caution: seeing ghosts may or may not be due to alcohol consumption).
Follow the history of the home. Hit the interwebs and do a little online investigation to find out if the home has any skeletons in its closets (literally). Did anyone die in the house? Was it built on an ancient burial gravesite? Both of these could be DEAD giveaways for paranormal activity. Public records can be helpful for basic information, or you can check out this handy website: www.diedinhouse.com. If you don’t mind the house’s sordid past, use it as leverage to knock some zeros off the asking price. What’s a house filled with dead people if you can get it for a steal?
Meet the neighbors. It’s always a good idea to get to know the neighborhood before moving in. Learn about the schools, check out the local shops and amenities, and take a good look at who your neighbors will be. If you walk next door and the equivalent of the Adams family is staring you in the face, it might be a good time to look at other options. And if you have no other options, it’s never too early to invest in a respectable tombstone. Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Follow the paperwork. When selling a home, homeowners are required to fill out a “Self Disclosure Form” to reveal any known issues. In some states, this includes revealing if the home has any paranormal activity. In fact, if a home is known to be haunted, it can be deemed a “stigmatized home” which can impact the sale. But keep in mind, self-disclosure of paranormal activity is hard to qualify and prove, so buyers beware.
Look for more overt signs. Did you feel a tap on your shoulder, but nobody was there? Is there blood oozing through the walls or furniture moving by itself? Or maybe a spirit physically manifested itself in front of you. Well, this might be a ghost trying to get your attention. If you have an experience like this, it’s probably a good idea to find the nearest exit as quickly as possible and move onto the next home.
Let logic be your guide. So you’ve fallen in love with a home, but you suspect that it’s haunted. There could be a totally plausible explanation. Start by trying to explain the phenomena you are feeling. Could the creaks and bangs come from pests or plumbing issues? Perhaps the chills you feel are caused by a draft? Are you watching too many horror movies? Do you need to make an appointment with your shrink? What you think are signs of a haunting could all be in your head.