We wanted to wrap up with a question. One that you might not hear a lot. And that question is:
Do you live in a haunted house?
Yes? No? Maybe?
Well obviously, answering a question like that depends on what you believe. Some people think ghosts really exist…while others are sure – they don’t. Just your imagination.
However, regardless of whether you believe in ghosts, haunted houses or the paranormal in general – here’s a fact:
Battles over the sale and purchase of alleged haunted houses have gone all the way to the courts – as buyers and sellers duke it out!
The official term for a so-called haunted house – is “stigmatized property.” It’s a real estate term, and it means that even though there may not be anything physically wrong with the property – for some reason there may be something ‘emotionally’ wrong with it. Like, if it’s allegedly haunted – NO WAY would you ever move in. Usually the term ‘stigmatized property’ applies to terrible events, like murders or suicides. But it can apply to ghosts as well.
Think we’re making this up? Think again.
Back in the 90’s, a homeowner in upstate New York lived in what she called – a ‘haunted house.’ In fact, the hundred-year-old Victorian was known, far and wide – as just that: a haunted house. Everyone in town called it – the haunted house. And in fact, it was even on a bus tour of “famous haunted houses.” OK?
The seller was kind of proud of the fact that she lived with ghosts. According to the local newspaper, the Nyack News and Views, she reported ghostly footsteps, doors slamming, and shaking beds. But – here’s the part that’s even stranger…the paper reports the seller knew who the ghosts were. She says they were the spirits of a couple who died – in the Revolutionary War.
So, one day the seller decides to put the house on the market. And sure enough, someone makes an offer, puts down a big deposit and prepares for settlement. And up to that point – the seller had never mentioned that the place – was haunted. The buyers had no clue.
Until, that is, they were chatting with some folks in town about how they would soon be neighbors. And just about everyone they talked to said ‘Oh! You’re buying the haunted house?’
Well, the buyers did NOT want to live in a haunted house. So, they filed a lawsuit – to kill the deal and get their money back. In the first round? They lost. The court, in effect, said ‘Buyer Beware.’
But on the appeal? Guess what? They won! The New York Supreme Court rules they COULD kill the deal, and get their money back. As the Nyack News and Views wrote, “New York’s Supreme Court agreed with the buyer that he had the right to back out of the deal because the seller didn’t disclose any of the ghostly details.”
So, there you have it. A real case, involving ghosts, buyers and sellers.
But what’s this mean to you?
Well, in most states – the law does NOT require a seller to disclose their property is haunted. Our friends at REALTOR® Magazine report that according to Massachusetts law, property owners DO NOT have to disclose if the property is the “site of an alleged parapsychological or supernatural phenomenon.” So Bay Staters? You’re off the hook.
But – if you put aside the ghosts, and the term ‘haunted house,’ you’re still left with an important debate within the real estate industry. And that is – what do you really have to disclose, and what do you NOT have to disclose, when you sell a property?
On the one side, you have people who believe you should disclose everything you know about the property you’re selling.
And that may well include – whether the place is haunted.
The website Legal Zoom votes – to disclose if the house is haunted. As they put it, “Even if not required by state law, in order to soothe prospective buyers and avoid lawsuits, sellers should be upfront about their home’s paranormal guests or ghoulish histories.”
As we saw in New York State, if you have an alleged haunted house – and you do not disclose it – you could be sued by the buyers. And you might lose. NOT because the court necessarily believes in ghosts…but because the rumor that the place is haunted — could hurt its market value!
And if the place is worth LESS because of the rumors – that’s not smoke and mirrors…that’s real money. And that’s reason enough for someone to file a lawsuit.
But the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS® is not so sure. Their advice? “Ghosts, suicides or alien abductions are defined as non-material under state law, and agents are advised to avoid discussing non-material facts that stigmatize a property.”
So, obviously, the whole issue of haunted houses, and disclosures raises more questions than answers. First of all, do you believe in ghosts? Next, is your place haunted?
And if you do – and if it is – then you’ll have to decide whether to disclose that – when you sell the place.
Our advice? Well, you always want to follow the letter of the law. But if you EVER find yourself selling a haunted house? You might want to also follow “the SPIRIT – of goodwill.”