In honor of Halloween’s fast approaching, we thought we would address the issue of “haunted houses” and real estate. Ghosts and the paranormal are certainly not limited to “historic” houses. But let’s face it . . . historic houses almost inevitably have some kind of story tied to them. Whether it’s a dramatic legend about a murder in the house, or the death of a former resident in a back bedroom, or a tale passed down from owner-to-owner about a bizarre sighting long ago in the attic, or even a current owner who has simply heard lots of unexplained sounds or seen creaky doors open on their own, almost any old house has some kind of “ghost” story attached to it. These stories are usually good fun, and extreme cases involving stories of demons or poltergeists who have harassed the “living” residents are extremely rare.
In fact, whispers of an antique home being “haunted” may actually add to its character, allure, and– yes– the resale value for prospective owners. Some old house “buffs” absolutely love the additional layers of history and the idea of “sharing” their home with occupants of days long past. However, there can be no doubt that many prospective buyers will run as fast as they can from a house that might have spooky goings-on. As a Realtor selling historic properties in Connecticut for several years, I cannot count the number of times I was asked by an earnest-looking buyer: “So . . . Is this house haunted?” or “Has anyone ever died here?” Sometimes, the question was accompanied by a look of eager anticipation (see this article), but probably more often, the person looked like they didn’t really want to hear the answer.
So, when it comes to real estate & historic homes, is it good to actively point out these kind of spooky legends? Or is it best not to bring it up unless asked when trying to sell an old house? Or, should you even deny the presence of ghosts? Well, believe it or not, sometimes the LAW actually dictates that you MUST disclose whether a house is “haunted”!
Sound silly? Well, these laws are based on a theory that it is not fair to potential buyers to NOT disclose information that could negatively affect the value of the property or the buyer’s comfort in living in a home. Laws differ from state to state, but many states– including New York — have laws specifying situations where a property is officially “psychologically impacted” or “stigmatized” – the legal terms for real estate with highly negative associations attached. Psychologically impacted properties include haunted houses, former drug houses, houses where someone was murdered or raped, commited suicide, or houses where someone with AIDS has lived, and so on. All states are different, so consult your state laws or discuss this with your Realtor if you have questions when selling or buying. But in some states, not disclosing that a house is “haunted” could be as serious as not disclosing hazardous materials buried in the backyard or a large crack in the foundation that is hidden from view.
All of this being said, historic homes have a charm that exceeds any newer house, and undoubtedly part of that charm is the history that has happened there. And if part of that history “lives on” in the form a friendly paranormal roommate, who is to say that this shouldn’t cost extra? (see this article). It is my belief that old houses for sale rarely suffer as a result of “normal” stories of ghosts. However, reports & studies that I’ve seen indicate that there is probably some slightly negative impact on sales price depending on how “stigmatized” the property is. It can also result in longer marketing time. Of course, I suspect “haunted” houses maintain their value far easier than a house where a violent murder occured. It’s just different.
There is a TON of fun reading out there about this topic. For more information about “psychologically impacted” or “stigmatized” properies, check out the Haunted Real Estate Blog (yes, this apparently really exists!), this Realty Times article, this CNN article, or this Wikipedia article on “Stigmatized Property.”