Louisiana agent John Martin once attached a “Not Haunted” placard on a for-sale sign in front of one of his listings. On another occasion, the St. Ignatius Catholic School in Yardley, Pennsylvania, placed an “Open House” sign in front of its cemetery.
You could say, as Consumer Reports did, that the good people at St. Ignatius made a “grave mistake.” But Martin, of Waterman Realty in Metairie, probably knew exactly what he was doing. After all, the New Orleans area is infamous for its superstitions and mystique – and not just around this time of year.
As it turns out, a lot of people have no desire to live in a haunted manse, no matter where it’s located. In this year’s Halloween-centric poll of 1,500 souls by Clever Real Estate, 4 out of 10 said “no thanks” when asked if they would buy such a place.
“A non-negotiable deal-breaker,” Clever researcher Francesca Ortegren called it. And that’s even though 3 out of 4 respondents believe in the supernatural.
60 Percent Would
Still, that means 60 percent are open to sharing a house with specters and spooks – but not without a concession or two. Most said they would need a deep discount, and many said they would take the plunge only if the apparitions were friendly.
Either way, 4 out of 5 buyers told Clever’s researchers that a haunting would impact their buying decision, one way or another. Yet, if they were selling instead of buying, less than half would disclose the presence of wraiths unless required by law to do so. And 1 in 10 would not disclose even then.
And therein lies the rub. Disclosure laws vary from state to state. Only nine states have some requirements: Five states require disclosures of a death on the property, and four require disclosures of any paranormal activity if it impacts the physical condition or the value of the property.
Alaska and Wisconsin require disclosure of a burial site on the property. Five other states require such a disclosure, but only if the seller or the agent is asked directly.
According to Ortegren, New York has the “most infamous” law. Known locally as the “Ghostbusters Ruling,” the state Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that if a house is haunted, information about paranormal activities must be provided in all future listings.
“The case sets legal precedent in the state, requiring disclosure of hauntings if the home was declared haunted publicly,” Ortegren said.
The rest of the states have no rules compelling sellers to disclose hauntings, specifically, or to reveal anything that might “psychologically stigmatize” a property more generally.
For what it’s worth, 1 in 4 respondents said they have lived in a haunted house, and only a third of those knew it was haunted before moving in.
How Many Hauntings?
Nobody knows how many houses around the country are inhabited by poltergeists. The Census Bureau doesn’t keep count. It can tell you the number of places where trick-or-treaters have to climb steps to fill their sacks (57.4 million) and the number of costume rental establishments (892), but not the number of haunted houses.
There are almost 1.6 million so-called “zombie houses” – industry jargon for vacant homes – in the United States, according to ATTOM Data Solutions. And 216,000 of them are in the process of foreclosure, making them ideal spots for spooks to set up housekeeping – and to haunt their new owners when the houses are eventually sold. New York has the highest number of zombie foreclosures, followed by Florida and Illinois.
There are some scary places in other states, too. Tombstone, Arizona, floats readily to mind. But how about Yellville, Arkansas; Transylvania County, North Carolina; Slaughter Beach, Delaware; or Scarville, Iowa?
And speaking of scary, what frightens homebuyers more than ghosts? Clever asked that question, too. Mold was the top worry, followed by foundation issues, termites, asbestos and a leaky roof. In total, 93 percent of the respondents were more worried about repair issues than goblins.
How will you know if your place is inhabited by more than the living? Perhaps unexplained noises, like footsteps in the night, will be the tip-off. Or chairs moved without your knowledge. Lights flickering on and off. Objects levitating. Your dog acting strangely – say, barking at nothing, or at least nothing you can see. Or just an eerie feeling.
Any of these are telltale signs, and 1 in 4 people told Clever they’d move out immediately if they discovered they weren’t alone. The rest would stay but would try to rid their homes of the unwanted guests. A third of those would try to cleanse their places by “smudging,” a contemporary spiritual rite derived from some Native American religious practices and aimed at clearing out – or blessing – apparitions. About 25 percent would hold an exorcism, and 1 in 4 would hold a seance in an effort to make contact with their ghosts. Some would salt their entryways; others would simply remodel in hopes of driving them away.
But 17 percent would take an entirely different approach: Rather than try to make the ghosts move out, they would make their homes more hospitable – the better to ensure their “roommates” remain friendly.
Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.