Some houses give off a weird vibe. Scott Fladhammer, a real estate agent in Fort Wayne, Ind., was asked by a snowbird to sell her furnished but otherwise empty house. That in itself wasn’t odd, but the neighbors’ reaction to the home was. Everyone warned him that it was haunted. Seemingly sane people insisted that they had looked through the windows and saw mysterious objects moving throughout the house.
Upon opening the front door, Fladhammer thought that they might have a point as wall-to-wall black mold greeted him. But it wasn’t long after that he learned the plumbing had burst, and the basement had flooded. Furniture had indeed been moving; it was floating in the water.
But other times, it’s harder to explain away a house’s behavior. Jonathan D. Nicholas, the national president for the Council of Real Estate Brokerage Managers and based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, recalls showing a woman a house and coming to a room, where she suddenly said, ‘I have to get out of here, I have to walk outside,’ and she did. Nicholas followed her and on the front lawn she tried to explain her behavior. “I just kept seeing red,” she said, “and all I wanted to do was kill myself.”
Nicholas later asked the seller, who said that a murder had taken place in the house.
It may be a problem that one only thinks about during the Halloween season, but if you’re trying to sell a haunted house, it’s a dilemma every day of the year. Fortunately, if you have a house that the community believes — or that you believe — is haunted, there are some steps you can take:
Step 1: Don’t Get Spooked by the Law
If you believe your house is haunted, you probably should talk it over with your real estate agent, especially if you believe a new owner would be in danger. (Some snarky people might also say you should take up a conversation with your family doctor, but never mind them.) If you believe your home is haunted but the ghosts are friendly, and you really don’t want the hassle of buyers being afraid to make a purchase, you should first check to see what laws are on the books, because every state is different.
More than 20 states, such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have laws that say agents and sellers won’t be held liable for failing to mention that 20 years earlier a wife stabbed her husband in the home’s master bedroom. In some cases, like in Oklahoma, it gets complicated because you have to ask in writing if the house is haunted or psychologically affected in another way, and then in writing, the seller is required to furnish the facts of the matter. Other states, however, do have laws that require that potential prospects be notified.
Basically, there are two scenarios:
You may be legally required to say something about your haunted house and subject to a possible lawsuit down the road if you don’t;
you may be able to say and do absolutely nothing.
The latter may sound rather creepy or unethical on the surface, but if someone once died in your bedroom of a heart attack or at the end of a gun 15 years ago, does that really have any bearing on the structural integrity of your house? Is that history going to affect the quality of your sump pump? Or another way to look at it: Nobody ever complains that nurses aren’t telling patients, upon being admitted to a hospital room, “By the way, your bed might be haunted. We’ve had 12 deaths in your bed over the last five years.”
But at least one real estate agent cautions against not saying anything if your house has a well-known reputation of being haunted or if it has a gory history that’s well known.
Step 2: Give Eerie Rumors the Ax
If you fall into that category where you know your aging house isn’t haunted or cursed, but everyone else thinks that it is, your home falls into that wonderful category known in the industry as psychologically impacted or a stigmatized home. That’s a term that casts a wide net over a house’s perceived problems.
“Some people might see living next to a highway as living in a stigmatized home,” Sachs says. “Or if there are high-tension wires and a power grid next to the house, the potential buyer might think, ‘Great, am I going to get cancer?’ Never mind that there is no medical research indicating such a thing.”
In other words, you can’t prove the unproven. If your neighbors think your house is haunted by spirits and that a new buyer might often be bumped in the night, how are you going to prove them wrong?
If that’s your situation, you need a plan.
Last year, Anne Ewasko, a residential real estate specialist with Rubloff Residential Properties in Chicago, was faced with a conundrum: How to sell the Goldblatt Mansion, a 22-room home built in 1879 that some people in the community called haunted, simply due to its age and creepy Victorian era aura. (Locals had taken to calling it the Bates Motel.)
Ewasko spanked the rumors by lightheartedly discussing them whenever the topic came up, and she held numerous open houses and broker parties. That none of the guests entered a closet only to not return may have put everyone’s minds at ease; it wound up selling for $2.46 million five weeks after it was put on the market.
Step 3: Call in the Ghostbusters
Sometimes, of course, you’re not that lucky. If you’re selling your cousin’s home because your cousin can no longer sell the house, having been poisoned, then a few parties and open houses may not rid the public of that icky feeling of knowing your home’s dark side. In that case, you might consider bringing in someone to get rid of your ghosts, phantoms or what have you, once and for all. You might want to employ someone like David Franklin Farkas.
He owns HouseHealing.com, a real estate consultancy devoted to ridding residential and commercial buildings of the undead. Yes, he’s a real-life ghostbuster.
Farkas says that he has been able to communicate with ghosts since his 20s, but he recently started to make a full-time living out of it. It isn’t always a matter of getting rid of a specter, but negative energy, for instance, the type emitted in the house due to ongoing bad feelings of a divorce. But he does claim to be able to talk to the beings most of us will only admit to seeing on TV and in the movies.
Ghosts, says Farkas, are really just like us, except for the problem about not living. He recalls one of the first ghosts he spoke to, where he asked the poltergeist if he knew he was dead. The answer: “Well, that would explain a lot.”
“Ghosts — they don’t have a clue,” Farkas says. “Many have stayed behind because they believe they have unfinished business. Or sometimes there are unresolved feelings, and they just wind up staying. But most of the ghosts don’t know they’re dead, or once they do know they’re dead, they may not have the energy to try and leave.”
Most ghosts, like most people, are friendly and just want some attention, he says. Some aren’t so nice. He refers to those as demons but clarifies, “To me, it’s a technical term like a bacteria or virus. They’re parasitic and opportunistic where they feed on negative energy and create more and more chaos.” One can chuckle, of course, but according to Farkas, any snickering stops after he has “cleared” a house of the dead. Frequently, after he has come and gone, people have sold their house in a matter of days. While Farkas may be one of the few ghostbusters making a living at what he does, there seems to be a demand for his profession.
“I’ve definitely had to bring in the hired help,” says Nicholas, who figures that on a dozen occasions at least, in the last 25 years, he has hired priests and “spiritual persons” to bless the house and, of course, home stagers to “brighten it up and make it cheerful.”
Step 4: Rest in Peace After Last-Resort Tactics
If you’re quite desperate, you might even want to consider changing your house’s address if it’s been severely stigmatized by a murder, says Michael Soon Lee, a real estate broker and consultant for 30 years in Dublin, Calif. He says that was done at the house where child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey was killed.
And if there are some serious concerns among a jittery public that something wicked might be living in your den, lying low and waiting to attack a hapless new homeowner?
“You may have to bring the price down, way down,” says Nicholas, who suggests going as low as 20 percent to 25 percent off the selling price. “You may have to make it attractive for an investor, not for someone who will live there, but someone who will want to scrape the house and build anew.”