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 they weren’t aware of.
At first, it’s easy to chalk these abnormal experiences up to common symptoms of buying a fixer-upper. The children hearing noises in the closet and the dad’s inexplicable sleepwalking spells are thought of as nothing more than stress and anxiety from the move. It’s only when things get out of hand that the family finally realizes the extent of the haunting.
Buyer Beware: Is That House for Sale Haunted?
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 dealbreaker. 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 that 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.” This case set the standard for future seller disclosures. In this instance, they found that the history of the home and the seller’s experiences in it would have influenced the marketability. Therefore, omitting these facts was unfair to the buyer.
Thanks to Stambovsky v. Ackley, nowadays sellers in many states are obligated by law to disclose information that impacts a property’s marketability.
Research the History of the Home
In 1991 when Mr. Stambovsky bought his haunted house, the internet wasn’t what it is today. Now you can learn all about a home’s history before you make an offer. Search the address and town name to start. Keywords like “haunted,” “ghosts,” and “news report” will help you detect whether there’s been any paranormal activity associated with the property.
Ask Your Agent and the Neighbors
This is where neighbors come in handy. When you find a home you want to pursue, 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 troubling 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.
To learn more about how to protect yourself as a buyer, learn more about common real estate contingencies and the role they play in making an offer on a home:
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