Have a Haunted House? Don't Worry – It'll Still Sell
A couple extra undead residents don't have to kill a real estate deal. A ghost in your house may even serve as a selling point.
If your house is teeming with ghosts, it's often better to embrace the spookiness and appeal to a buyer searching for something haunted.(Getty Images)
It’s a classic start to a horror movie: Excited homebuyers move into their new home, ready to fix up the dilapidated house. It’s a big job, but that’s how they got such a great deal ... right?
All too quickly the homeowners realize that the shadows and cold spots in the house aren’t just the quirks of an old property. They’re not alone. There are things residing in the house that didn't leave with the previous owner, and they’re not happy that someone new has moved in.
This is quite possibly the worst real estate decision the homebuyers could have ever made.
OK, realistically, a haunting is probably not the first or biggest concern you have about your new home. For most, ghosts probably fall well behind a sudden leak in the roof, plumbing disaster or a surprise visit from the local assessor to tell you that an old addition to the house wasn’t permitted. But it’s almost Halloween, so ghosts are on the brain.
October or not, sudden bumps and creaks in the night that make you uneasy can be hard to get over. But even if you learn to live with your own version of Casper the Friendly Ghost, how do you find a buyer who will also be OK with the extra residents when you decide to sell it eventually?
A survey of 1,000 people released earlier this month by realtor.com reveals that just 33 percent of respondents are willing to live in a haunted house, while 25 percent on the fence regarding the issue. Forty-two percent of respondents are not open to living with ghosts.
But even if you’re convinced your house is a portal to the afterlife, it's still possible to sell your home.
It may simply be a matter of properly fixing up the house and appropriately disclosing known information. Or, when it works, you can market your property to the smaller group of buyers out there who want to commune with the dead on a regular basis.
Dana Bull, a real estate agent for Harborside Sotheby’s International Realty in Boston, regularly works with properties in Salem, Massachusetts. The town’s widely known history of 17th century witch trials – now recognized as not involving actual witchcraft – draws many looking for a bit of spookiness in a property.
“Salem, in general, just attracts people that are interested in paranormal activity and that are just kind of drawn to that culture,” Bull says. “So the question comes up a lot from my buyers: What’s the story with the house – has anyone seen any ghosts?”
Of course, especially in a historic town like Salem, you can’t claim any midcentury modern house as haunted. If you're going to try to appeal to buyers seeking some ghoulish roommates, you've got to have some evidence to back it up.
“Your house needs to be pretty special – extremely haunted – if you want to try to go after the market that’s interested in paranormal activity,” Bull says.
That’s certainly the case for one property in Mineral Wells, Texas, about 80 miles west of Dallas.
Becky Foley-Richards is a Realtor with Source 1 Real Estate in Mineral Wells, and she’s listing what the owner refers to as the Haunted Hill House. The property was purchased by the current owners with the plan to fix it up and turn it into a bed-and-breakfast – but then spooky things started happening.
After series of unfriendly events reported by the owners and their children – sometimes after removing an item from the house – the wife refused to re-enter the property. That's when the husband started looking into the history of the property.
“The more he was in the house, the more things happened [and] the more he started doing research,” Foley-Richards says.
It’s believed there are nine ghosts in the house based on the owner's experiences and paranormal investigations, Foley-Richards says, and the owner operates it as a business, booking overnight paranormal investigations and ghost hunts for interested parties, though his wife is more interested in ending their ties to it.
Currently listed for $99,900, the property has gotten a lot of interest, Foley-Richards says, particularly after getting picked up on local news reports and receiving nationwide attention online.
Still, many people don’t like going inside. “I do have agents who have not wanted to show it because of the haunted mindset, and they just don’t feel comfortable stepping into [the house],” Foley-Richards says.
On the whole, homeowners looking to sell their particularly spirited real estate have two options: Minimize the ghostly feel or really lean into the haunting.
Downplay the Spiritual Presence
Disclosure laws vary from state to state as to what you are required to notify buyers about – be it mold in the basement, cracks in the foundation or known criminal activity taking place on the property.
In California, for example, if someone has died in the house in the last three years, that information must be provided to the buyer. In other states, like Massachusetts, Bull says it’s a matter of being required to answer everything you know if the buyer specifically asks.
[Read: How Homicide Affects Home Values.]
Either way, Bull says a long-term tenant from the afterlife doesn’t need to be the first thing the buyer learns about the property. She recommends making it more of an additional mention in the disclosure, something along the lines of noting that the house has “some interesting spiritual guests.”
Beyond that, spruce up the property just as you would prepare any other, nonhaunted house for the market. “You don’t want the house to look haunted,” Bull says. “So fresh paint, making sure – especially if it’s stigmatized because there was a crime – [it's] very, very clean, welcoming.”
In addition, play up all the great amenities. The realtor.com survey reveals respondents are open to living in a haunted house when there are other perks involved. Forty percent want to see a price reduction, 35 percent would do it for the ideal neighborhood, 32 percent want maximum square footage and 29 percent would consider living with ghosts if there are plenty of bedrooms.
As an added detail for peace of mind, living in the house while it’s on the market may help to keep buyers from assuming it’s the site of the next "Amityville Horror." “If you can keep the house occupied, then it demonstrates that other people are fine living in it, and then it’s not a huge concern,” Bull says.
Go All Out With the Ghosts
If your property’s got ghosts on ghosts, they might not be willing to stay quiet while potential buyers are touring the property. If the house is just too haunted, or it’s got some history to it that can make a haunting a plus, don’t be afraid to embrace it.
Research the history of the property, including previous owners and residents, to try to lure history lovers who may be intrigued by a story to fit with the spirits opening and closing the cabinets at night.
“Have a story; be able to add some color to whatever the situation is,” Bull says.
But when you publicize a “real” haunting, be prepared for interested buyers as well as those who are just interested in the thrill.
With the Haunted Hill House’s publicity, Foley-Richards says she and the owner have had to be careful to ensure no one’s trying to pose as an interested buyer in order to get a free ghost hunt.
“I’m not in the business to give [haunted] tours, I’m in the business to sell real estate,” Foley-Richards says.
To curb that potential problem, interested buyers have to provide proof of funds for Foley-Richards to show them the house. Paranormal investigators can contact the owner to book a weekend night for a ghostly experience.
While the right haunted property in the right town can make for a lot of publicity, it’s also important to keep in mind that you’re narrowing your buyer pool by playing up all the supernatural occurrences. There’s a good chance buyers will want to see a price cut. You could also trying marketing it as a business, as the owner of Haunted Hill House has done, although be sure it's legal based on how the property is zoned.
A potential buyer may even back out entirely if they determine it’s just too haunted, which happened to Foley-Richards in the Mineral Wells house: “I’ve had a client run out of the house completely when I was in the process of showing it.”
But especially in a time where real estate inventory is at an all-time low in many markets, buyers may be willing to take on a few spirited roommates for the right house.