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.
Determine your deal-breakers.
It’s time to begin house hunting, and you’re all about that “location, location, location” mantra everyone mentions when it comes to real estate. But the right number of bedrooms, square footage and proximity to work and school aside, how much weight should you give to external factors that can potentially have a big impact on a property’s value? Here are 13 things you might want to think twice about living near – some could be a big boost to property value down the line, while others could be a deal-breaker for you and future buyers.A school
(Hero Images/ Getty Images)
Living next door to or down the street from a school can be a selling point for families with school-age children, but a headache for those without kids. “Kids can walk to school, and it’s very convenient … but people without kids might not be too thrilled with that,” says David Michalski, principal broker and president of Fairfax Realty in Falls Church, Virginia. He notes a high school in particular can create noise pollution with football games and other events that stretch into the late evening.Train tracks
A short walk or drive to a commuter train may be convenient, but few homeowners want their property to back up to train tracks. Noise at all hours of the day and night will not only be a nuisance that drags down your property value, but a freight train that carries hazardous materials may also be a concern to consider. “Trains can crash and tip over, and you have all kinds of issues there,” Michalski says.A mall
A shopping mall or retail development may be nice to have a short drive away, but most buyers are going to steer clear, says James Krueger, broker/owner of Krueger Real Estate in Houston. “People like to live in a neighborhood, and when you’re right next to something commercial like that, you lose your neighborhood feel,” he says. For those who don’t mind living close to commercial property, you can likely get a good deal on a house.A lake, river or beach
A lake, river or beach
On the opposite end of the spectrum, waterfront property tends to go for a premium. “People like to have a water view,” says Holly Finn, marketing coordinator for the Finn Team at Coldwell Banker West Shell in Cincinnati. Depending on where you live, you may need to consider the possibility of flooding and factor in the cost of additional homeowners insurance, but that doesn’t necessarily detract buyers. “I’ve seen people pay huge premiums for flood insurance just because of the location,” Krueger says.A cemetery
A cemetery – either connected to a church or nondenominational – can put off homebuyers regardless of whether they believe in ghosts. “That’s going to have a psychological impact, I think, on most people," Michalski says. But some homebuyers see the positives. While sharing property lines with a cemetery might have a minor negative impact on a property’s resale value, a cemetery in current use is far less likely to be developed into homes or commercial buildings in the near future, which means a quieter neighborhood. "Those who don’t let it negatively impact their thinking … love the fact that they’re backing up to a church,” Michalski says.A detention center or jail
A detention center or jail
The only plus for living near a detention center or jail would be if you worked there, Krueger says. The thought of potential jailbreaks and the sight of the imposing (and typically unattractive) structure of a detention center is a deterrent for most homebuyers. Krueger says he knows of a nice, gated housing community located down the road from a detention center in the Houston suburbs: “There’s a lot of buyers that see the detention center on the drive there and say, ‘We’re not going to go here.’”An apartment complex
An apartment complex
Buying a single-family home next door to an apartment community may not seem like too much of a negative for day-to-day living. But Michalski notes it can be like buying the nicest house on the block, where the surrounding properties have the potential to drag down your home’s value. When purchasing a house near a multifamily building, “you’re buying a much more expensive property compared to what’s next door to you,” Michalski says.A park
As with any external feature, a park may not be for everyone, but most homebuyers are going to see the appeal of backing up to, facing or living down the street from one. “Generally speaking, overall you’ve got to say that’s a positive,” Michalski says. Krueger adds that while an urban versus suburban location may have a bigger or smaller impact, the general consensus is that “there’s going to be a price markup for that kind of property.” So be ready to pay more for a home near a park, and hopefully make more when you decide to sell down the line.A casino or sports stadium
A casino or sports stadium
Bright lights all night and the potential for increased traffic may not sound like a plus, but a new casino could mean other business development that serves as a big boost to home values. Michalski was involved in a few sales near the MGM National Harbor casino in Oxon Hill, Maryland, and says the announcement of the facility served as a boost for the surrounding residential real estate, as a new outlet mall and hotels with conference facilities developed as well. “Because of the massive development that went on around there, a lot of property value went up within a several-mile radius,” Michalski says.A power plant
A power plant
Whether you’re concerned about overexposure to electromagnetic energy or simply don’t want to deal with a commercial compound near your home, a power plant tends to be considered a downside for a house on the market. Finn says a power plant is “definitely a negative in terms of home values if they’re near anything electrical – a power line field as well.”A water treatment facility
A water treatment facility
People largely don’t like sharing property lines with commercial developments, but Krueger says a water treatment facility could be a plus for some buyers – especially if they like the idea of seclusion. “The fact that you don’t have a backyard neighbor can be an attraction for some people,” he says. Some water treatment facilities are specifically designed to fit in with the neighborhood and have attractive facades, to avoid dragging down home values or being an eyesore.A highway
If you’re OK with the extra noise a highway will bring, get excited to land a great deal on a house that backs up to a major thoroughfare. But when it comes time to sell, be ready to price it for less than otherwise comparable homes. Backing up to a highway will always be deemed a negative – and while a wall serving as a sound barrier may help, it’s still considered undesirable. “On the other side of the street, even, is higher in value than the one that backs up to the highway,” Finn says.Airplane flight paths
Airplane flight paths
“Most buyers are going to be leery of something that makes a lot of noise,” Krueger says. But because frequent flight paths aren’t visually obvious like a highway or railroad, you might want to do your research when it comes to the neighborhoods planes fly over most, as the seller may not be obligated to tell you. “In Texas, that’s not a requirement of disclosure, so that’s going to be the buyer’s due diligence for sure,” Krueger says. You may be able to look up a map showing general flight paths surrounding the nearest airport, but to find out if noise is noticeable on a specific street or in a home, you'd likely have to spend some time there and observe.Read More
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.