This article was last updated Oct. 27, 2023.
California’s Lisa Caldwell, owner of Range Homes, Powered by Avenue 8, once represented a vacant Lafayette property that had some undeniably spooky occurrences. “The heater constantly turned on by itself,” she said. “In fact, it happened so frequently that I had the locks changed and put blue tape across the thermostat, convinced someone was coming in and cranking up the heat.”
Without fail, however, whenever Caldwell came back, the blue tape was removed and the thermostat was set to 78 degrees. “The story went that the previous owner was an incredibly thin and frail woman and, according to family members, she always kept the temperature set at a balmy 78 degrees,” she said.
In addition to the heat, there were slamming doors and frequent footsteps up and down the stairs. At one point, Caldwell hired a rat abatement professional who went into the crawl space, quickly came out saying he had heard voices under the house with him, then left and never returned.
According to a recent study by real estate data company Clever, while more than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) believe sellers should be required to disclose hauntings, only 31 percent of sellers would willingly do so.
As a real estate agent, what do you do when you find out that something upsetting has happened in a home that you’re listing? What are your responsibilities, and how can you make both buyers and sellers feel better about buying a property where something troubling has occurred?
Cults and crime-related properties
Many of the agents we reached out to suggested extensive renovations to change the appearance of a property with a rough reputation. In some cases, even a fresh coat of paint was enough to lighten up the look of a scary house. Here are some additional things to consider.
1. Know your disclosure requirements
According to David Reischer, Esq., real estate agent, attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com, most state laws do not mandate the disclosure of “non-dangerous” defects. This includes the idea that a house is haunted or that a death has occurred by natural causes.
In some states, however, a disclosure is required for a home or apartment where there has been a suicide or murder. Make sure you are familiar with the disclosure requirements in your market as they relate to the notorious property you are listing.
2. Help buyer clients see the value
According to Gainesville, Georgia, real estate agent Dani Burns, even a gruesome murder may not be a deal-breaker for some buyers. She has sold not once, but twice, a luxury home located in a prestigious subdivision that was the site of a ghastly murder.
When she represented the buyer on the first sale, she disclosed everything about the crime but emphasized the great deal being offered on the property itself. Her focus was on helping them weigh the stigma and its potential resale impact against the value offered by the home itself.
Subsequently, when those first buyers were ready to resell the home, it went under contract in 30 days — also to a buyer who knew all of the details.
3. Price it right, and let time take care of the rest
According to Hilton Head Island’s Dino DiNenna, statistically, a notorious house loses about 20 percent of its normal market value in its first sale. Therefore, pricing it low — but not too low — can help to retain some of that residual value. He suggests a discount of between 10 and 15 percent for a timely sale.
DiNenna once worked with a buyer who was purchasing a property that had previously been owned by a cult family. Subsequently, many rumors had grown up around the property among the local community.
DiNenna’s advice was to settle in and change the vibe by reaching out and getting to know their new neighbors, letting their positive energy change the perception of the home.
4. Find a way to rebrand
Commercial real estate investor Marina Vaamonde took on a property nicknamed “The Drug House” by locals. Located on a beautiful canal, the property’s only positive feature was its location.
Vaamonde’s team leveraged the interest of local neighbors, inviting them in during the renovation process, taking time to get to know them, then, ultimately, gathering suggestions from them for renaming the home. Positive word of mouth and a rebrand as “River Home” allowed the property to sell in a week.
It seems that every neighborhood has its own version of a haunted house. If you find yourself listing one — or taking buyers through one — consider the following:
5. Find your target market
Port Orange, Florida, broker Ron Wysocarski dealt with spooky rumors surrounding one of his listings by reaching out to a Facebook group consisting of people interested in haunted houses and the paranormal. This generated interest and he ended up selling the home to one of the group members.
6. Do your research
Vancouver’s Jordan Scarpino was showing a home to a potential buyer along with the buyer’s son. The son went to the bathroom and came back claiming to have seen a man with a rope around his neck.
Scarpino checked the bathroom, found nothing there, and escorted the family out of the home. The next day, Scarpino was researching the property further and found out that a suicide had occurred in the home, which he subsequently disclosed.
Even if you don’t believe in the supernatural, pay attention to scary stories and rumors surrounding a supposedly haunted house. It could be the aftermath of real-world events that you need to make known to your clients.
7. Do what it takes to make clients feel comfortable
Broker Kris Lippi used one client experience to create a whole new service for his listings. He worked with a seller who was convinced that her property was haunted and wanted it disclosed as such. However, she was concerned about what effect it would have on the property’s sale.
Ultimately, the client decided to hire an exorcist — leading Lippi to offer a home exorcism service as a resource to clients. The service is published on Lippi’s website with a contact form.
The initial consultation with the exorcist is free, while fees apply for the exorcist’s travel or for additional consultations. According to Lippi, the service helps to put both buyers and sellers at ease and to facilitate the sale of properties where there are questions or concerns.
Lippi’s advice to agents is “not to brush off their clients when they say they believe they need an exorcist.” Respect your client’s beliefs and help them find what they need. “The selling process will be a lot more uncomplicated if both you and the sellers are on the same page when it comes to anything that concerns the property in question.”