Haunted house: If you're worried the real estate you might buy is haunted, who ya gonna call? Maybe a psychic, a medium or a lawyer
Not many of us would hire a psychic or medium to accompany a home inspector if we were considering an offer to buy a house. Is that mould behind the wall, or goo from a goblin?
But if those sorts of issues matter to you, whether for matters of religion or superstition, the best way to protect yourself is to put it in writing before you sign any real estate deal.
Helen Ackley claimed that her home in the town of Nyack, New York, was haunted. For a decade between 1977 and 1987 she was in the news off and on, describing paranormal incidents in her house including such things as the bed being shaken each morning by a poltergeist. Her notoriety was such that Reader’s Digest paid her $3,000 for an article “Our Haunted House on the Hudson” which was published in May, 1977.
In 1990, she sold the home but did not mention anything to do with the paranormal to the buyer. The buyer sued when he later found out. At trial, the court said it was the buyer’s responsibility to do this type of due diligence, so it was a case of caveat emptor or buyer beware” and he lost. He appealed.
The appeal was heard in July, 1991. Judge Israel Rubin who wrote the decision put a big weight on the fact that Ackley had not only made claims that the house was haunted, but she had been paid to write about it. He noted that regardless of whether the house was haunted or not, the fact that it had been widely reported affected its value. In addition, since the buyer was not a local resident, he could not readily learn the house was haunted by inspecting it.
The ruling said: “Where, as here, the seller not only takes unfair advantage of the buyer’s ignorance but has created a condition about which he is unlikely to inquire, then enforcement of the contract is offensive to the court’s sense of equity.”
One of the justices noted, “Who you gonna call?” if you are concerned about whether a house might be haunted. Several other humorous references were made to the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, in the decision. Judge Rubin said that while it appeared the buyer did not have a “ghost of a chance’, he was moved by the “spirit of equity” in making his decision.
People ask me whether these things should matter to people, or are they just superstitions. The Chinese and now many westerners place importance about the ancient concept of Feng Shui. When designing or buying a home they bring consultants in during the home inspection for advice before making their purchase decision.
One of the later interested buyers of this home was the Amazing Kreskin, who was interested because of the haunted claim. Perhaps one could argue that the reputation of the home might actually have increased its value.
The solution, if such things worry you is to insert a clause that says: “The seller warrants to the buyer that to the best of their knowledge, this property has not been stigmatized by any of the following acts or occurences: (then insert murder, suicide, natural death, haunted house, house of prostitution) that the buyer considers traumatic or horrific.” Then a seller will have to tell the truth, regardless what they may believe. Or just ask the neighbours.
Sabrina Wong, Sales Representative, Century 21 Atria Realty Inc.