To tell or not to tell? Currently, that is a raging debate amongst the real estate profession (well, not really raging, but you know what I mean). What happens when a haunted house goes on sale?
” ‘He’ sat there in midair, smiling at me from in front of the cold fireplace. Hands clasped around his crossed knees, he was nodding and rocking. He faded slowly, still smiling and was gone. . . . He was the most cheerful and solid-looking little person I’d ever seen.”
“He” was one of five friendly ghosts that inhabited Helen Ackley’s 18-room Victorian home in the New York suburb of Nyack, or so she claimed in an article she wrote for Reader’s Digest in May 1977.
Sadly for Ackley, the tale came back to haunt her.
When Jeffrey M. Stambovsky contracted to purchase the house in the early 1990s, he and his wife soon began hearing tales of things going bump in the night. They wanted no part of them — even if the resident spooks did, as Ackley boasted, occasionally leave gifts such as “tiny silver tongs” to toast a daughter’s wedding and a “golden baby ring” to rattle in the birth of her first grandchild.
Stambovsky made his case to the Appellate Division of New York state Supreme Court and got his deposit back. Because Ackley had publicized that her house had ghosts, the court ruled, “as a matter of law, the house is haunted.”
I tested Google out to see if there were any other Supreme Court rulings dealing with hauntings. The only story that kept coming up (and up and up) was this one. Having the Supreme Court rule on anything dealing with the paranormal is quite unique. The article continues on:
The court’s precedent, though, was short-lived. By the mid-1990s, New York and many other jurisdictions, including the District, Virginia and Maryland, passed what are known as stigmatized property laws. While real estate agents must pass along information to prospective buyers about leaky roofs and other physical defects, immaterial items such as a murder or suicide in the house — or a ghost — may now remain shrouded in silence.
But should you tell anyway?
“Are you out of your mind?” one real estate agent said with a shudder. “Never, never, never tell anyone you have a ghost.”
But Don Denton, a branch vice president of Coldwell Banker/Pardoe Real Estate, disagreed: “I’m of the school that you disclose everything — but you disclose with the permission of the seller. If you don’t, two or three weeks later the client will be walking down the street and hear about it and it becomes an issue. They feel taken advantage of.”
Washington real estate lawyer Morris Battino thinks the same way. “It goes with termites and leaky roofs,” he said. “People today are litigation-happy. As far as I’m concerned, the more you disclose the better. In fact a ghost might turn out to be a good selling point — something to brag about.”
Richard Ellis of Ellis Realty should know. He handled the sale of the Ackley house and listed it again several years later. “People love the history of the house,” he said. “It appreciated with the marketplace when it changed hands.” The current owners have lived there six or seven years, he said. “I assume they’re happy. They’re still there.”
When my parents were looking for a house in the late 70s, they briefly considered purchasing a home in which a murder had been committed (I believe the husband murdered the wife in the bedroom). I remember hearing that the carpet still had a distinctly cleaner spot on it than the rest – no, no blood, but a super clean patch is almost eerie enough. Whoever was going to buy that house would be the occupants immediately following the murder. My parents didn’t buy the house – not because of the murder, but for other logistical reasons. I think it was disclosed because it was a pretty well-known story in the area at the time. But it does make you wonder…if the house went up for sale now, would it be disclosed?
What would you do in that situation if you were trying to sell a home?