Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Selling a haunted house...disclosure required?

I was reading a post written by Jason Offutt on his blog From the Shadows, and he mentioned that when selling haunted property in Indiana, there are laws that require real estate agents to disclose the haunting.  I was a little shocked by that...but I'm not too surprised.  I'm not surprised that a haunting is considered a stigma when selling a house, but I am surprised that the state would require that a haunting be disclosed.  Who gets to decide whether or not a property is haunted?

I did a little more looking around, and an article I found in the Wall Street Journal says that in 44 states and Washington, DC, a haunting falls under a category of 'psychological stigmas' (although that doesn't necessarily mean that realtors are automatically required to disclose a haunting since it is considered a non-material factor, but they shouldn't lie about it if someone asks) . Another article I found mentioned a court case from New York named Stambovsky v. Ackley, where a home buyer (Stambovsky) sued to rescind the sales contract for the house he bought after he found out it was haunted.  The haunting had not been disclosed to Stambovsky, and he won the case!

I wasn't able to find a list of states that require that a haunting be disclosed, but I got the impression that the laws vary state to state (and may not always be totally clear), and that it's not necessarily required that real estate agents disclose whether or not a house is haunted up front, but they should respond truthfully if a potential buyer asks.

Interesting nonetheless.  In the Stambovsky v. Ackley case, there were publications (including Readers Digest) that reported the house as being haunted.  But what if there were no published accounts of the house being haunted?  What else could a court go by in making a decision?  Who would get to decide whether or not a house was haunted?  Stambovsky had the benefit of buying a house that had been previously reported as being haunted, but what if there was a case where there were no prior reports for a haunting?  My guess is, if there were not prior reports of a property being haunted, it would be difficult to win a court case to rescind a sales contract.

4 comments:

  1. The key here is, if you think your house is haunted, don't invite over a team in matching T-shirts and a big van full of equipment. You may have trouble explaining "I didn't know it was haunted." When we sold my childhood home, it was so famously haunted, no one didn't know it was haunted. But, I did admittedly hide in the crawlspace and moan and bang the floorboards from beneath--I didn't want to move!

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  2. There was an interesting case in Florida where the sellers admitted the building they had sold was notoriously haunted, but offered to do an exorcism for free. The judge thought that was proof of good intent. I'm not entirely sure where I stand on this subject. I have some friends now trying to sell a haunted house and they don't want anyone to know for fear it will never sell. It doesn't seem fair, but what else can they do?

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  3. Although a haunted house would probably be a turn off for most people, there are some people who may be interested in buying a haunted house. My guess is there's a very limited number of buyers looking for a haunted house, but there aren't many houses for sale that are advertised as being haunted either, so if anyone were looking to buy a haunted house, they wouldn't have a lot to choose from.

    If most people don't know the house is haunted, they could always sell it and play dumb later if anyone asks them about it. On the other hand, it may be better to go ahead and mention it's haunted ahead of time, but say it in a way that doesn't make it sound like a big deal. If they don't make it sound like a big deal, a skeptic might not even believe them or think they are just overlooking a more 'rational' explanation.

    But then again, even though there's a precedent, you don't often hear about people suing someone over not disclosing whether a house is haunted ir not.

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  4. I was one of five people in a house for a home inspection when we could all clearly hear a man and woman on the floor below us talking. It was as loud as one might hear from living people so I expected the seller to go down to see who it was or at least to greet them. I asked who was downstairs but he changed the subject and started talking to the buyers like I hadn't said a thing. They look at one another like his reaction was very strange. The seller was definltely unnerved by this as all the color drained from him face not long after we began hearing this. Within moments I apologised and said I had to find a restroom quickly and headed downstairs. There was no one there, absolutely no one! All the doors were noisey too so they couldn't have left without us hearing them go.

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