Trick or Treat?
Does haunted real estate spook realtors and buyers?
by Tracey Gould
In spite of the fun-spirited nature of the season, sometimes consumer-oriented retail “holidays” become real life scenarios for REALTORS® and their clients. Sometimes, REALTORS® find themselves in suspicious Amityville-like environments, while buying or selling properties. That’s right, haunted real estate. Chuckle if you want, but some
REALTORS® swear to experiencing paranormal activities during the course of their jobs. So, what do you do if you’re a REALTOR® responsible for selling property that’s reportedly haunted? And if you’re a buyer interested in a haunted property that happens to be your dream home, do you proceed with caution and take the risk, or do you find another dream?
This is exactly the scenario that played out for Don Allison, current senior editor of The Bryan Times daily newspaper in Bryan, Ohio, author of “I Met a Ghost at Gettysburg: A Journalist’s Journey Into the Paranormal,” and owner of a historic, haunted house. A self-proclaimed paranormal skeptic for decades, his perspective changed after purchasing and renovating his primary residence, which was built in 1835 and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
A lifetime local area resident, Allison grew up admiring the property and heard occasional rumors of it being haunted. When the property was listed, he jumped at the opportunity to purchase it. Not once during the sales process did the seller or the listing REALTOR® mention any indication of the property being haunted, even after bringing the subject up to the seller who had the home in the family since 1869. Allison chalked up the previous rumors about the property to folklore, and he presumed Ohio was not a disclosure state, so the sellers and listing agent were not required to disclose potential paranormal activity.
Later, when renovations of the deteriorated residence were underway, rumors grew to suspicions, which then exploded into full-fledged “proof” his dream house was in fact a haunted house. The contractor performing the renovations reported hearing footsteps from one bedroom to another followed by a slamming door. Allison experienced the exact same thing — hearing footsteps when no one was there, slamming doors and electronics turning on by themselves. Objects moved or disappeared to never to be found again. All of these events convinced Allison about the haunting, “You feel it — and you know it.”
Since the renovations completed, the haunting has been persistent, but neither Allison nor his wife have been scared or intimidated by the presence of the seemingly benign spirit(s). In fact, they haven’t even contemplated selling the home in large part due to the haunting. When asked if Allison suspected the haunting of negatively impacting property values or neighboring businesses, he immediately stated the opposite. “If anything, the hauntedness adds to the charm and to the value now,” he stated. “The property is now a destination location and attraction on Hwy 127.” The Allisons plan to stay in the house and pass it down to their descendants.
Developer and entrepreneur Ashby Berkley, new owner of the historic and presumed haunted Sweet Springs resort in Sweet Springs, West Virginia, wasn’t deterred from purchasing it last year because of rumored spiritual inhabitants. “Personally, I haven’t experienced paranormal activities at either of the hotels I’ve owned and operated,” stated Berkley. “However, I’ve had guests and employees claim to have experienced strange things at both properties. Because I personally didn’t witness them, I can’t confirm nor deny their existence.”
Despite his lack of personal experience with the paranormal, Berkley isn’t dismissive of the possibility. In fact, he “celebrates the Sweet Springs history and everything that comes with it — even rumored hauntings.” However, he won’t promote this possibility for the sake of profit, as it doesn’t speak to the desired luxury brand he’s trying to achieve for this future destination resort and spa when it’s restored to its former glory. “People would assume anything paranormal is evil and wouldn’t want to be around it.”
How do you sell haunted real estate?
In a study conducted by Wright University, houses where murder or suicide — leading causes of hauntings — have occurred sell 50 percent slower and at a cost of 2.4 percent or more lower than average homes. One way to proactively overcome this obstacle, according to Donna Henes, space clearing and real estate blessing expert in Brooklyn, New York, is to cleanse a home. Henes states there are all types of “hauntings” and no two hauntings are alike. In fact, sometimes a “haunting” isn’t a haunting at all.
There are also just bad or lingering energies where there once has been fighting or violence. If it’s bad enough, people feel bad in their environment — but it’s not necessarily because of ghosts. For this reason, Mama Donna, as she is often called, recommends REALTORS® self-perform or hire a priest or cleansing consultant to perform a thorough spirit cleaning when selling or buying property — during final move out and before move-in — to remove all negative energies and spirits by encouraging peaceful exits. This real and practical gesture of goodwill for spirits and negative energy is a proven strategy — whether or not you believe in the paranormal. It is a ritual practiced internationally and still embraced by many faiths.
Henes has appeared on national television programs, including Million Dollar Listing New York, and has a certainlevel of credibility in the real estate industry as a cleansing expert. In fact, in one episode, she was featured as the spiritual cleanser for a million dollar listing in New York — a civil war-era Manhattan property in an upscale neighborhood. The comps in the neighborhood were between $14-28 million, and this house was on the market for $2-4 million and still would not sell. The listing REALTOR®, Ryan Serhant, associate and real estate broker for Nest Seekers in Soho, New York, spent a lot of time in the home becoming familiar with the property, and it terrified him. He soon realized why the listing wouldn’t sell and why it was so undervalued compared to the comps. Serhant called Henes to do a space clearing and blessing in the home. When Henes arrived, she felt what the REALTOR® experienced earlier; it was almost a claustrophobic energy even though the home was a five-story house. Serhant reported spooky, ghostlike entities, objects were picked up and moved, and strange sounds without a source were heard constantly. While Henes never experienced ghosts in the residence, she admits she didn’t spend near as much time in the home as the REALTOR®.
During the cleansing and blessing process, Henes covered the whole house, using materials like sage and burning herbs from Palo Santo, Ecuador. Elements like holy wood — a strong cleanser —were burned in all corners of the home. Serhant was given a bell to ring, since loud sounds burn away bad energies according to cross-cultural beliefs. Every room, drawer and closet was combed through, and then Henes went back and burned sweet grass, which is meant to invite in sweet spirits. Native American tobacco was sprinkled throughout, which is a traditional Thanksgiving offering. This says “thank you” to ghosts for not bothering people, as well as for allowing new occupants to move in. This ritual was carried out on all five floors, and then the process was considered complete. The next morning, the REALTOR® indicated the house felt so much better; he felt a sense of peace. The house sold shortly after.
Folklore? Coincidence? Real ghost eradication? Serhant believes it was real. You be the judge.
Buying haunted real estate?
Henes says, “Don’t walk away just yet.” If a homebuyer loves the place — but feels it’s a little negative — suggest a spiritual cleansing. The home should be cleaned anyway physically. It doesn’t take all that much to add a spiritual element to sweep away negative energies. This process makes the property your own — psychologically and spiritually. This is the opportunity to claim it from the negative energy and the spirits. This is an important step, too, for REALTORS® to make listings more appealing spiritually, enabling faster transactions and more satisfied buyers. This process is now a major practice similar to staging a house, so people can imagine their life there. She encourages having a spiritual staging, stating it makes the home look and feel good.
Disclose or Not to Disclose?
Do REALTORS® and owners have a legal obligation to disclose if a property is presumably haunted when listed or during the due diligence process? What precedent exists for such disclosures? Largely, this depends on what state the property is located in and whether or not they have such disclosure laws in place. Usually, disclosure responsibilities are based on material facts. Paranormal activities aren’t generally categorized as a material fact, but if the paranormal activities are based on a gruesome death that occurred on the property, that could be considered a material fact. There are usually statutes in place with timeframe restrictions.
In New York, for example, one famous case involved a buyer suing the seller and REALTOR® for failing to disclose paranormal history in a property that was recently sold. While the judge didn’t rule the disclosure rules were violated, he did rule in favor of the sellers and voided the sales contract. In North Carolina, sellers and REALTORS® do not have to disclose if a property is haunted or if anyone died or was killed in the home. However, if asked, responsible parties cannot give a misleading answer. The Real Estate Commission’s “License Law and Rule Comments" publication states, “…an agent has a duty to disclose to his or her principal any information that may affect the principal’s rights and interests or influence the principal’s decision in the transaction.” Will Martin, general counsel for NC REALTORS®, stated it’s his opinion that a buyer agent who is aware of suspected paranormal activity should disclose it to his or her client. “If I were a buyer, I’d want to know that fact because even if I didn’t believe in haints myself, I might be concerned about the potential impact of suspected paranormal activity on resale one day.” He also advises listing agents to disclose the issue with the seller, advising, “Even though there may be no legal obligation to disclose, it’s the kind of thing the buyer is going to find out about sooner or later, and it may be prudent to disclose what is known to avoid a potential ‘cover up’ complaint by the buyer.”
Ultimately, if you find yourself in a situation where you believe you are buying or selling haunted real estate, your mission should be to ensure the house feels good — spirits and energy included — for the new and potential owners. Similar to an agent baking cookies, a healthy and positive energy resonates with prospective buyers immediately. People are susceptible to energy whether or not they can really rationalize it. Everyone knows if a property feels good or bad immediately upon entry, but prospective buyers can’t always define why. When in doubt, bake brownies. If that doesn’t work, consider a spiritual cleanser.