Can You Sell a Haunted House? A Spirited Look at Property Disclosures
Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.
For people who live with ghosts, a haunted house isn’t just a Halloween attraction. If you’re living with a friendly ghost, it may not impact your daily life. On the other hand, an unfriendly ghost can lead to a few sleepless nights.
Regardless of whether they're friendly, you may find that your ghostly tenants start causing trouble when it’s time to sell. Even if they don’t make their presence known during your open house, you still need to understand the legal implications of selling a haunted house.
The simple answer is yes. As long as you legally own the property, you can sell a haunted house. However, you need to understand legal disclosure requirements before you start the process. Because of this, it’s a good idea to talk to a real estate agent, so you know what you need to tell any prospective buyers.
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If you look into the legal definition of a haunted house, you’re likely to find state or local ordinances for attractions that run over the Halloween period. When it comes to real estate, there is no legal definition. Instead, real estate law talks about stigmatized or psychologically affected property.
A stigmatized or psychologically affected property is one where an event has occurred, or is suspected to have occurred, that has an impact on the property that isn’t physical. Violent crime, such as murder, is the most common cause of stigmatized property. However, a notorious former owner, suicide or alleged hauntings can also cause a stigma. A stigma can impact the future value of the property and may also have an effect on the new owner. For example, some people may not like living in a house where the previous owner died.
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The most important thing to understand when selling a haunted house is the law surrounding disclosures. In real estate, disclosures tell prospective buyers everything they need to know about the property.
In most states, you'll need to fill out a form that asks about material disclosures before putting your house on the market. This includes anything that may affect the structure of the property, such as an earthquake causing cracks or a flooded basement leaving mold.
As stigmas don’t leave a material impact on the property, they aren’t generally included in these forms. However, that’s not the case in every state. In some states, you must disclose if someone died in the house during a certain period of time. Other states, including Massachusetts and Minnesota, specifically state that sellers don’t need to disclose psychologically affected property.
Your real estate agent will be able to inform you of the legal disclosure requirements in your state, although Zillow also has a detailed list available. However, if a buyer asks you a question about the property, you must answer honestly.
Only four states specifically mention paranormal activity in their disclosure laws:
- New Jersey
- New York
In Minnesota and Massachusetts, the law specifically states that paranormal activity doesn’t need to be disclosed. New Jersey law states you must answer truthfully if the buyer asks about ghostly visitors. However, if you’re not asked, you can keep the ghosts a secret.
New York actually has case law about this matter, known formally as Stambovsky v. Ackley and informally as the “Ghostbusters ruling.” In this case, the Ackley house had a reputation for being haunted and was included in ghost tours of the area. However, the buyer wasn’t aware, and when he found out, he asked to rescind the sale. The court said that as the original owner had informed the public about the existence of poltergeists on the property, its value was affected. This suggests that in New York, sellers may need to disclose if the property has a reputation for paranormal activity.
In all states, there is some leeway. If you’ve heard some thumps or moans in the night but haven’t actually seen a spectral visitor, it’s likely you don’t need to mention ghosts. However, if you’ve invited ghost hunters to your home, you may need to tell prospective buyers.
As is often the case in real estate, the sale price depends on a number of factors. Some people look for haunted homes, thinking they can get a good deal on the house. Don’t be afraid to reject a first offer if you think it's unfair. However, if you need a quick sale or aren’t having any luck selling, you may need to lower your expectations on price.
You should also remember that people interested in the paranormal may pay a premium for a house with ghosts or be looking for a home to turn into a ghost-themed business. In those cases, it's possible your otherworldly tenants will be a great selling point. Disclosing a death or crime in the home can negatively impact the sale, so you may want to speak with a realtor or attorney about whether the disclosure is necessary.
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