Buyer Boo-Ware: “Haunted” Real Estate
It’s that time of year where ghosts, goblins and witches are everywhere. The tombstones are in the yards and they might even have a pile of bones sticking out for dramatic effect. It’s a fun and escapist time of year and one of my favorites, for sure. Everyone loves a haunted house at Halloween, but what if it is a real-life “haunted” house? What does it mean when you want to sell your “haunted” house? Does a ghost add $5,000 to the asking price? Does the ghost need to pay rent?
IS “HAUNTED” HOUSE PHOBIA A THING?!
Well, kind of. It’s not a daily occurrence, but it is not uncommon for potential buyers to ask if anyone has ever died on a property or to specifically ask if a property is “haunted.” What can I say, superstition runs deep. Since Palestine is home to so many historic homes, it is not an unreasonable question. So…what is the answer? What do you have to disclose to potential buyers?
DEATHS ON A PROPERTY
It is unreasonable to think that every owner knows the exact history of their property (especially if it is 50+ years old); but if you know it, don’t hide it. Luckily, as a property owner, you are not responsible for knowing and sharing it all. You probably don’t know if Mr. Dracula passed away in the home in 1905 from an “insect” bite. In Texas, the seller does not have to legally disclose all deaths on a property. The Texas Property Code (§ 5.008) says, “…A Seller or seller’s agent shall have no duty to make a disclosure or release information related to whether a death by natural causes, suicide, or accident unrelated to the condition of the property occurred on the property.”
Surprised and confused yet? In a nutshell, any violent death (i.e.: a murder) or a death caused by the house (i.e.: carbon monoxide poisoning) would have to be disclosed—”haunting” (in the eyes of the Texas Property Code) is up to the discretion of the seller. However, I would make the suggestion that if a buyer wants to know, tell them. Don’t hide anything—you can’t disclose too much and they will find out eventually (probably on move-in day when the neighbors walk over and give them a pie and the scoop on the “haunted” house they just purchased.) Always share what you know (or have your agent do it for you).
HOW DO YOU SHARE THIS WITHOUT SOUNDING LIKE A WHACKADOODLE?
Not everyone believes in ghosts. Not everyone cares about paranormal activity. The buyers who are concerned about a potential “haunting” will ask. When they do, you share what you know. If the activity is of a high enough level to be of concern, it definitely needs to be shared. If you believe your house is “haunted,” have a serious discussion about it with your REALTOR® and get a game plan for disclosing it to potential buyers without scaring everyone away.
HOW DO YOU KNOW?
This is such a tricky subject, because really, how do you know?! Unless you witness it first hand, you are probably a skeptic. I am certainly not a “ghost expert,” but I do know houses. Houses creak, moan and groan—especially the older ones. Be careful not to assume that, just because it’s an older home, all those noises are ghosts doing ghostly things! (Whatever ghostly things are?—maybe they enjoy late night TV? Do they like to do cartwheels at 3am in the dark?—Now THAT would be some good reality TV!) If you’ve got more sinister activity, like things flying around, red goo dripping down the walls or physical touching, you can’t keep that to yourself…but if you’ve got that, I’d venture to say that seller’s disclosures are the least of your troubles.
GHOSTS ARE KINDA HOT RIGHT NOW
Ghosts are everywhere in popular media. Some buyers would love to own a “haunted” house! The popularity of ghost hunting shows and reality TV have given rise to a subset of buyers that would be drawn to a property because it is “haunted.” So, maybe you want to call in a ghost crew and get them to tape a show in your home to see if there are any “live ones” (That was a little ghost humor for you! Ha!) You never know, it could be the hot new property marketing strategy! I can see the property description now: “3 Bedroom 2 Bath Historic Home, Free Ghosts with purchase—Live where history never dies!”
Although it is easy to make light of a potential “haunting,” if there is a real concern (especially for the safety of future occupants), it is your duty and you are obligated to disclose it to any potential buyers. Hopefully the only creepiness at your house is only there for the Halloween season, but if you ever find yourself owning a ghost house, you’ll know what to do. Or maybe you’re lucky and your ghost is a clean freak who likes to do the dishes and fold laundry. If you’ve got that type of ghost, call me, I’ve got a buyer.
Lisa E. Priest is a fan of all things October–especially Halloween and is an East Texas Area REALTOR® with Picket Fence Realty, Inc. You can reach her via phone or text at 903-948-3343 or email Lisa@RentPalestine.com or online at BuyPalestine.com.