Do you believe in ghosts? Would you buy a haunted house? Earlier this month, Sanette Tanaka wrote on the difficulties of selling a home that is stigmatized by rumors for The Wall Street Journal. While it’s not an everyday occurrence you may deal with, Sanette discusses how consumers feel about “haunted” real estate.
‘Haunted’ House? A Tough Sell
By Sanette Tanaka
Simone Murray thought she found her ideal home in Zionsville, Ind. “Everything was perfect. It was secluded, nestled in beautiful trees,” says Ms. Murray, vice president of member services at an Indianapolis-based nonprofit.
But the cemetery in the backyard stopped her: “There were headstones on the property,” she says. “We decided not to consider it.”
Although research shows that most people don’t believe in ghosts, many still balk at the thought of buying a “haunted house.” In an online survey conducted by Realtor.com, 38% of the 1,410 respondents said they would reject buying a house that was perceived to be haunted. Of those who would consider buying a haunted house, three-fourths would expect a price reduction because of the stigma, the survey found.
Ms. Murray’s real-estate agent, Diane Brooks of the FC Tucker Co., says half of her clients don’t care if a property is near headstones. “They know a cemetery is beautiful and will be well maintained,” she says.
While most states require sellers to disclose physical issues, only some require sellers to disclose psychological issues, like if a house is stigmatized. A house perceived to have ghosts could fall under that category, says Ilona Bray, real-estate editor of Nolo, a publisher of consumer legal guides based in Berkeley, Calif. “Let’s say you think your house is haunted. If you find out there was a horrible murder, or someone’s body was left in the attic, that could matter. That property could be stigmatized. And that could materially affect the value of the house,” she says.
People are more likely to believe a house is haunted if experts express their support, says Paul Brewer, professor in the department of communication at the University of Delaware, who studies beliefs about the paranormal. “If a house has a reputation, with media coverage presented as credible or even scientific, that can shape people’s beliefs and shape people’s perception,” he says.
Some agents cast these properties in a positive light, focusing on their historical significance or interesting architecture, says Leslie Piper, Realtor.com’s consumer-housing specialist and an agent with Pacific Union in Lafayette, Calif. “It’s a fine line,” she says. “What’s spooky to one person might be intriguing to another.”