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When realtor Scott FladHammer arrived fifteen minutes early for his appointment to show a 1909 farmhouse to prospective buyers, he was spooked to discover they were already there — sitting in the very barn in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where one of three gruesome murders had occurred.
Looking like something "out of the Edward Scissorhands movie with their jet black hair, black nails, and extremely white skin," the eccentric clients had been there for two hours, listening for voices from the dead as well as other signs of paranormal activity.
And it didn't stop there. Once FladHammer started showing them around the four-bedroom house last summer, they started asking odd questions. "They weren't asking about the school system," says FladHammer. "The previous owner had been run over and chopped up by his own tractor like a pizza cutter — they wanted to know more about that, the other murders, whether that had been documented, and who was buried on the property."
Sellers, take note: this is not your typical buyer. Most people don't want to talk about dead bodies, let alone live with them and their lurking spirits.
FladHammer knows this all too well. He says he has sold a dozen haunted houses over the past four years, including, he notes, one that looked like just the Amityville Horror House (which is currently on the market for $1.15 million).
Here's how he — and other experts — suggest you do it:
Know state laws
Got ghosts? Contact your state's regulatory agency/real estate commission to see if you're required to disclose this because you could be spooked by a lawsuit if you don't. The case that led to a change in New York's housing law — and, ultimately, set the precedent that hauntings affect valuations and should therefore be disclosed — dates back to 1991. That's when the New York Supreme Court ruled that the would-be purchaser of a Victorian home in Nyack, New York, be reimbursed his down payment and released from his contract. Why? The seller, who had written articles about the presence of poltergeists in her abode, had failed to make note the unwanted tenants on the sales contract.
Practice full disclosure
Regardless of what the state dictates, being upfront about your home's paranormal guests or ghoulish histories is always the best moral policy, says Gena Riede, a Sacramento, California-based realtor. She recently represented a buyer in the purchase of a haunted house. "Everyone knew there were ghosts in the attic so there were no surprises going into this. The last thing anyone wants is a neighbor coming over after the sale and saying, ‘Did you know that six people were murdered and buried on your property?' " Riede says.
To minimize the presence of ghosts, your home needs to look spirit-free and inviting on the outside. Clean up a dark, forbidding atmosphere; clear away any dead trees, especially those with hanging branches; replace rusty iron gates with a white picket fence, get rid of unwanted residents like stray cats and spiders. On the inside, think warm, bright, and clutter-free. Getting rid of the darkness and gloom that spirits flourish in may require your removing outdated, musty furniture, antique rugs, old pictures of ancestors, and other items that might be perceived as "weird," says FladHammer, so that you can alleviate any pre-conceived notions.
Price it to sell
A haunted house is most commonly a home that has had a horrific act — such as a murder, suicide, or accidental death — take place within its walls. A macabre past can be an asset when the property can be converted to commercial use. But if the home is a historical landmark — or if the gruesome past involves celebrities or legends — it is typically a liability, says Randall Bell, principal with Bell, Anderson & Sanders, which analyzes the impact of detrimental conditions on property value. According to Bell's estimates, stigmatized homes — real estate that has been psychologically affected or tainted -- typically sell for 10 to 20 percent less than comparable homes. "In some cases, where there's been a really horrific crime committed, you can't give the home away," says Bell.
These days, selling a spookless home is difficult enough; selling one with paranormal activity can take up to one and a half times longer, says Riede. Actor Nicolas Cage knows this all too well. His former New Orleans home — "LaLaurie Mansion," named after a nasty socialite who is said to have tortured her slaves -- was on the market for about a year before he lost it to foreclosure in 2009. In one of America's most haunted houses, visitors claim to see apparitions of slaves, and hear chains being dragged across the floor. Uncomfortable buyers are looking elsewhere in a market that's flooded with inventory.