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House Hunting

House Hunting

Freaky Friday

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading through the posts on a Dead Files Facebook page and someone asked, “what happens to the houses that people sell when Amy says the families have to move out and can no longer live there?”

 I responded, “I think Zillow needs to add a category in their listings – Dead Files status – for those kinds of haunted houses.”

For example, Dead Files Status: “Vortex in the second-floor closet seems to actually be a Hellmouth. Major rehab may be needed.”

 What do you think?

My sister, the author Maureen Tan, has had unique experiences with not only house hunting, but also renting some “interesting” places.  She was kind enough to share some of her experiences:

“My middle child sees dead people, which is a very handy talent where real estate purchases are concerned.  Now, as an adult, my daughter is occasionally hired to “check out” a house for a potential buyer.  But back when she was much younger, I didn’t know the extent of her talent.  And I didn’t quite understand mine.  So, when my job required that we relocate from Iowa to Illinois, I searched for a house for us in our new town while my husband took care of our children back in Iowa.

The market was tight, as was our budget, so I finally settled on a large, old house with a big back yard on a quiet street.  As I walked around the house with the realtor, I was vaguely disturbed by its condition.  In its recent past, it had been divided into two apartments; and the number of random toilets and sinks made it clear that, in a more distant past, it had been a rooming house.  It was a bright autumn day, the house had big windows and the curtains were open, and it was obvious that the vacant house had been cleaned.  But, still, some of the rooms seemed grubby and dark.   The house felt dirty.   And the living room smelled faintly of cigarettes and stale booze.

My internal alarm bells were going off, but I ignored them.  There was nothing wrong with the house that a good thorough scrubbing, some decent interior lighting, and a new coat of paint wouldn’t take care of.  Besides, I told myself, what were the chances that I’d find another house so conveniently located, with a bedroom for each child, a working fireplace, and original woodwork still intact?  No doubt that the air and the light—the *flow* of the house—improve dramatically once the extra not-very-solid walls that sub-divided the house were taken down.

The selling price was low, and I was confident that I could really fix the place up.  But still, I hesitated.  It was a big decision, and something was not quite right.  It was then that the realtor told me that the owner—who turned out to be the realtor’s auntie—would be happy to rent the place “to a good family like yours” with an option to buy.  I signed, as they say, on the dotted line.  I was naïve back then. 

We moved in.  We scrubbed, took down walls, painted.  We filled the house with all the good, joyful things that come with a young family.  It didn’t matter.  The house was always darker than it should have been.  The air in the now-open stairs and hallways always carried the whiff of something musty.  The children were reluctant to sleep alone in their own rooms, there were odd noises, and things moved that really shouldn’t have.  And then really ugly things began happening—things that couldn’t be dismissed, laughed off, or ignored.  But that’s another story.

Suffice to say, we did not exercise that option to buy.  In the midst of our hunt for another house, my middle child told me about the parties.  She admitted that she’d hear music in the middle of the night, creep halfway down the now-open staircase, and watch the ladies in sparkly dresses and the men in tuxedos drinking and dancing and smoking cigarettes.   She hadn’t told me about it before because she was afraid she’d be in trouble for being out of bed.  But she thought I should know so we didn’t get a house like this again.  

We bought a big, old house that really did need cleaning, painting, and repair.  It didn’t have a fireplace or nice woodwork.  But, even at its worst, it never felt “unclean”.  Sensing that, I suppose, is my particular talent.  A talent that has repeated itself over many walks through houses that are for sale and that is confirmed by a daughter who actually does see dead people.”

Are you freaked out yet?  Well, let me share another great story with you. I asked permission to share this great story I found on Jim Harold’s Campfire Facebook page and Jordan was gracious enough to let me share it with you.

“My SO and I are currently house hunting which brings up the memory of when I looked at buying an unexpectedly haunted house around four years ago.

I was still single at this point, but I had always wanted to own my own home. I had kept an eye out on the local market for a while, and an older home that needed some work finally hit a price point that I contacted a real estate agent about showing it. When we got there, she apologized and said that her son was out sick from pre-school, would she mind if she brought him in with us? I told her it was fine, and we made our way up the stairs to the home.

As soon as we step onto the porch, her little boy starts screaming, crying and saying “WE SHOULDN’T BE HERE.” His mom gets him quieted down and, because I am dumb and would definitely die in a horror movie, we walk in.

The atmosphere in the home is heavy and sad. We walk around and I realize how much work it would be, so at this point, I am pretty un-interested but I still love to look around these cool old homes. I realize we hadn’t seen laundry hookups and the agent said, “I wonder if there’s a basement?”

We find the door. I leave my phone on the kitchen counter because I don’t want to drop it down the stairs (CURSE WOMEN’S CLOTHES FOR NOT HAVING POCKETS).

The agent opens the door and her son starts screaming, “WE AREN’T SUPPOSED TO BE HERE. HE DOESN’T WANT US TO BE HERE. YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO GO DOWN THERE. WE’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE.”

Because now I KNOW something is going on here, I start to make my way downstairs. The agent tells her kiddo he doesn’t have to go with us, he can stay at the top of the stairs and wait. She’ll let him know we’re ok when we get down there.

At first, it just looks like a normal, old home basement. I think it was made out of limestone that had been painted over at some point. I look around for the laundry hookups. As I look in the back corner of the basement my eyes get caught on the walled area under the stairs. It was painted white, but in Sharpied handwriting, there are dozens of names with what looks like are birth and death years underneath. Most of them look like they only repeat once or twice like the person forgot they were already on the wall. But there was one name in particular that repeated over and over and over all over the wall. It was like the writer had to remind themselves over and over and over that the person had passed away.

That’s when the footsteps started.

The son was still at the top of the stairs in his mom’s line of sight. We both heard what sounded like pacing footsteps above us in the front bedroom (right by the front door). Back and forth. Back and forth. I heard it before she did, so I froze and looked at her. I could see the exact moment when she heard them, too. We looked at each other in a panic and both started heading up the stairs.

She scoops up her son, I scoop up my phone and we are headed straight out the front door. As we pass through the living room, she turns to me and says, “Don’t buy this house.”

I didn’t.

The Times Union did an article entitled, “Are ghosts deal-breakers for house hunting?”  In the article, they report that “According to a poll of 1,000 people by Realtor.com last year, 42 percent said they would not buy a haunted house, no matter what. But 40 percent said they would go for it if there was a price reduction. Others said they would buy a haunted house if it had more bedrooms than a ghost-free option, if it was bigger, or if it was in a better neighborhood. Only 8 percent said they require no additional perks to purchase a haunted home.”

An agent quoted in the article, Leah Slocum of Peak Partners at Keller Williams Capital District shared this experience, “She was showing a house in Troy once when she and the buyers had an eerie feeling. While they were upstairs, every door in the house blew shut. The potential buyers ran out and refused to go back in. Slocum was left to go through the house by herself to make sure all the lights were off.”

The hazards of being a real estate agent!

Although, haunted houses are not really considered hazardous or defective. Real Estate agent Brian Sinkoff of CM Fox Real Estate said, “It’s important to divulge what you know about a home if it has a material defect relevant to the buyer. If the roof leaks, the foundation is collapsing, something like that. But if the seller says, ‘We hear noises in the middle of the night and we think it’s a ghost,’ it’s not a fundamental defect.”

Not a fundamental defect. But, (in my best Barney Fife imitation) what we have here folks, is a stigmatized property.

What, you may ask, is a stigmatized property?  I’m glad you asked that question.

According to the good folks at Maximum Real Estate Exposure, this is their definition, “Bad things happen sometimes, and when they do, you may have no control over them. Murder, suicide and other misfortunes occur regularly throughout the country and the world. Plenty of these unfortunate events happen in everyday homes.

There are also homes that many consider haunted, scattered throughout the country and well-known by some as locations where paranormal activity occurs.

Wikipedia defines a haunted house as a home or other Real Estate that is often considered to be inhabited by disembodied spirits of the deceased who may have been former residents or were familiar with the property.

The supernatural activity that occurs in homes is often attributed to violent or tragic events in a building’s past, such as murder, accidental death or suicide.

Properties affected by such events are often referred to as stigmatized.”

So, what does that mean to a seller or a buyer?

“You are selling what is known as a stigmatized property, and you may (or may not) be required to disclose the unique issues about your home to buyers before you make a sale.

Therefore, finding out from your real estate agent or attorney if revealing haunted homes, paranormal activity, murder, and suicide at your property are necessary becomes paramount!”

It really comes down to what the laws in your state demand.

Massachusetts states that you are not required to disclose the fact that the property was the site of “…felony, suicide or homicide” or “… that the real property has been the site of an alleged parapsychological or supernatural phenomenon. It adds that there will be no penalty for a seller that fails to disclose any of these issues to a buyer before selling the property.

California, on the other hand, requires that you disclose any deaths that occurred at the property in the last three years.  However, there was a successful legal case when a seller was sued for not disclosing that his house was the site of a multiple murder a decade earlier.

Texas law states: 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…”

But, if there was a murder on the property, you do have to disclose that in Texas.

I decided I ought to check on my state, you know, just in case. And lucky for me: “The Illinois Real Estate License Act, Section 15-20, states licensees have no legal duty to disclose facts that have no direct and detrimental physical impact on the property.”

This is great news for the seller, but not so great for the unsuspecting buyer. So, what can you do if you want to protect yourself from buying a house with some “extra features?”

Jane Haskins, Esq. from Legal Zoom offers some great advice:

“When George and Kathy Lutz went to a house showing on suburban Long Island in 1975, their realtor told them what had happened there a year earlier: On a horrifying November night in 1974, the owners’ oldest son had shot and killed his parents and all four of his siblings in their beds.

The Lutzes decided they could handle this and bought the house anyway. It was just 28 days before they fled in terror. The tales they told have lived on as the basis for The Amityville Horror book and movie series.

The Lutzes at least knew about the murders before they bought the house. If you’re buying a home with a history of death or haunting, you might not be so lucky.

…In most states, sellers can’t outright lie if asked about a defect. They’d have to tell you about a ghost if you asked. And some supernatural events—like blood oozing from baseboards or Moaning Myrtle clogging up the plumbing—might need to be disclosed because they cause physical problems that affect the property’s value.

In a famous 1991 New York case, Stambovsky v. Ackley, the seller, Helen Ackley, had told the local paper and Readers Digest about the poltergeists in her Victorian house. She even listed it on a local ghost tour.

But when it came time to sell, she conveniently forgot to mention the house was haunted. The buyers put down a deposit and then—big surprise—someone in town tipped them off. They sued, and an appeals court allowed them to rescind, or undo, the transaction. The court said Mrs. Ackley’s ghost stories had greatly affected the property’s value, and therefore she was obligated to disclose the hauntings to the buyers.

Other court cases have sometimes allowed buyers of haunted houses to get out of the deal, but only if sellers didn’t disclose information when they should have, or misrepresented the property’s condition.

If you’re buying a house and you don’t want to deal with a poltergeist in your daughter’s closet, you might as well ask the sellers and their realtor if they are aware of any hauntings or paranormal activity, or if there have been any deaths on the premises. At worst, they’ll think you’re nuts. At best, you may get some interesting information that the seller wouldn’t otherwise have had to disclose.”

However, if you’re looking for a house in the fine state of Louisiana, you’re out of luck:

Louisiana does have a statute which informs home buyers of “psychologically impacted” properties that they will not likely have any recourse for a “haunted house” discovery. Specifically, La. R.S. 37:1468 provides that:

The fact or suspicion that a property might be or is psychologically impacted, such impact being the result of facts or suspicions, including but not limited to: (2.) That the property was, or was at any time suspected to have been, the site of a homicide, or other felony, or a suicide; is not a material fact or material defect regarding the condition of real estate that must be disclosed in a real estate transaction.

The statute further provides that “No cause of action shall arise against an owner of real estate or his or her agent for the failure to disclose to the transferee that the transferred property was psychologically impacted as defined in Subsection A.”

I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!

Happy Friday!!!

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