By Alejandro Rojas
– So you want to sell your house, but it is haunted and you are worried that
will dissuade potential buyers. You may be tempted not to tell them. Heck, most
people don’t believe in ghosts anyway, right? Believe it or not, that strategy
did not work out for a seller in New York.
I am a real estate agent in Arizona and this topic
actually came up in my real estate training class. The instructor, Marty Baum
of the Chandler Real Estate Training Center, said you don’t have to disclose a
potential ghost, but you do have to disclose a haunting. Furthermore, he
claimed this was a topic that has been debated at real estate conferences he
I wasn’t sure if he was kidding or not. However, after I
looked into it further I found out he is right.
Rules vary state by state, but as we learned in class,
according to the Arizona Department of Real Estate, “Sellers are obligated by
Arizona common law to disclose all known material facts about a property to the
A material fact is a piece of information important to
making a decision.
So what the heck is Marty talking about when he says you
don’t have to disclose if your house may have a ghost?
According to Arizona law, when it comes to real estate
sales and leases, a seller does not have disclose if the property is “The site
of a natural death, suicide or homicide or any other crime classified as a
Marty’s point is that if someone dies in the house, you
don’t have to disclose that information. He is then applying some comedic
liberty to translate that as you don’t have to disclose a potential ghost.
However, a haunting could be seen as a material fact.
Such was the case in a famous New York court case, commonly referred to as the
The case was Stambovsky v. Ackley. In 1990, Jeffrey Stambovsky
went to the courts to get out of a contract he had made on a house that he
later found out was haunted. The house was a Victorian in Nyack, New York, just
across the Hudson River from Sleepy Hollow.
According to a story in The New York Times, Stambovsky
was buying the home for $650,000 and had put down $32,500. He found out about
the house’s haunted reputation and refused to close on the sale and wanted his
The first ruling was not in his favor. However, he
appealed and won. The case was settled in 1991, and according to an alleged accounting of the affair by Ackley’s
son-in-law, eventually a judge decided that they split the down payment.
The question is, why did the court overturn the original
In New York, they followed the caveat emptor rule. This
means “buyer beware” and puts the responsibility on the buyer to get the house
inspected for defects. However, the courts ruled that an inspection would not
have discovered the haunting. Apparently, they do not carry around the little
device with all of the lights on it that was used in the movie Ghostbusters to
look for ghosts.
Of course, the Ghostbusters ghost
hunting device does not exist, and many, perhaps most, will tell you ghosts
don’t exist. So, how can the courts rule the house was haunted? For this
justification they looked to how the home got its haunted reputation in the
Although Ackley claims there were rumors of the house
being haunted before she moved there, according to Lawnix,
a site of legal case briefs for law students and attorneys, “Ackley had actually
perpetrated the rumor by reporting various occurrences to Reader’s Digest and
the local press.”
Lawnix explained, “In this case, Ackley deliberately
publicized that her house was haunted. Having informed the public at large that
the house was haunted, she owned no less a duty to the buyer. Ackley was
estopped from denying the existence of ghosts and poltergeists and as a matter
of law, the house was haunted.”
So whether or not the house was haunted was irrelevant.
That the seller believed the house was haunted and had told others about her
belief was relevant. The moral of the story is if you think your house is
haunted, that could be interpreted as a material fact, so it is better to let
potential buyers know.
You may be reading this while you are sitting in your
home listening to moaning and phantom footsteps. Hopefully, that is just your
kids fooling around or a scary movie is on. However, if this is a common
occurrence and you believe your house is actually haunted, take heart. If you
are looking to sell your haunted house, you could turn this into a marketing
In a recent story in Realtor Magazine, a real
estate agent in Omaha, Nebraska did just that. In his listing description,
instead of focusing on the great backyard or the newly renovated kitchen, he
focused on the house’s haunted reputation.
Unfortunately, the owners took the house off of the
market before it sold. They claimed the haunting had turned violent, so they
had to get out quick and decided to turn the house into a rental. However, the
real estate agent says his marketing strategy created a lot of interest.
Some of the paranormal experts Realtor Magazine interviewed
claimed there are people that don’t mind living with ghosts. According to
Ackley’s son-in-law, even the Ackleys didn’t mind the ghosts so much. They felt
the ghosts were benevolent and looked after the family.
Getting back to Marty’s joke, it is a bit ironic that, at
least in Arizona, you could be living in the Murder House from American
Horror Story and not have to disclose the home’s gruesome history, but
if you suspect your house is haunted, and especially if your home has a haunted
reputation, you had better disclose that.
The good news for those trying to unload a haunted house
is that some people welcome a house ghost as much as they do the house pet.