Scary movies about haunted houses, like Paranormal Activity, The Conjuring and Poltergeist are thrilling fictional entertainments. But what if that home you were interested in buying was, in fact, haunted?
Or what if a serious crime was committed on the property, or you learn that people had passed away on the premises sometime in the past? Would you still want to purchase that residence? Or if you had merely heard bad rumours about the home for sale, would you want to investigate further?
Sellers are legally required to disclose things to prospective buyers, such as material defects like lead paint, pests, mould, water damage, foundation cracks and appliance issues. But when it comes to matters like emotional defects (a violent crime, murder or suicide, for instance) or suspected supernatural occurrences, the disclosure laws can vary. So if you’re concerned about or even curious to confirm one of these possibilities, it’s essential to do your own homework.
“Researching a home is important for many reasons. If you are someone who worries about paranormal activity or any past negative history on a home, don’t blindly trust that these things will be disclosed to you by the seller,” Denise Supplee, a licensed Realtor with Long & Foster in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and the co-founder of SparkRental.com, says.
Moving into a home that you didn’t know was the subject of unwanted gossip and innuendo in the neighbourhood can also lead to buyer’s remorse. You may have thick skin, but if you have kids, they may get teased about it or fear living in a stigmatized house.
“School-age children will probably hear the rumours. Better to save them the sleepless nights and lack of sleepovers and find a more family-friendly home,” suggests Meredith Lettiere, a former Realtor who grew up in Amityville, New York, near the famous haunted house depicted in The Amityville Horror.
Even if you can weather the whispers, hearsay and creaks heard in the night, you may pay a price later.
“The most important reason to investigate a home for sale before you buy it is so that you won’t have problems when you decide to sell it. If a home has a stigma attached to it, it can dramatically increase the amount of time it takes to sell and decrease the amount you can get for it,” cautions Mark J. Schmidt, broker associate with Milltown, New Jersey-headquartered RE/MAX Country.
Conducting due diligence on a domicile’s dormant dark history doesn’t have to be complicated. First, learn the laws in your jurisdiction regarding disclosure.
“In Texas, for example, an agent is only able to disclose physical and structural defects, not facts like a previous murder scene,” says Benjamin Ross, a Fort Worth, Texas-based Realtor and landlord.
Next, talk to the neighbours.
“If something terrible actually did happen at the house, neighbors are more than likely going to let you know,” recommends Schmidt.
Lettiere’s advice? “Call the local police precinct and ask for crime reports for the address. Do a Google search of the street name, too, which may bring up anything from news reports to blogs on haunted house,” she says.
For better peace of mind, you can also request a quote for homeowners insurance on the property ahead of your closing.
“Ask the insurance agent to run a loss history report on the home. If that report reveals losses severe enough, that should warrant additional questions from you,” says Barton Scott, president of Scott Insurance in Stratford, Connecticut.
Finally, if your research uncovers something negative, determine whether it’s a deal breaker or something you can live with.
“Rumours of paranormal activity or finding out someone has died in the home, to me personally, should not be a deal breaker. Frankly, if your home is old enough, it increases the likelihood that someone probably did pass away in the home at one point,” notes Supplee.