Haunted Houses & Other Stigmatizing Factors

This is the time of year when a lot of people pay to go to a “haunted house”.  They seem to enjoy the spooky, creepy, hair-raising experiences they might find in the safe, theatrical environment of a Halloween haunted house.  But how many of them would actually want to live in a real haunted house?  Is there even such a thing as a real haunted house?

You might be surprised at how often issues and questions about haunted houses have come up in my career as a real estate broker. Here’s a few examples:

  1. One of my Buyers once said she only wanted me to show her haunted houses- but only if the ghosts were friendly.  (Since there is no search field in the MLS that indicates whether or not a house is haunted, we had to just rely on the “vibes” she got went she viewed each home).
  2. Sadly, one of my Sellers told me her house was haunted by a relative, who had committed suicide in her living room.  She wanted to know if she had to disclose either the suicide or the haunting, or both.
  3. At meetings/trainings with other real estate brokers, I have heard many other agents tell stories of spine-tingling unexplainable events & infamous haunted houses in the Denver area that they have shown or listed.
  4. And then there are my personal experiences while touring homes with buyers- like seeing other people talking to someone they “see” but who is not actually visible to the rest of us in the room.  Or when showing a home across the street from a cemetary, hearing whispers, snippets of conversation & doors (that have been dead-bolted with a key) slamming loudly in other parts of the house, when the person next to you hears nothing at all…

All of the above circumstances, whether sad, creepy, horrifying, upsetting, etc…  if told to a buyer, may be psychologically stigmatizing- to the point where the buyer may choose not to buy, or maybe expect a large price reduction to overlook the stigma.  Does the seller or his agent have to disclose stigmatizing factors about a property?  What about other stigmatizing factors, like murders and felonies that may have been committed in the house? Or whether someone previously living there had AIDS?

Each State has it own laws regarding disclosure of psychologically stigmatizing factors in the sale of a home.  Maybe that is why there is so much confusion and anger among buyers when they find out- after they purchase a home, that they were not made aware of its “unpleasant” past.  In Colorado- for the situations mentioned above, neither the Seller nor the Seller’s Broker has an obligation to disclose such information.  Here is the law in Colorado on disclosure:

38-35.5-101. Circumstances psychologically impacting real property – no duty for
broker or salesperson to disclose

(1) Facts or suspicions
regarding circumstances occurring on a parcel of property which could
psychologically impact or stigmatize such property are not material facts
subject to a disclosure requirement in a real estate transaction. Such facts or
suspicions include, but are not limited to, the following:

(a) That an
occupant of real property is, or was at any time suspected to be, infected or
has been infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or diagnosed with
acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), or any other disease which has been
determined by medical evidence to be highly unlikely to be transmitted through
the occupancy of a dwelling place; or

(b) That the property was the site
of a homicide or other felony or of a suicide.

(2) No cause of action
shall arise against a real estate broker or salesperson for failing to disclose
such circumstance occurring on the property which might psychologically impact
or stigmatize such property.

C.R.S. 38-35.5-101

As alluded to in the statute, material facts about a property are required to be disclosed.  That requirement is placed on both the seller and the seller’s agent- if known by them.  A material fact is something related to the structure itself, the mechanical/electrical systems, sources of water/sewer service, ownership rights, habitability, etc.  Failure to disclose a known material defect does carry legal consequences to both the seller and the agent. Things at are considered to be material facts are included in the Seller’s Property Disclosure form that is approved by the Real Estate Commission.  Here is the form for your reference: http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheadername1=Content-Disposition&blobheadername2=Content-Type&blobheadervalue1=inline%3B+filename%3D%22SPD19-10-11*.pdf%22&blobheadervalue2=application%2Fpdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobwhere=1251822041623&ssbinary=true.

For any facts (material or otherwise) about a property, the buyer should never rely on the seller’s property disclosure, or the seller or an agent (remember only things that are actually known can be disclosed).  Buyers should do their own due diligence by employing professional inspectors and surveyors to get the facts.  For non-material factors, buyers might try talking to neighbors (they are an excellent source of information) or searching government/police websites or doing other internet searches to see if there is anything in the house’s history that would be a psychological deterrent to their enjoyment of the property.

So, knowing what you now know about disclosure requirements, if you should ever find yourself owning a house where things go “bump” in the night- who you gonna call?  Well, that depends…  if you want to stay in the house- you could try calling “ghost busters” or an excorcist, or maybe try sprinkling holy water around the house with sage leaves, or any number of other remedies you may find on the internet.  But if you want to sell that house- call me!  I just might have a buyer that is looking for… now how would a realtor advertise this?… a place with a sense of “history”… a house with a real “presence“!