4 Bdrms, 2 Baths, 1 Ghost Homes
4 Bdrms, 2 Baths, 1 Ghost Homes That Have Skeletons In Their Closets Can Be A Nightmare To Sell By Vivian Marino AP Business Writer
COPIED FROM: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ARCHIVES Originally published on Friday, July 7, 1995.
A fabulous view of the Hudson River, stained glass windows, intricate woodwork and gabled towers drew lots of potential buyers to Helen Ackley's house in Nyack, N.Y., when it went on the market six years ago.
But it was the ghosts, or rather talk of them, that scared off at least one couple who had put down a 5 percent binder on the $650,000 home.
The buyers got back much of their deposit after a legal scuffle in which a state judge declared the house haunted "as a matter of law." The house, an 18-room Victorian, eventually sold at a slightly lower price.
Ackley, 68, who now lives in Orlando, Fla., insists "the taxes are what drove me out, not the ghosts" from the Revolutionary War era, who she says were friendly.
Regardless of one's belief in the supernatural world, in the world of real estate, supposedly haunted houses are considered stigmatized properties. So are homes where suicides happened, crimes were committed or environmental problems once existed. All can pose special problems for sellers.
Because residential real estate purchases are often motivated by emotion, homes carrying a stigma frequently sell for less and remain on the market longer than "normal" properties.
In parts of the country with large Asian populations, there are "feng shui" inspectors who try to determine a home's karma.
Professional appraisers use special guidelines to value stigmatized properties.
"You can't look through traditional multiple listing services," said Frank Harrison of Harrison and Associates, an appraisal firm in Woodstock, Ill. "It's a relatively exhaustive process."
Harrison, who is writing a book on the subject for the Appraisal Institute trade group, begins by appraising the property as if nothing were wrong. He then checks the discount that nearby comparable homes with comparable stigmas sold at in the past five years.
Often he searches through public records and interviews brokers, an expensive process that can take three to five times longer than normal appraisals.
What's It Worth?
The amount by which real estate is discounted depends on the type and extent of the stigma, as well as how long it remains in public memory.
"I haven't found any real loss attached to suicides . . . but the more sensational, the more gruesome the act, the bigger the impact," Harrison said, adding that occasionally the value of neighboring homes might also be affected.
A few years ago, he appraised a house in suburban Chicago that was the scene of a double murder committed by a spurned boyfriend. Without the crime, the house would have been appraised around $120,000. But the fact that the murders made front-page news for weeks and that the killer was still at
large drove the value down to $95,000.
Some properties may never be marketable at any price.
The house in Los Angeles where actress Sharon Tate and six others were murdered by followers of Charles Mansion 26 years ago was recently torn down and replaced by a new house. It's not yet known whether the vacant Brentwood, Calif., condominium owned by the estate of Nicole Brown Simpson, who was murdered on condo grounds, will be sold at market value.
Some people see investment opportunities regardless of the notoriety.
"I would be inclined to tell my readers (that) if it wasn't too bad of a stigma to buy these properties," said John T. Reed, who publishes Real Estate Investor's Monthly in Danville, Calif. "You might be able to make a profit eventually after these things fade from memory."
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William O. Keleher Jr., president of Prudential New Jersey Realty in East Brunswick, N.J., agreed: "If the price is cheap enough, someone will say, `Hey, I can fix this up and make this a nice place to live and whatever happened before doesn't affect me.' It would take an extreme case to make it
A few buyers may actually welcome notorious niches, especially those of historical significance.
"A lot of businesses - bed and breakfasts, inns, restaurants - like the idea of having a ghost," said Dale Kaczmarek, president of the Ghost Research Society in Oak Lawn, Ill. In fact, organizations like the Ghost Research Society are sometimes contacted by businesses and celebrities for help in locating supposedly haunted haunts.
`Did I Mention The Ghosts?'
Barbara Shaunessy, a computer systems specialist, thinks ghosts, real or imagined, add to the charm of a house. Although she's never had an ectoplasmic experience herself, visitors to her seven-bedroom 1806 house in Morristown, N.J., have told her they've seen images of what appear to be Union soldiers from the Civil War.
"The previous owners made a comment that the house `will decide if it likes you,' " she said. "They never made any specific mention (of ghosts) at the time."
Perhaps one of the stickiest issues involving stigmatized real estate involves disclosure.
Ackley claims the stories about the haunting of her old home were fairly well known. Its ghosts were friendly guests who left little presents for the family.
(The gifts, she says, included a gold baby ring and a pair of tiny silver tongs.) She even wrote about it in a Reader's Digest article in 1977.
But the buyers, spooked by the notion of sharing their home with strangers, maintain they didn't find out about the home's history until after casually speaking with someone in town.
A state appellate judge ruled that Ackley should have told them because she deliberately had fostered the belief that her home was possessed.
If Walls Could Talk
While disclosure laws vary by state, real estate experts are split on just how much of a home's history should be revealed to potential buyers.
"In a conventional real estate transaction, the seller is the client of the real estate professional, who has a fiduciary responsibility to that client," Keleher said. "By the same token, we're held to a standard of fair treatment."
Stephanie Nagle, a broker for Prudential First Realty in Beverly, Mass., says her policy is to disclose such information only to serious lookers.
"I wouldn't want to attract it as a curiosity property," she said.
The National Association of Realtors advises members to give up a listing should sellers refuse to disclose information deemed important in determining the value of property. Federal law bars real estate agents, however, from making unsolicited disclosures that a current or former occupant has AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).
Dorcas Helfant, who runs Coldwell Banker-Helfant Realty in Virginia Beach, Va., a state that says there's no such thing as stigmatized property, wonders where else should you draw the line.
"People in my profession don't make a habit of checking the crime reports. The home never attacked anyone or committed any violent crime. What goes on with the occupants is personal and privileged to them."
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