How to Sell a Haunted House Like Any Other Home on the Market

Americans love the cheap thrill of gut-wrenching fear. Every year, hoards of Halloween enthusiasts lock arms and flock to their local house of horrors. These zombie-obsessed adrenaline junkies happily pay for a good scare, fueling a $300 million haunted house industry.

So, how does that translate to “haunted” home sales in the real estate market?

Ask top real estate agents who’ve sold homes with the worst stigmas and rumors attached and they say that selling a “haunted” house often lacks the drama, mystery, and fable of those manufactured fight nights.

You’d think the agents would want to play up the mystery and the folklore to attract more buyer attention.

But that’s not always the right move.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/los-feliz-murder-mansion
Los Feliz mansion (Credit: atlasobscura.com)

We chatted with the real estate agent who sold the infamous Los Feliz Murder House in Los Angeles, analyzed dozens of marketing materials and press around real-life haunted house sales, and looked up real estate disclosure laws around stigmatized homes in all 50 states.

What we found surprised us:

If you want to sell a haunted house, or a house tainted by murder stories, treat it like a matter-of-fact business deal and the whole ordeal won’t be as scary as you think.

Here’s how to sell a “haunted” house:

how-to-sell-a-haunted-house

Work with a low-drama real estate agent who isn’t in it for the press

There’s no getting around it—a house with a history of hauntings or deadly foul play generates attention, whether it’s a full-blown three-ring circus or quiet whispers from surrounding neighbors.

The former was the case for Nancy Sanborn, a real estate agent in the LA area with nearly 40 years of experience, when she got hired to sell what she thought was a regular old probate listing in a wealthy LA neighborhood in 2016.

The listing came as a referral and as she says, “I did not know its history when I took it on, but everyone else did.” She got up to speed quickly with nothing but a Google search, which instantly showed the property had been the scene of an unusually grisly crime nearly 60 years before.

Inside the ominous estate, the troubled Dr. Harold N Perelson had killed his wife with a hammer, struck his daughter in the head, and taken his own life. That was December of 1959, yet rumors swirled for decades to come.

As the story went, the Perelson’s Christmas decorations—a tree and presents underneath—could still be seen there. (Later, it was rumored that these items actually belonged to renters who lived in the house afterward).

There was no putting a lid on the publicity surrounding this listing. The mansion drew attention as a notorious haunted attraction on the local murder mystery house tour, and Curbed dubbed it “LA’s most famous and mysterious murder house” in 2015. Some say they’ve seen Dr. Perelson’s ghost.

But rather than take press calls pouring in from around the world, Sanborn rolled up her sleeves and got to work. Rumors aside, the house was in terrible condition and needed a ton of preparation to be suitable for the market.

“We just treated it as best we could like a normal listing,” Sanborn told HomeLight. “The murder took place in the ‘50s for goodness sake, and the rumor just stayed with the house. My obligation as an agent is to sell it for the most money possible, not to generate notoriety.”

Nevertheless, the house drew the biggest broker open caravan she’d ever seen and strange behavior from visitors with a morbid interest. Sanborn carried on and listed and marketed the house like any other, notifying the neighbors ahead of time so they could anticipate the extra street traffic and press attention.

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Check your state’s disclosure requirements, and consult an attorney on any gray areas

Real estate disclosure laws, which set rules for what you have to tell buyers about a home before they follow through on the deal, are a mixed bag from state to state. But most states, in some shape or form, require sellers and their agents to disclose any “material defects” about a home upfront in writing.

According to the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, material defects are those that negatively impact a home’s value or could pose an unreasonable risk to the buyers’ safety. This could be a decayed exterior that exposes a home to the elements or a shoddy roof job that lets water seep in through the cracks.

Then there are what’s called “material facts” about a home that might influence buyers’ decision to buy the house or how much they’d pay for it, such as the flood in the basement that happened 3 years ago.

Disclosure laws get even murkier when it comes to telling buyers about facts that only have a “psychological impact” on the home—such as a murder, suicide, or rumored hauntings—but still may be considered “material” to a buyer’s decision.

We went to the real estate section of state government websites to dig up each individual state’s disclosure requirements around selling a stigmatized property so you can see how the laws vary.

Disclosure requirements differ state by state

The majority of states do not require sellers or their agents to disclose occurrences like homicides, felonies, suicides, or natural deaths that occurred on a property or any rumored paranormal activity associated with it.

In states that don’t require disclosure, an agent’s disclosure of sensitive information to the buyers without the seller’s permission may be considered a breach of ethics.

Some states go so far as to say a seller or agent cannot be held liable legally for failing to disclose such incidents or information.

California has a unique law that requires that any death, even natural deaths, that occured in the property within the last three years be disclosed.

Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, and North Dakota, on the other hand, take a “caveat emptor” or buyer beware approach, by putting the burden on the buyer to uncover any stigmas associated with a property before they sign on the dotted line.

However, many state laws also say that if a buyer point blank asks about any rumors or history of the home, as the seller or listing agent, you can’t lie.

See where your state lands on psychological impact/stigmatized property disclosure laws by using the map below.

Keep in mind, even if your state doesn’t require disclosure, it’s not so clear cut. Many states also require that you disclose “adverse material facts” that could impact a property’s value, further muddying the waters.

Does a property’s history as the site of a violent crime constitute a material fact? You could argue it one way or another. It’s a gray area open to interpretation, especially when it comes to deaths and rumored hauntings.

Your agent should be familiar with your state’s disclosure requirements and statutes. But when in doubt, always consult a real estate attorney for their advice on whether you should disclose something about your property’s history to cover all your bases and navigate any gray areas with care.

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Real estate disclosures of psychologically impacted or stigmatized properties by State

Note: Under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fair housing laws, in every state it is illegal to disclose whether a former or current owner of a house had a disease like AIDS or was HIV positive.

AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY DC

 

Alabama

“Caveat Emptor” Rule, aka buyer beware, unless the seller or real estate agent knows about something that would impact the “health or safety” of the buyer.

 

Alaska

Must disclose any murder or suicide that occurred on the property in the past 3 years, or any known human burial sites on the property.

 

Arizona

Arizona statute 32-2156 protects Arizona sellers and real estate professionals from being held liable for failing to disclose that a property was the site of a “natural death, suicide or homicide or any other crime classified as a felony.” However, a court ruled in 2014 that the law does not protect against affirmative misrepresentations of facts about a property.

 

Arkansas

Arkansas Code 17-10-101 states no cause of action can arise against an owner or real estate agent for failing to disclose a property’s history of psychological impact, such as a death, homicide, suicide, or felony that occurred onsite.

 

California

Per California Civil Code 1710.2, owners and agents must disclose deaths (and the manner of the death) that occurred in the home within the last 3 years, but any deaths that occurred before that do not require disclosure. The code also states that owners and agents are not “immunized” from “making an intentional misrepresentation in response to a direct inquiry” from a buyer.

 

Colorado

Facts or suspicions regarding circumstances that could psychologically impact or stigmatize property are not material facts subject to disclosure, and no cause of action can be brought against a real estate agent or broker for failing to disclose such a circumstance, according to CO Rev Stat § 38-35.5-101 (2016).

 

Connecticut

Connective SB 481 prohibits lawsuits against owners/agents for failing to disclose “non-material facts” such as a death or felony on the property.

 

Delaware

Per Delaware Code section 2927, no cause of action can come against against owners or real estate professionals for failing to disclose a property’s “psychological impacts”; if a buyer requests information in writing (except for history of diseases), the owner or agent must answer truthfully to the best of their knowledge.

 

Florida

Per Florida statute 689.25, “the fact that a property was, or was at any time suspected to have been, the site of a homicide, suicide, or death is not a material fact that must be disclosed in a real estate transaction,” and owners and agents are protected from legal action for failing to disclose.

 

Georgia

Georgia Code 44-1-16 protects owners, brokers and agents from any legal action against them for failing to disclose fact or suspicion that the property was the site of a homicide, felony, suicide or death by accidental or natural causes. However, all parties must answer truthfully to specific buyer inquiries.

 

Hawaii

The fact that a property was the site of an act or occurrence that had no effect on the physical structure may be excluded from the disclosure statement. This information “shall not be deemed a material fact,” per Hawaii Revised Statute 508-D8.

 

Idaho

According to Idaho Code section 55-2801, no action can be taken against an owner or real estate professional for failure to disclose the psychological impact history of a property. A buyer may request in writing knowledge of whether the property may be psychologically impacted. The agent can report any findings to the buyer with the consent of the owner. If the owner refuses to disclose, the agent must relay the non-disclosure message to the buyer.

 

Illinois

Per the Illinois Real Estate License Act, Section 15-20 and the Illinois Association of Realtors, a real estate professional cannot be held liable for failure to disclose that a property was the “site of an act or occurrence that did not impact the physical condition of the property, such as suicide or murder.”

 

Indiana

According to Indiana Code 32-21-6-6, an owner or agent is not required to disclose to a buyer any knowledge of a “psychologically affected” property in a real estate transaction. However, an owner or agent may not intentionally misrepresent a fact concerning a psychologically affected property in response to a direct inquiry from a buyer.

 

Iowa

There’s no statutory law in Iowa that explicitly requires owners or agents disclose upfront the history of a psychologically impacted property or its associated stigmas, such as a death; murder or other felony; paranormal activity; or suicide that occurred on the property.

 

Kansas

There’s no statutory law in Kansas that explicitly requires agents or sellers to disclose upfront the history of a psychologically impacted property or its associated stigmas, such as a death; murder or other felony; paranormal activity; or suicide that occurred on the property.

 

Kentucky

Per KRS 324.162 established in 2003, real estate agents are not required to disclose upfront any stigmas about a home, such as a murder, suicide, or violent crime that occurred on the property, but must answer any direct inquiries truthfully.

 

Louisiana

Agents or sellers are not required by state law to disclose upfront the history of a psychologically impacted property or its associated stigmas, such as a death; murder or other felony; paranormal activity; or suicide that occurred on the property.

 

Maine

Agents or sellers are not required by state law to disclose upfront the history of a psychologically impacted property or its associated stigmas, such as a death; murder or other felony; paranormal activity; or suicide that occurred on the property.

 

Maryland

Agents or sellers are not required by state law to disclose upfront the history of a psychologically impacted property or its associated stigmas, such as a death; murder or other felony; paranormal activity; or suicide that occurred on the property.

 

Massachusetts

Agents or sellers are not required to disclose death, homicide, or suicide; an alleged parapsychological or supernatural phenomenon on site is not deemed as material fact by state law.

 

Michigan

State law mum. No state law explicitly requires agents or sellers to disclose upfront the history of a psychologically impacted property or its associated stigmas, such as a death; murder or other felony; paranormal activity; or suicide that occurred on the property.

 

Minnesota

Statute section 513.56 “does not create the duty to disclose” if a property was the site “of a suicide, accidental death, natural death, or perceived paranormal activity.”

 

Mississippi

Mississippi law exempts agents of any liability from non-disclosure of stigmatized properties.

 

Missouri

Missouri law protects agents from any action being brought against them for failure to disclose a property’s history of psychological impact, such as whether it was the site of a homicide, other felony, or suicide.

 

Montana

Per code 37-51-102(b), Montana law does not consider the fact that a property was the site of a suicide or felony to be “material” and therefore does not require disclosure.

 

Nebraska

State law mum. No state law explicitly requires agents or sellers to disclose upfront the history of a psychologically impacted property or its associated stigmas, such as a death; murder or other felony; paranormal activity; or suicide that occurred on the property.

 

Nevada

Per NRS code 40.770(a) a “homicide, suicide or death by any other cause, except a death that results from a condition of the property” is not considered material to the transaction.

 

New Hampshire

According to New Hampshire statute, 447:4-e, agents and sellers “shall not be required to disclose information to a buyer” that a property “was a site of a homicide, other felony, or a suicide, unless the buyer requests such information.”

 

New Jersey

According to NJ Admin Code 11:5-6.4, real estate agents are not required to disclose information about “psychological impairments” including but not limited to a murder or suicide that occurred on the property, or rumors of the property being haunted. However, there is a duty to disclose such incidents truthfully when a buyer makes a specific inquiry. Per Petrosino v. Ventrice, a “psychological impairment” may be so intertwined with a physical condition of the property that it must be disclosed.

 

New Mexico

Per New Mexico Statute 47-13-2, real estate agents and sellers will not be held liable for failure to disclose that a property was the site of a natural death, homicide, suicide, assault, sexual assault or any other crime punishable as a felony.

 

New York

According to New York Consolidated Law Section 443-A, real estate agents are not required to disclose death by natural or accidental causes, homicide, suicide, or any type of felony that occurred on a property. A buyer may submit written inquiry for such information; the seller does not have to respond, but must inform buyer of choice to respond to the request or not.

 

North Carolina

Death, illness, or conviction of certain crimes are not considered a “material fact,” per NC statute 39-50.

 

North Dakota

Caveat emptor or “buyer beware” state. If a buyer makes a specific inquiry about the psychological impact history of the home (such as a felony, murder, or suicide), the agent should pass along only what the owner tells them.

 

Ohio

State law mum on disclosure of a property’s psychological impact history, no explicit requirement to disclose.

 

Oklahoma

State law mum on disclosure of a property’s psychological impact history, no explicit requirement to disclose.

 

Oregon

Per statute 93.275, the fact or suspicion that a property was the site of a “death by violent crime, by suicide or by any other manner” or “any other act or occurrence that does not adversely affect the physical condition of or title to real property” is not considered “material.”

 

Pennsylvania

Neither statutory nor common law requires owners and real estate agents in Pennsylvania to disclose that the property was the site of a murder or suicide. Moreover, psychological damage is not considered a “material defect.” See: Milliken v. Janoco (2013).

 

Rhode Island

The fact or suspicion that a property is “psychologically impacted” as the site of a homicide (or other felony) or suicide, is not a material fact that requires disclosure, per Rhode Island statute 5-20-.8-6: Real Estate Sales Disclosures.

 

South Carolina

An owner in South Carolina is not required to and cannot be held liable for failing to disclose the fact or suspicion that a property may be or is “psychologically impacted,” including deaths onsite and the manner of the death, per South Carolina Code of Laws 27-50-90.

 

South Dakota

Disclosure statement requires owner to disclose human death by homicide or suicide onsite, as well as felonies committed on the property; that occurred within the past 12 months, per statute 43-4-44.

 

Tennessee

No course of action can be taken against an owner or real estate professional for failing to disclose a homicide, felony, or suicide that occurred onsite, per statute 66-5-207.

 

Texas

A seller or agent has no duty to disclose “death by natural causes, suicide, or accident unrelated to the condition of the property,” per Texas Property Code 5.008.

 

Utah

An owner is not required to disclose that their property is “stigmatized” as the site or suspected site of a homicide, felony or suicide, per Utah Annot. Code sections 57-1-37, and 57-1-1.

 

Vermont

There’s no explicit requirement to disclose the psychological impact history of a property in statutory law or the real estate disclosure form. However, according to the Vermont Real Estate Commission, “facts a licensee reasonably believes may directly impact the future use or value of the property” must be disclosed as material facts.

 

Virginia

An owner or real estate agent cannot be held liable for failing to disclose an onsite homicide, suicide, felony, or any act that did not affect physical structure of the property, according to Virginia Code section 55-524.

 

Washington

Washington state has no statutory law that requires owners or real estate agents to disclose deaths or murders that occurred on a property.

 

West Virginia

West Virginia has no statutory law that requires owners or real estate agents to disclose deaths or murders that occurred on a property.

 

Wisconsin

Wisconsin does not require owners or real estate agents to disclose if a property was “the site of a specific act or occurrence, if the act or occurrence had no effect on the physical condition of the property or any structures located on the property,” per statute 452.23. Though the state disclosure form requires owners to answer “are you aware of one or more burial sites on the property?”

 

Wyoming

Caveat Emptor or “buyer beware” state; however, real estate agents should be honest with buyers.

 

Washington, D.C.

Section 2708.13 of Washington, D.C.’s Municipal Regulations, “Real Property Seller’s Disclosure Statement,” makes no mention of the need to disclose a property’s stigmas or whether it’s been psychologically impacted by a death or crime onsite.

Information in this blog post is meant to be used as a helpful guide, not legal advice. If you need legal help with a disclosure rule in your state, please consult a skilled real estate lawyer.

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Err on the side of disclosure, experts advise

So now you know where your state stands. But in any case, Sanborn and real estate agents across the country advise taking a transparent, upfront approach in the sale of any stigmatized property to avoid opening the door to legal disputes down the line.

“Some people won’t buy a house that has had a death in it,” says Sanborn. “No matter what the disclosures are, I think something like that has to be disclosed.”

For one, there are few secrets in today’s internet age. DiedinHouse.com even lets you find out if anyone died at any valid U.S. address for $11.99. That’s not to mention, according to Sanborn, the neighbors who will come by after escrow and say, “Oh my god, did you hear about the murder in the house?” sending the buyer into a litigious flurry if they didn’t know.

And there is a right way and a wrong way to disclose these types of things. “This [Los Feliz] is not my only murder house by the way,” said Sanborn, who specializes in estates and trusts. “We don’t put a sign out ‘murder took place here,’” she explains.

You also don’t need to advertise the history in the listing description, but the listing agent may put a note such as “call listing agent for disclosures” in the multiple listing service private remarks (only visible to agents, not the public).

Then, the buyer’s agent will relay the information to their buyer clients. If the buyer makes an offer, the listing agent would put the disclosure in writing in the counter offer to have a record of it for the buyers to sign off on.

Christopher Ray, one of Jacksonville, Florida’s top-selling real estate agents, does a lot of disclosures about flood zones in his hurricane-prone area, but far fewer when it comes to deaths on the property.

He offers a different perspective: “You don’t really disclose it unless someone asks you,” he says about death occurrences on properties for sale in his state.

“It’s not something that you have to volunteer. If someone asks if there’s a death on the property, then you disclose. But it’s not something that I would write on the MLS—’5 people have died in this home.’”

Take another one of Sanborn’s listings where a young man who had depression committed suicide in the car in his driveway. His mother was upset that the agent had to disclose this occurrence to the buyers of the house, so every precaution was taken to do so discreetly—but it had to be disclosed per California law.

In any case, using discretion and sensitivity is the most respectful route for all parties involved.

 

Find your target buyer, and don’t settle for a lowball offer right away

You’ll see a lot of articles out there about “bargain shopping” for stigmatized houses. It’s true that a stigma can lower a property’s value and as the seller of a home tainted by the rumor mill, you might have to take a price cut anywhere between 10% and 25% from what the home would otherwise be worth. But this may surprise you: 33% of buyers would be open to living in a haunted house, and 25% would consider it, according to a 2017 survey by Realtor.

Don’t settle at the first sign of trouble, Sanborn urges.

“Some buyers will think that they can take advantage of the situation and make a crazy [low] offer,” she says. “They think they’ve got leverage on you. But that doesn’t mean you have to sell it to them.”

The Los Feliz Mansion closed on July, 18, 2016, and was snatched up in a probate sale the month before. Public sale records show the house dropped in price from $2.75 million to its final sale price of $2.3 million between April and June 2016.

The home’s current value is $4.5 million, according to Zillow, and Sanborn said the rumors around the house had far less to do with the final sale price than the home’s condition.

NBCNews reported at the time that the buyers of the home, legal analyst Lisa Bloom (daughter of celebrity attorney Gloria Allred) and her husband Braden Pollock “really wanted the house.”

Another tale of finding the right buyer? In 2018, Robert Rutley of Matt & Chace Sotheby’s International Realty successfully sold the Maplecroft Mansion in Fall River, Massachusetts, formerly owned by Lizzie Borden in 1893 after she was acquitted of her parents’ murder.

The buyers were none other than the owners of the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast museum, the far less grandeur house where the alleged ax murder happened. At $600,000, the deal was the “top residential sale in the “Elmhurst section of Providence ever recorded,” according to a press release.

The listing description mentioned Borden directly and “her trial which engaged the nation.” The broker called the home “a significant and historically important Queen Anne Victorian” that had been “painstakingly restored to its original grandeur.” Great marketing made this a surprisingly simple sell to the right buyers!

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How to sell a haunted house without fear

To sell a haunted house, make an ordinary game plan out of sensationalism:

  • Find an agent with experience selling stigmatized homes.
    Publicity hounds need not apply.
  • Target your marketing at serious buyers.
    This could go one of a few ways. You could highlight the richness of the home’s history, or market it regularly and make a private disclosure of lesser-known incidents. For homes generating a ton of press attention, your agent may choose to harness the public interest into a sale, or play it straight to avoid throwing fuel on the fire.
  • Disclose what’s required at the right time and deliver the message through the proper chain of command.
    Check your state statutes and real estate disclosure form, and consult a real estate attorney about any gray-area disclosures.
  • Hold firm on price if you can.
    Don’t take the first lowball offer that comes your way, but be willing to wait for the right buyer.

While the public tells ghost stories about your house around the campfire by flashlight, the best agents for the job will be head down and knee deep in elbow grease. A home’s history aside, the place needs to be market ready and promoted with a well-executed marketing plan.

After all, you never know what lucky buyer will take an interest. Maybe the likes of Parks and Rec weirdos Andy and April, or the real life New Jersey couple who were happy to find out their house had been the site of a murder—and got hitched on (can you guess it?) Halloween.

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