Halloween is the time of year we give more thought to the abnormal, paranormal, supernatural, ethereal, and unearthly. Yet even the unexpected, unexplained, and unsettling all need a place to happen. Real estate agents get to see so many things, and sometimes that involves experiences relating to the highly unusual.
Each state, and potentially different municipalities, have different laws or customs that deal with handling properties with unique characteristics like crimes, murders, or hauntings. I mainly conduct land brokerage in Alabama, and our state is a “Caveat Emptor” (Buyer Beware) state. Alabama law is mostly silent on stigmatized properties and what disclosures, if any, are mandated with these types of properties. Therefore, I am no expert on disclosures for stigmatized properties. However, I am a magnet for the abnormal, so here are a few spooky things I have some across in my dozen years in the business.
Early in my career, I listed a small property in the city limits of Marion, Alabama. The property had a very small pond on it, and the seller told me upon listing that there was a man found dead in the pond several years prior. Because the town is so small, I recommended that we disclose that fact to potential buyers, even though it was not legally required. He agreed that would be a good idea. The first set of buyers that I showed the property to, walked over the place with me. When we got to the pond, I recounted to them the information the seller gave about finding the deceased man in the pond. The woman, who subsequently purchased the property, said, “No, that is not what happened.” She then proceeded to fill me in on the actual details of what occurred. In this instance, disclosure was the best course of action, and it worked perfectly for the seller.
Probably the most famous real estate case involving a haunted property is Stambovsky vs. Ackley in Nyack, New York in 1989. The seller, Ackley, had a home that was reported locally and nationally to be haunted. The buyer, Stambovsky, at the time he put the home under contract was unaware of the reputation of the home. Neither the seller, nor the listing agent, disclosed to the buyer that the home was haunted. During the time the contract was pending, the home was included in a walking tour of haunted homes in the community. Stambovsky discovered the house was purported to be haunted, and wanted to rescind the contract and receive a refund of his earnest money. After a couple of hearings in court, it was ruled that because Ackley had published her home as “haunted” that “as a matter of law, the house is haunted.” Stambovsky was allowed to rescind the contract to purchase the home.
One continuing education instructor recounted a story from his experience when he was acting as the qualifying broker of a prominent residential company in Alabama. One of the agents in his company had a client that wanted to list her residence for sale. The seller was insistent that the listing agent include that the house was haunted in all their marketing. The agent advised the seller against this, but the seller was adamant. The seller spoke about this with the broker, and the broker told the lady that his company would include the “haunted” moniker in their advertising only if the seller could guarantee that the spirit haunting the home would convey with the sale of the property. As the seller was unsure whether the ghost would stay at the property or move when she did, they decided not to advertise the property as haunted. The broker exercised the wisdom of Solomon when addressing that situation!
Apparently many have a preoccupation with stigmatized homes. People want to visit the site of gruesome tragedies, or spend the night in haunted homes. I read the account of one apartment hunter that looked for stigmatized properties when he moved to a new city because he could get a steep discount on a place that creeped everyone else out. The fascination about these properties is so strong that there is a website, called Oshimaland.com devoted to them. This website has a map feature that shows where stigmatized properties are, and allows users to pin places and give a brief description.
Many rural properties have old graves on them. Finding headstones is not unusual when walking in the woods. Granted, it can be a creepy experience to find a cemetery, for people that do not frequently encounter them. Deals that involve people that have been placed into the ground are not that uncommon, but a few years ago I experienced a deal that went the other way. My friend and Alabama land broker, Calvin Perryman, and I worked on a deal that involved a man being exhumed so that a paternity test could be performed. The deceased man was to be tested to prove who was the rightful heir to a tract of land. The man was disinterred, and the truth was unearthed. That was a deal that we still talk about at land broker gatherings, that always intrigues the audience.
Maybe you were mildly entertained and enlightened by this article about the abnormal situations that we brokers find ourselves facing. My hope is that all of your real estate deals will be uneventful and stress-free, but that is contrary to the nature of our business. Thank you for reading, and please feel free to share any of your unusual experiences in the comment section below.
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