Tips on Selling, Buying -- or Avoiding -- 'Haunted' Houses

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By Geoff Williams

Louisa Eyler didn't buy a haunted house, as far as she knows, but her new home does have a creepy past, and some friends and family members have already declared their intentions to stay as far away from it as possible. Her 12-year-old son, R.J., has asked for a thermal imaging reader to use on their first night in the Harrisburg, Pa., home, which could be in a matter of weeks. But Eyler isn't spooked. When she saw the house -– 8,000 square feet and with multiple bedrooms and baths and a courtyard and pond -– she thought to herself, "This is my forever home. This is my final resting place."

Those probably aren't the words most of us would have chosen, especially given her house's history. It wasn't just a home but a place of business, built in 1900 by a funeral director and embalmer. "Thousands of dead bodies have passed through my home," says Eyler, a 38-year-old entrepreneur who specializes in product distribution.

But she isn't concerned. As she sees it, this was a setting where loved ones came to see their deceased family before they went on to hopefully a better place. In that light, when you picture people sharing stories of their dearly departed relatives and acquaintances, the house doesn't have such a morbid history. Still, some of Eyler's friends have made it clear they have no desire to visit.

That may be their problem, but it can be a homebuyer's or seller's problem when their house is perceived to be haunted or steeped in spookiness. Even in the 21st century, some people get jittery by the idea of purchasing a home with a dark past, Eyler included. She says that she wanted an old house, but adds, "I didn't want to move into a house with a spooky history. You watch 'American Horror Story' on TV, and those ghost shows. You don't want a house that has bad karma." So if you're going to buy or sell a house with a questionable history, here are some helpful tips.

The law. As you might expect, whether a seller must disclose a house's dark history depends on the state. For instance, in California, if a death occurred in a house more than three years ago, a seller doesn't need to say a word unless the buyer asks. In Massachusetts, sellers don't have to disclose a death, but they, too, have to reveal the house's sordid past if they're asked about it. So if you're wondering about your house's past, ask your real estate agent or the seller: Is the house haunted?
You may get a strange look. But you'll probably also get the truth.

Research the home yourself. Bruce Ailion, an Atlanta real estate agent, suggests that concerned buyers or sellers run a search for their home on the Internet. If you're really curious whether a death occurred in your home, he suggests going to DiedInHouse.com (but get out your credit card because a single search costs $11.99). Rob Condrey, a South Carolina software project manager and property owner started the site; he came up with the idea after one of his tenants claimed the rental property was haunted.

Of course, you can always research the home you're interested in, for free, at the library or search through property records with your local government.

Hire a medium to cleanse your house of spirits. Yes, there are such services, at websites like HouseHealing.com, that purport to cleanse your home of ghosts or other specters that go bump in the night. (For homes that are 2,000 square feet and under, expect to pay at least $200; for larger homes, add $100 per additional 1,000 square foot.)

You could also attempt a DIY cleansing. But according to Terri Jay, a medium as well as a pet psychic and life coach in Reno, Nev., that involves lighting a saucepan of alcohol on fire and walking throughout the house, "circling each room until it feels clear." So it might be best to leave it to the professionals, and if you sense that the ghost you're sharing your home with is friendly enough, you may want to leave well enough alone because from what she suggests, you aren't in any danger.

"I am often called upon to clear houses that the owners feel are haunted," she says, adding that if a home is giving you the willies, what you are likely feeling is negative energy. She says most people don't realize they are "a 99 percent spiritual being in a 1 percent physical body or 'meat suit.' When we leave our meat suits behind, we return to being pure, positive energy."

If you believe the house is haunted, don't panic. Well, if you think you're in mortal danger, panic, by all means. But if you're panicked because you think your haunted house isn't going to sell, you may not do so badly after all. Despite reports that a seemingly haunted house will cause it to lose its value, more than half of homebuyers are open to the idea of buying a haunted house, according to Realtor.com's 2013 Haunted Housing Report. You may sell it just fine.

Still, it probably depends on the house's history: How far back in time did the incident happen, and what happened? Are we talking a house that's haunted by a lonely farm girl from 1818 who surely means no harm? A buyer may eat that story up. Or was your home the site of a grisly triple homicide in 2008? That might be a harder leap for a buyer.

For instance, Eyler grew up in a house that had a far spookier past than her new home, which is why she probably sees living in an old funeral home as rather charming. In 1958, her parents bought a house in Pennsylvania that had been built in the mid-1700s, but unfortunately for the sellers, its dark, tormented episode occurred in the relatively recent past in 1942. In fact, the house didn't sell for 16 years until Eyler's parents bought it.

The Gettysburg Times reported that a 17-year-old stabbed his mother in the backyard when she was hulling walnuts because he resented her for nagging him to help around the house. Then he poured gasoline over his mother's body and set it on fire, trying to cremate her. When that didn't work, he dismembered her.

Eyler admits that while growing up there, she felt creeped out by the story, and friends would warn her not to sit under the walnut tree. Which is probably why Eyler's parents were able to buy the house for a relative steal -- only $7,000. According to TheCostofLiving.com, the average house in 1958 cost $20,000.

But people who are squeamish about buying a house in which a resident came to a grisly end might want to consider buying the home anyway, especially if it's selling at a dirt-cheap price. Eyler's mother, she says, still lives in that house purchased for seven grand, and today it's worth $2 million.

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