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2007-03-09 15:19:00

Haunted Real Estate: A Primer for Real Estate Agents

Lights and electrical appliances that switch on and off by themselves, doorknobs turning with no visible explanation, moving “cold spots”, an odd sound or smell, and a creepy feeling that you are being watched –- what is going on? Despite what Hollywood portrays about more dramatic events, these are the likely symptoms (or “red flags,” if you are a real estate professional) that you might have a ghost on your property. Rarely do items float across the room. And infrequently does a specter make itself visible (or is it that rarely can a person view a discarnate person?).

Ectoplasm might happen, but only about as often as meteors land intact in the state where you live. No, a haunting is usually fairly subtle, if persistently noticeable, to the inhabitants of a home. People who live in a place with a ghost or two will be quite convinced that they’re sharing space with a not-too-visible resident. But they are unlikely to talk about it unless they believe that you believe.  No one wants to be perceived as nuts.

So what causes a home (or condo, building or land) to be haunted? 

Sometimes it’s that the deceased don’t know that they are dead. There may have been an unexpected death, such as with a car accident. And telling them -– if you perceive they are there -– may not go over too well. Sometimes they are afraid to go on, either for fear of punishment or fear that whoever was harassing them in this life will be in the next one, ready to bother them there also. 

Other times, they are lost or confused –- this can happen with children.  Some of them don’t believe in life after death -– they don’t believe in heaven and therefore cling to the one life that’s familiar to them. Occasionally, the ghost is someone who still feels called to duty and won’t leave because the job isn’t done (and it may never be done).

There are accounts of ghosts looking after grandchildren, or even guests (in the case of the ghost of Mary Lake at the Queen Anne Victorian Hotel in San Francisco -– she is noted for tucking in guests while they sleep!). So sometimes, these people-without-bodies are well intentioned do-gooders: Do not presume that all ghosts are bad!

Often, these folks hang around places that were important to them -– a home or school, for instance. Sometimes, though, they cling to a person, not a place. A lost and frightened child may feel safe near a person who exudes a maternal or protective sense, and may choose to reside near this person, who makes him or she feel better.

Someone I know personally told me that after his brother died, his brother’s ghost followed him from house to house (but not throughout his work day) for about a decade before he apparently moved on. My acquaintance wasn’t frightened, he had a strong sense it was his brother, whom he loved. He was fascinated that when they moved, the ghost came with them -– not once, but twice.

What is a Ghost?

What is a ghost? It is a bodiless human being seen here, in our world, after death. Not
every apparition or sign of a deceased person means that the soul is earth-bound. There are really three main kinds of visits* we may have of them (these are not devils or evil spirits, nor are they angels by the way): those who reside here and have not really “crossed over” after death (either in the short time just after they die, which is the first type, or a very long time afterwards, the second type) – and there are those who have crossed over but are popping back in for a fairly quick visit (the third type).  
How can you tell them apart? How do you know if it’s a haunting or a visit?
If you experience a ghost in your lifetime, it is most likely to be a simple visit and will happen soon after his or her death (that is, presuming you are not especially gifted in this area and don’t normally “see dead people”).  It seems that for a month or two, the spirits of our beloved dead may linger awhile before they move on. I am not sure if it is for closure, or if it is for recreation, or if they want to aid us who are left behind. But messages during this time do not indicate, necessarily, that you will have a haunting or that the deceased is earthbound -– most can, and later will, make the journey to the other side.

With these types of visits, the newly deceased isn’t usually seen, heard, or experienced just in one place. Family members may report things from great distances apart -- something like a rose is left on the hood of a car, or some other loving clue of a visit, a “hello” -– possibly just very odd, but usually wonderfully nice, coincidences to get a message across. It is probably a simple goodbye and a message that the loved one is OK. 

Visits can happen later, too. Those who have crossed over and are visiting are just checking in on their families or friends here, or want to convey an important message of some sort (such as support when it’s learned the widow or widower has developed cancer, or a child is going through a rough time).  

Someone I’m very close to had his mother die of lung cancer. When his father was dying, the smell of cigarette smoke manifested itself in this man’s home on several occasions -– though neither he nor his wife, nor anyone in the home, smoke. When the trying period in his life came to a conclusion, the mysteriously appearing smell of cigarette smoke ceased to occur. He believed, and I would agree, that his mother was making some sort of visit, a show of support during a difficult time.  When these visitors who have crossed over but pop back for a quick visit are seen, they are usually viewed as happy and healthy and whole. These visits, the quick stop “home” to a loved one, are usually to help. 

Earthbound Spirits
Earthbound spirits, though, who have not crossed over and who have been here a long time, normally do not exude the same sort of peace and joy, and most of the time, there is not some sort of “purpose to help” happening. (There are some, though, who remain for some sort of duty, whether it is to watch over guests or relatives, or to continue with the duties they had in this life.)  

The earthbound spirits who have been here awhile most often give off more of a sense of being lost, or lonely, or incomplete. If someone has the gift of seeing these folks, a hint would be this: deceased people who are seen as sick or sad are probably earthbound. Those who have a look of happiness and strength are probably those who have crossed over and are just visiting. The visitors making a quick stop in are not folks who “haunt” properties. They don’t have unresolved issues, usually. They aren’t messing with your television and trying to be noticed!

Alright, so let’s say you’ve got a ghost situation, a long-term resident, as opposed to a visit.  If it’s a problem ghost who is disturbing your peace, stealing things like your car keys or cell phone or making loud noises in the middle of the night, you need to address it. Sometimes these folks want you out of “their” home. 

Last year a woman phoned me to see if the place where she lived was on the old graveyard in my town, because things were happening in her home. Most specifically, her boyfriend had a bad experience of a ghost a couple of times -– he awoke to a scary situation of this old woman ghost sitting on his chest. This was an extreme case, very atypical. Needless to say, that was not good for her love life. 

I suggested some resources to this woman but noticed a couple of weeks later a “for rent” sign on the building. So what to do with a problem ghost? Often, talking aloud to that ghost will get him or her to behave. Why? If the spirit is pulling pranks on you, it’s probably to be noticed. Sometimes they are just bored. You may recall the old adage: a child would rather be kicked than ignored. It’s the same idea. If that fails, call in professionals (do I hear you humming the Ghostbusters tune?). I have some resources listed on my web site for this.
More likely, if you have a ghost, it’s not really a problem -– it is something like a cold spot in a certain place, occasional sightings of her or him around the house, or only rarely, the electricity acting up (lights going on by themselves, the television changing volume or stations by itself, or even turning off and on while you’re trying to watch it). It’s not really “that bad” of a situation 99% of the time. That’s right, most ghosts are not really problems, despite what you may have seen in a movie somewhere.

What do you do about a place like that? What about selling a place like that?
Like with the “problem ghost”, sometimes just talking to him or she can help. What do you say to a ghost you don’t see?
“Mrs. Smith, I know you loved this home and lived here for 40 years. But this is my home now. You really should move on –- ask for your friends or family who have died to help you move to the light and cross over. If you stay, you can’t keep hiding my purse, or wrecking my brownies by turning the oven up when I’m not looking. This is my house now, not your house. It would be best for you if you crossed over. You’d be happier. . . .”
Again, there are professionals who can come into your home, perhaps smudge it, perhaps talk with the ghost (most of us can talk at the ghost, but cannot have a dialogue, but a medium can have a two-way conversation) and hopefully get him or her to leave.

Assuming that you have tried to get an unhappy ghost to move along -– after all, a deceased human being’s spirit is not a pet and is not going to be the happiest hanging around as a ghost -– if the discarnate can’t be budged, then you may have a disclosure issue.

So first of all, be proactive and learn the law. In some states, you must disclose things like ghosts. (Yes, really. It’s a material fact because it influences the buyer’s desire to buy and how much to pay in those states where it is required to be disclosed. This is the case in California and Hawaii, and perhaps other states as well.) In some other states, it’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation (because a material fact is viewed to be structural or physical in nature, not psychological or emotional or psychic for that matter). And in some states, it may be forbidden to volunteer the unseen (especially if it’s a matter of stigma). Most agents do not know the law on this point -– so do a little research and don’t just take someone’s word for it that you do not need to disclose this.

Remember, half of the agents don’t believe in ghosts and therefore will blow off the question about disclosing a haunting. Do your homework. Do not rely on the disclosure forms you are asked to fill out: they are guideline questions to assist you, but they are not the sum total of your disclosure requirement in most cases.

If you are required to disclose, be thorough. While some discarnate houseguests make themselves known with pleasant smells of toast and coffee, and that won’t be a problem usually, others may stomp around in the attic at 2 am –- and that may portend a non-disclosure lawsuit for you when the buyer finds no “quiet enjoyment” of the property.

You can be guilty of under-disclosing. If you need to disclose, make sure the buyers understand what is involved with the symptoms of a haunted home –- as always, we list what we see, hear, smell, feel or experience and we don’t diagnose. Do you have one ghost or ten? You probably don’t know. But you can list the things that do happen: windows sometimes open and close by themselves, footsteps heard the third of each month in the kitchen, smells of cigar smoke when no one is smoking, sounds of music coming from an empty room, etc.

Many ghosts are not out to hurt people (they may just be a little annoying at times) and it may not affect your home sale at all to disclose it, especially if you are only stating the occasional creaking sounds on the staircase, for instance. Surprisingly, there are some folks who are wanting to buy a haunted house or property – I know, I have gotten the emails! There’s even a database of people wanting to buy haunted properties and people wanting to sell them.

The topic of ghosts and haunted properties tends to elicit chortles and rolled eyes from the unbelieving. It is, though, a complicated subject. Just as humans in this life are complex and can be difficult to understand (personality, motives, passions), so too are those who visit and especially those who linger after death difficult to understand thoroughly. Sweeping generalizations are often wrong. 

It is best to take some time and try to understand what is happening, and possibly why it is happening. If one of your loved ones who has died visits you during a rough patch in your life, it is to reassure or support you; if you shriek with terror at the sight of her or him, of course, your loving visitor will disappear and be horrified that a consolation visit has upset you. Remember, these ghosts, or visitors, are simply people without bodies. Most of the time they are not bad souls, just like most people are not bad people. Like people, sometimes they are afraid, or confused, or lost –- or just stuck in a habit and not sure how to move on.

In our real estate careers, many of us strive for “win-win” situations. In this case, if we can get some help to enable the ghosts to move on, we can have a “win-win” here too: they can be happy and the house can be free of extra residents. And wouldn’t it be nice to have nothing to disclose?

Mary Pope-HandyAuthor’s Notes: 

Any discussion of haunted places must begin with the acknowledgment that while approximately half of the American population believes in ghosts, the other half doesn’t. My discussions on the topic are not intended to convince the non-believing half, but rather to share some insights with those who do believe –- or those who may find themselves dealing with the believers on issues related to haunted real property.
A couple of years ago, I began a page on one of my realty web sites dedicated to this subject: I received emails from a gamut of people, from total strangers to people with whom I grew up or attended school who confessed that they had lived with ghosts – but been afraid to tell anyone about it prior to contacting me, now. Some folks e-mailed me from far away places, asking me if I knew if their homes are haunted or not (remotely, certainly I don’t know. I’m fairly intuitive but am not a professional psychic or medium -– on site, I might be able to tell but I wouldn’t hire myself to diagnose the status of a property as haunted or not).

Others thought I had some sort of database about haunted spots around the country (I don’t, sorry). I simply collect the stories, and the links, and the resources, and put them online to share. I have read dozens of books on the subjects relating to ghosts but I am not a specialist in seeing them, or in trying to get rid of them or, even better, to help them to “move on” to a better place. But I can put you in touch with folks with those skills. And from all of my reading on this subject and my touch of intuition, I have a fairly good idea of what is going on, or what could be going on, with most haunted spots.

A note on ghosts and religion: People of faith (I am one of them and have studied theology extensively -– my BA is in Religious Studies and my MA is in Systematic Theology) may wonder about ghosts and their sense of God and the afterlife. A belief in ghosts is not incompatible with most faiths and is referenced in the bible.  

My personal belief is that free will is so central to humanity that even in death, we are allowed to make key decisions about the kind of existence we wish to have. I do believe that in death, we are invited to a better life beyond the one we have known here (just as in this life, I would contend that God is constantly inviting us to grow in love and in relationship with God), but also that we aren’t dragged kicking and screaming “into the light”. 

Love is an invitation. Some are terrified of it in this life, or simply don’t see it -– and may need a little help to make the right response to it. The absence of love and goodness is a hellish existence. While I find the subject of ghosts to be of great interest, I also pity most of these souls who appear lost and purposeless. They may have made some wrong turns and need a hand to get back on track.  I would love to see most of them move on to a better existence – one they may not appreciate is waiting for them whenever they are ready to go.

*Not every paranormal experience indicates a ghost. A discussion of other possibilities exceeds the scope of this article. But a ghost visit is certainly the most common cause.

(Mary Pope-Handy publishes Haunted Real Estate and a real estate web site in the Silicon Valley.  This article cannot be reprinted without permission of the author.)

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