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2011-08-10 15:41:30

"Paranormal Activity?" What To Do With A Home With A History

In every town there is a house, barn, hotel, theater, or cemetery with a history of what is commonly called paranormal activity.  It’s the stuff of movies, books, and TV shows depicting brave investigators spending long nights locked in dark, scary places in hopes of making contact with life forces from beyond this world.  Whether anyone’s belief in the existence of such things is based upon scientific, religious, or other backgrounds, the facts relating to paranormal occurrences are tough to nail down and skepticism usually outweighs evidence.

Regardless, to some home buyers a history of paranormal activity in a property is a cause for concern and could affect their decision to even look at a property, much less make an offer.  As sellers, or a seller’s broker, are we obligated to share the paranormal history of a property with potential buyers?  What if all that exists are rumors conjured up by neighborhood story tellers to scare kids at Halloween?  What if previous occupants swear to hearing footsteps and children’s voices in the night, or to seeing chairs slide across the kitchen floor untouched?

As a broker who frequently sells properties owned by estates in probate, I’m often asked about how the previous owner passed away and whether or not he or she did so in the property being sold.  Under California law, sellers are required to disclose “Within the last 3 years, the death of an occupant of the Property upon the Property,” yes or no (Seller Property Questionnaire, CAR Form SPQ).  Not all states have the same requirement, so it’s best to check local practices.  I was recently informed of a suicide that took place some time ago in a rental property in Nevada that belongs to a California estate I manage property for.  The estate is considering selling this property and the local Nevada broker tells me that laws governing disclosure of deaths on the property are very different in Nevada than they are in California.

The Seller Property Questionnaire also states “III. Note to Seller: PURPOSE:  To tell the Buyer about known material or significant items affecting the value or desirability of the Property and help to eliminate misunderstandings about the condition of the Property.”  Is suspected paranormal activity a material or significant item?  What if a team of psychic investigators has visited the property and they’ve determined that paranormal activity does, in their opinion, currently exist?  Here’s a short checklist that might help sellers and their brokers handle this question:

  1. Determine whether or not the paranormal activity is currently being observed by the seller, tenant or other occupants.  If so, write down what is being observed and under what conditions the observations are being made.
  2. Obtain a legal opinion regarding disclosure requirements in the state where the property is located.  Get this from an attorney, not a broker.
  3. Answer truthfully all required disclosure documents.
  4. Don’t perpetuate rumors, false stories, or other unconfirmed information about the property.  Disclose only what you know.
  5. Sellers, make a determination for yourself as to whether or not the information you hold regarding paranormal activity is something you would want revealed to you if you were buying the home.  Within the confines of your legal obligations, limitations, and attorney’s advice, do unto others…

I’m sometimes asked if sellers should contact paranormal investigators to confirm suspicious activity or a priest, rabbi, minister, or other religious official to “cleanse the home.”  As a broker, I don’t encourage or discourage any of these options.  I might attend an investigation out of curiosity, but my participation or observations do not affect my duties as a broker or alter my process for selling the property.

I recently related this true and personal story to an agent in the Midwest who asked about my “haunted house” market niche.  I manage an old Victorian rental home located in Silicon Valley.  A team from a local university confirmed, in their opinion, the presence of two ghosts in the house.  Past and current tenants have reported sightings, noises – the whole ball of wax.  When the previous tenants bought a home and moved out, the repair and cleaning crews reported similar activity.  On the night before the interior was to be painted, I stopped by the home well after dark to drop off paint the painting crew would use when they started work the next morning.  I didn’t turn on any lights, I just carried the 5 gallon buckets of paint into the living room, where the crew would be sure to find them.  Standing in the dark, I asked the ghosts if they wanted to say anything to me.  Silence.  I asked again, louder.  Silence.  I waited a minute and tried again.  Silence.  I left, realizing that in this down market, NO ONE wants to talk to a real estate agent…

I hope this information is helpful if you are a seller or an agent working with a home that could have issues related what has been discussed here.  If you have a good story or need help with a property that has suspected paranormal activity, I hope to hear from you.


If you have questions about real estate jargon or buy/sell/investment strategies, drop me a line!

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Copyright 2011   John A. Souerbry

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