Who doesn’t love a good ghost story or the rumor of a local haunted house? There’s something about fear and gruesome details that gets people talking. But what happens when a real estate agent has to sell a house with a horrifying checkered past? If you think an agent should play up the ghostly marketing to get the sales attention, think again. There really isn’t a big market for buyers who want to live in a haunted house.
In 2016, Nancy Sanborn, an agent in the Los Angeles market, was asked to sell what she thought was just a regular old probate home in a wealthy neighborhood. She soon learned from others that the Los Feliz home had a major stigma. It had been a grisly murder-suicide crime scene nearly fifty years prior. The house had even drawn attention as a stop on a local murder house tour and was dubbed “LA’s most famous mystery murder home.” The former owner’s ghost was rumored to be spotted on several occasions.
Rather than field press calls that came in when she was hired for the task, Sanborn decided it was best to treat it like any other listing. The house needed a lot of work and she had to prep it accordingly for potential buyers. “The murder took place in the ‘50s for goodness sake,” said Sanborn, “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.”
Of course, the house drew a ton of looky-loos with morbid interests. Sanborn continued marketing it the same as other homes, though she warned the neighbors about extra street traffic and press vans. Only a few buyers showed serious interest and the house eventually sold for $2.29 million. It appears the home went back on the market as of 2019 while only half way through the new owners’ renovations… and the rumors continue to swirl.
Playbook for Selling a Stigmatized Home
Should you ever find yourself in a position to sell a house with some kind of stigma, whether it be ghosts, murders, or untoward deaths, here’s the proper path to a sale:
Find an agent with experience selling stigmatized homes. The agent should remain professional in seeking the most money possible for the house through normal marketing means. He or she shouldn’t seem like they want the opportunity for personal recognition.
Target the marketing toward serious buyers only. If the rumors seem confined to the immediate neighborhood, the agent could market the home normally and privately disclose the unpleasant facts about the house. For homes with greater notoriety, the agent will need a strategy of whether harnessing the attention is a positive or not. Playing it straight and highlighting the home’s strengths is often the more productive route.
Disclose what your state requires. Most states do not require sellers to disclose facts about ghosts, murders, or deaths on the property, unless directly asked by a buyer. Check the law in your state. Ohio does not require any explicit duty to disclose facts that have “psychological impact.”
Hold firm on price as much as demand will allow. There are buyers who specifically hunt for stigmatized homes in order to get a rock bottom price, so don’t take the first low-ball offer. Try to stick to a price that matches the condition and locale of the home. A notorious negative reputation might require a 10-25% discount if demand is low.
Buyers may think they have the ultimate leverage on a seller of a stigmatized home, but it all depends on the circumstances of location, condition, and opportunity for the right buyer.
*Photo by Alexis Vaughn/Life in My Lens. Depicts the “Los Feliz Murder House.”
Real Estate Term of the Week
Stigmatized Property: Property that buyers or tenants may shun for reasons that are unrelated to its physical condition or features. These can include death of an occupant, murder, suicide, and belief that a house is haunted.