A few years ago, real estate agent Tara King was trying to sell a two-story house in Centennial’s Homestead neighborhood—a hot house in a hot area, she recalls. But it just wouldn’t move. What did move, however, were other things, like the kitchen cabinets, which would open all at once, and an unknown water source that kept flooding the basement.
“These strange things kept happening, and the seller said, ‘Well, you know, we’ve been dealing with this for the entire time we lived here,’ ” King says. “So, I brought a psychic to come in and cleanse the house and exorcise the ghost, and the house literally sold in a week.”
A Realtor.com 2020 survey found that 13 percent of Americans believe their house is haunted, troubled by strange noises, shadows, cold spots, eerie feelings, and moving items. Roughly half of them knew or suspected as much before hauling in their boxes and have no plans to move. Still, most people would prefer to avoid the situation: Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they were unlikely to move into a house that might be haunted.
Still, making sure you don’t accidentally buy a home with unwanted occupants can be tricky.
In real estate lingo, these houses can be referred to as “stigmatized properties” or “psychologically impacted properties.” Stigmas follow a range of events, from everyday happenings (like someone elderly passing away at home) to more gruesome events, like houses that were crime scenes. State laws vary on whether sellers need to disclose these psychological impacts, with some extending specific details on paranormal activity.
Colorado law states only material damage needs to be disclosed to potential buyers. That also means an owner who suspects a house is haunted isn’t required to warn would-be buyers, and real estate agents are barred from mentioning it.
“If the seller says ‘I want to disclose this. I think it’s interesting or important or whatever,’ they are welcome to disclose what they want to,” says Kelly Moye, a realtor with Compass and spokesperson with the Colorado Association of Realtors. “But as a listing agent, if I represent the seller, and I know that something creepy happened at the house, or it’s haunted or someone died there or anything like that, then I am not allowed to disclose it because it could impact their sale.”
Moye had a listing in Boulder the seller claimed was haunted (she didn’t want to hear details), and she had to complete the sale without mentioning it. It’s tough, she says, but the law is clear. Like King, she’s also gone to extra measures, having someone burn sage around the house to give the place a bit of a reset. She’s not sure whether it works, she says, but, “When you start getting feedback from buyers that the price is right, the house looks great, the condition is great, but it just doesn’t feel right … [You start thinking] maybe something needs to be kind of aired out here.”
Usually, sellers know something is off, and rather than let a house sit on the market, which leads to its own stigmas, they will ask for extra measures, King says. She’s called for extra cleansings, even after as much as a bad divorce.
“It’s an out-of-the-box solution, but it works,” King says.
People will also bury a statue of St. Joseph (the patron saint of house buyers and sellers) upside down in the front yard or bring in church officials to banish bad spirits. King says she’s also seen sales fall apart over these superstitions. Buyers with earnest money down on a $1.5-million house in the Denver suburbs, for example, heard from a neighbor that someone committed suicide there. As a result, they backed out of the sale just before the final walk through, forfeiting tens of thousands of dollars.
Just like buyers might check out the local schools and crime statistics, they can investigate previous events at a house and decide if a traumatic event matters. The website diedinhouse.com reviews records on deaths, fires, meth labs, registered sex offenders and nearby cemeteries for a fee. Housecreep.com also lists homes with “creepy” histories (most of the properties listed in Denver are former clandestine drug labs).
High-profile cases come with their own baggage, like morbid tourists stopping by for a peek and photos. The Frederick house where Shanann Watts and her daughters Bella and Celeste lived, the subjects in the Netflix documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door, sits empty two years later.
“No one’s going to buy that house,” King says—but that’s because the civil case that followed landed the house with a multimillion-dollar lien.
“What I’ve noticed in 30 years of being a realtor is that the buyers bring their own energy, and the house has its own energy, and very often, they really connect well. And if they don’t, then usually the buyers don’t want to buy it, so it usually kind of works itself out,” Moye says. “Just because something happened in a home does not mean that it’s a bad house. … So, I don’t think that buyers necessarily need to be incredibly paranoid or crazy about it. But I do think they should just follow their gut, and if it feels good walking in, follow that, and if it doesn’t feel good walking in, maybe it’s just not for them.”