Buyer beware: Experts say home sellers don’t have to disclose murders, hauntings
Monday, Oct. 30, 2017
TEMPE – When Patricia St. Vincent bought a 1910 colonial revival house in Tempe more than 30 years ago, the seller congratulated her and said, “You bought yourself a haunted house.”
That didn’t bother St. Vincent when she closed the deal on the Ash Street property. She transformed the house into Casey Moore’s Oyster House.
But shortly after the remodel, odd events began to happen.
For three nights in a row, the alarm went off at 4 a.m., she said. Neighbors called and said they saw a woman dancing upstairs. St. Vincent would arrive to find the house empty.
“I found it amusing,” she said.
Although St. Vincent took the “haunting” in stride, some buyers might not react the same way. And in this case, the seller went above and beyond Arizona law by disclosing the paranormal activity to St. Vincent.
Sellers in Arizona must disclose certain aspects of a property, including things like mold, termites and roof damage. A haunted house, however, is not in the mix.
In fact, sellers don’t have to disclose murders, natural deaths or any sort of paranormal activity, said Amanda Salvione, an associate at Radix Law in Scottsdale.
If you don’t want to end up like the families in “Poltergeist” or “The Others,” you have to do your own homework.
“A buyer has to do their own investigation and diligence,” Salvione said.
Salvione calls this the “buyer beware” warning.
Salvione said even heinous crimes are classified as psychological effects and do not need to be mentioned when selling a house. So, the buyer must know the right questions to ask.
“Do your research, maybe talk to the neighbors and find out if the house is rumored to be haunted,” said Shelley Sakala, a real estate agent at HomeSmart.
But there is a catch: If the seller lies about paranormal activities when asked by the buyer, the seller can be held liable.
“They can’t lie to you to get you to buy the house,” Salvione said.
If the seller believes the house is haunted and actively promotes it as such, the seller has an obligation to tell the buyer.
Such was the case in the 1991 Supreme Court case Stambovksy v. Ackley. Jeffrey Stambovsky bought a house in New York and later found media articles about paranormal activities in the house. The court decided that because the seller, Helen Ackley, brought the paranormal activity into the spotlight, she was obligated to tell Stambovsky.
Sakala said despite the potential dangers of buying a haunted house, she doesn’t hear many complaints.
“In my 15 years of doing real estate, I have never had one person ask me about a home being haunted,” Sakala said. “I think it all comes down to: Do you believe in ghosts or do you not believe in them?”
In some cases, the “haunting” can actually draw people into a sale and the potential to make a profit – especially if it involves a celebrity or legend, according to LegalZoom.
Some Arizona towns – such as Bisbee, Jerome and Tombstone – promote ghost tours. In Phoenix, those looking for a spooky experience have several options, including the Hotel San Carlos, the Orpheum Theatre and Rosson House.
For those simply looking for a new place to live, a ghoulish past might not become a deal breaker.
Thirty-three percent of people are open to living in a haunted house, according to a recent study by Realtor.com.
But the “type” of paranormal experience matters.
About half of the respondents said they were open to living somewhere with strange noises or temperature spots. But only 20 percent would live in a home where they felt the spirit touch them.
Many guests and employees believe several ghosts haunt Casey Moore’s.
Although it’s unclear how the ghost stories started, people believe three ghosts haunt the property. Witnesses said they’ve seen shadows crossing in the hallways and silverware mysteriously jammed in the ceiling.
“It’s not like the spirit is coming from around the corner with a hockey mask, chasing you with a baseball bat,” said David Schleifer, the general manager at Casey Moore’s.
Guests and employees said they accept the eerie feeling of the bar, and if anything, it adds to the charm.
“It was just always something that’s more interesting about the place,” said Ian Westlake a server at Casey Moore’s.