Photo by Bronson Abbott
Picture this: you’ve been shopping around for the perfect house, and you’ve finally found it: a four-bedroom, two bathroom, turn-of-the-century home sitting on half an acre of land, and it’s right in your price range.
“Oh, but one more thing,” your realtor begins, laughing nervously, “the house is believed to be haunted.”
Would you still buy it?
If you said, yes, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey conducted by Realtors.com, two of every three people polled would at least consider buying a haunted house. However, respondents also indicated they would need a discount on the price to do so – only 15 per cent said they’d pay full market value for a haunted house.
However, if you live in Ontario, you might not even know the house you’re about to buy is rumoured to be haunted. According to the Real Estate Commission of Ontario (RECO), real estate agents are required to disclose “any material fact about a property or its history that they are aware of that could affect a person’s decision to buy.” But this is where things become a bit grey.
A property that might have its value affected by a non-physical issue is known as a stigmatized property. For instance, the “Amityville Horror” house—where Ronald DeFeo Jr. famously murdered his family in 1974—was stigmatized both by the murders and the claims of supernatural hauntings by subsequent owners George and Kathleen Lutz. To try and escape the negativity, the home’s address was even changed by previous owners (from 112 Ocean Avenue at the time of the murders to today’s 108 Ocean Avenue). Regardless of its eerie history, the house is inhabited by people today; it was purchased in 2010 for $950,000, proof that a stigma doesn’t deter all buyers.
Currently, there are no laws here in Ontario requiring sellers to disclose whether or not the property they’re selling has a stigma attached to it. However, realtors themselves are governed by RECO’s Code of Ethics, which defines a material fact as something that “would affect a reasonable person’s decision to acquire or dispose of the interest.”
Does a “reasonable person” care about a recent murder in the home? Probably. But what about a natural cause of death that occurred five years ago? Or an alleged haunting? You either believe in ghosts, or you don’t – but what’s considered “reasonable” here?
Many realtors choose to disclose as much as possible, in order to protect themselves down the line. Not disclosing a stigma could open the door for a potential lawsuit, if the buyer felt they were deceived.
Just last summer, 30-year-old Samuel Jacques successfully got out of his agreement to purchase murder victim Sonia Varaschin’s Orangeville home, due to non-disclosure. Days after handing over a $5,000 deposit, Jacques discovered the truth about the home he had agreed to buy when he saw a news story about the one-year anniversary of her death. Although police never specified where or how she was murdered, it is publically known that a large amount of blood was found in the home – a fact never mentioned to Jacques during the purchase process.
While there is a big difference between a tangible crime – like a murder – and a rumoured haunting, there are still people who would turned off by a home that came with ghostly guests.
Going back to the survey, 48 per cent of people said they would put up with strange noises like footsteps or slamming doors, 36 per cent would deal with levitating objects, and 41 per cent would even put up with actual “otherworldly” sightings.
Would you consider buying—and living in—a haunted house? And would you want a deal on the price tag to do so?