My new favorite TV show, American Horror Story on FX, is about an old restored mansion which the locals have dubbed “murder house.” The current homeowners are trying to sell their haunted house to no avail. Maybe you’ve never had to sell a haunted house, but most agents at one time or another have had to deal with a stigmatized property (i.e. a property which buyers may shun for reasons that are unrelated to its physical condition or features).
There are a variety of reasons, other than supernatural ones, that a property can be stigmatized — maybe it had been abandoned for a while and has attracted squatters, or maybe it was a haven for crime. Other stigmas can even include nearby high-tension power lines, cellphone towers, landfills, or possible sex offenders.
Every state has its own property disclosure laws. North Carolina, for instance, has enacted legislation stating that conditions that are not “material facts” are not required to be voluntarily brought to a buyer’s attention. Death or serious illness of a former occupant is not a material fact. Neither are grave sites on the property, a murder or suicide in the home, or allegations of ghosts.
Of course, the main exception to this rule is when a buyer asks specifically about an aspect of the property. A seller has a duty to reply truthfully and to the best of their knowledge, and not in a manner that misleads the buyer. Although the buyer is responsible for finding out certain information on her own, a seller should use commonsense and disclose information that may affect the price of the property in the future. It’s best to “caveat emptor” – let the buyer beware.