I moved to Allston a month ago, and naturally, before I ask my new roommate about utility bills or water pressure or the estimated decibel level of neighborhood parties, I ask if the place is haunted. New roommate turned white as a – yep – ghost, and said NO! and asked me to please please never talk about it again. I believe her. And after living there for about a month, I agree. No ghosts. But to quote the Cowardly Lion, “I *do* believe in spooks, I *do* believe in spooks. I do, I do, I do, I *do* believe in spooks, I *do* believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do, I *do*!”
Right about the time I was moving in, I had to write a paper for class on “Arguing a Position”. Since I had ghosts on the brain, I decided to argue the point that real estate agents need to disclose to prospective buyers if the property they’re selling is haunted. Clever, right? Stupid? Oh you betcha! I had to do research about the subject (it’s surprisingly very interesting!) and couldn’t resist looking at lots and looooots of pictures of ghosts. Please keep in mind, I *do* believe in spooks, I *do* believe in spooks. I do, I do, I do, I *do* believe in spooks, I *do* believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do, I *do*!”
Anyway, here is my A- paper:
The Friendliest Ghost You Don’t Know
“Stigmatized Properties” in the real estate world are places where homicides, suicides, natural deaths, and burglaries have taken place. They may also be in neighborhoods that have registered sex offenders living in it. It’s a sad commentary on the ignorance of some that stigmatized properties could include homes where the previous tenants died of or even lived with HIV or AIDS. (Haven’t these illnesses been “de-stigmatized” yet?) Another example are places that have a history of criminal activities such as prostitution and drug dealing. Even the bad credit of previous tenants and the resulting harassing phone calls of bill collectors could deem houses stigmatized. Impassioned, emotional debates could be had on whether there should be laws requiring sellers of stigmatized properties to disclose their unappealing details, but there should be no debate about one particular type of property: a haunted one. Not only should the alleged presence of otherworldly residents be disclosed, it should be screamed from the creepy attics and spooky cellars of any suspect home.
The entire subject may seem unnecessary or even silly, but it’s important to know if you live in the same neighborhood as a sexual predator, right? I think it’s just as important to know if there’s a ghost in the neighborhood. It’s way more important to know if there’s a ghost in your living room. Those who roll their eyes saying ghosts do not exist are actually in a nearly even split with those who say they do exist. A Harris Poll of 2,250 people surveyed online in November 2013 found that 42% of all Americans said they believe in ghosts. This is down from 51% from a 2003 Harris Poll. I find this very surprising considering the wave of new ghost hunter and celebrity haunting TV shows. (Who knew anything involving Regis Philbin could elicit such fear in me!) According to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey, 18% U.S. adults say they’ve seen or been in the presence of a ghost, and 29% say they have felt in touch with someone who has already died. Unearthing, so to speak, and starting conversations about ghosts and real estate sales seem pretty prudent and sensible to me.
In the research I have done (which I have had to start and stop and start and stop many times because I could not resist looking at pictures of ghosts and watching ghost videos on YouTube, and by the way I’ve been too afraid to close my eyes all week), individual state laws regarding ghosts are gloomy with ambiguity. Some seem to exist to protect the real estate agent and the seller, mostly from each other. Those that lean towards protecting the seller leave a bit of a sour Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell-ish aftertaste – you don’t have to disclose anything unless anyone asks. After all, the seller should not suffer because something unfortunate or tragic happened on their property, and a haunting really doesn’t damage the physical structure anyway. The ones that lean towards protecting the realtor help them to avoid a situation with the buyer that might come back to haunt them, so they adopt the attitude, ‘when in doubt, disclose’. Caveat Emptor, Latin for Buyer Beware, practically has the word ‘cadaver’ in it, and anything with ‘beware’ in it does not exactly warmly invite anyone ‘home sweet home’. It was not easy finding many, or really any, laws that protect the innocent buyer.
Many of us know what it’s like trying on a bathing suit after a long, cold winter and the horror we feel when we see what’s in the mirror. Imagine the horror you’d feel if what you saw looking back at you in the mirror wasn’t you at all. Or worse, what if there was an iridescent human-shaped being standing behind you! I think being prepared for that is just as important as being prepared for the horror of, say, a leaky faucet they didn’t tell you about.
Let’s not assume that disclosing to prospective buyers that they’d be sharing the bathroom with a poltergeist would send them running for the hills.. or the phone… you know who they’re gonna call. A 2013 Haunted Housing Report on realtor.com says that 12% of consumers would pay full market value or more for a haunted house. It could actually be a selling point. They ain’t afraid of no ghost. Some people may find the idea of living in a haunted house amusing and think it’d make great conversation at the next neighborhood cocktail party. Another advantage of touting a house’s eerie reputation is that people can make a lot of money in reality TV shows these days. Maybe a new pilot “The Real Haunted Housewives of <insert town>” could be a sales pitch?
And what about friendly ghosts? I grew up in a wonderful old Victorian built in 1864 for the Boynton Family. My mother had a few inexplicable experiences there but said she always felt a benevolent presence. One day when she was cleaning, she went looking for rubber gloves in the cellar. When she walked back upstairs, there was a pair of old workmen’s gloves smack in the middle of the staircase. There’s no way she wouldn’t have noticed them on the way down to the cellar. Another time, my parents were arguing about money while they were renovating a bathroom, and when they knocked down a wall, Old Mr. Boynton’s wallet fell on the floor. There was not enough money in it assuage their money woes but a tip of the top hat and a sincere “thank ye, kind sir!” to the Ghost of Mr. Boynton would certainly have been appropriate, maybe even appreciated.
Whether you believe in them or not, like the bill collectors’ harassing calls, ghosts or at least their reputations are not leaving home in any hurry. Sellers or the real estate agents they hire should disclose the possibility that the house has invisible residents who do not pay rent if for no other reason than to ensure their own peace of mind. It would be unfortunate and unnecessary if their consciences haunted them and kept them awake, or made them unable to look in the mirror, because of rumored spooks that may — or may not – cause things to go bump in the night.
P.S. I actually did a keyword search on Zillow for “ghosts” and found a property right here in Massachusetts. It’s a beautiful home! Look here: http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/41-Brenton-Ter-Pittsfield-MA-01201/55942536_zpid/ . At the very very very end, the last sentence in the What I Love about This House section, it notes, “Resident ghosts are quite friendly”. I emailed the real estate agent asking, in a very respectful, non-wiseass, and 100% serious way if listing that the place has “resident ghosts” started any conversations about the sale of the place. She didn’t write back. I wonder if disclosing this provocative feature has anything to do with the fact that the house has been listed for 2,966 days. No, really, I wonder.