Saturday June 30, 2012
Selling a haunted house
By EUGENE MAHALINGAM
SELLING a house, even in a stable property market, can be quite a challenge. But what if the home you're trying to dispose of happens to be haunted?
It's not a common occurrence, but once in a while, you (or someone you know) may end up running into a property transaction where the house was the scene of a horrific crime and is now home to some ghostly inhabitants.
According to an article by US-based Realtor Magazine, haunted properties fall within the category of “stigmatised properties,” or real estate that is not defective in any physical manner, but due to psychological or emotional factors, may have a reduced value.
Among the situations covered under the title of “stigmatised” is a property that was the site of a murder, suicide, alleged haunting, or “other parapsychological phenomenon,” it says.
And according to Reuters, stigmatised homes typically sell for 10% to 20% less than comparable homes.
On the local front, all of this is compounded by the fact that most Malaysians are generally quite superstitious, meaning that anything associated with the dead is considered taboo and should be avoided like a plague!
One local property realtor concurs that a haunted house is much more difficult to sell.
“It's a known fact that it will affect the marketability of the property and may even take a long time to sell it.
“If it's known in the market that someone was killed there, the price could be affected,” he says.
“There are many abandoned houses in Malaysia that are supposedly haunted and have been vacant for a long time because they are difficult to sell,” he tells StarBizWeek.
If you happened to own a house that has a macabre past and plan to put it on the market. What can you do to increase the marketability of this supposedly haunted dwelling?
Rumours and hearsay
A house could falsely be considered haunted due to rumours or inaccurate stories.
“Sometimes it's all just a matter of hearsay. No one may have actually experienced anything eerie, but people just keep talking about it,” says Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents president Nixon Paul.
“They may say things like don't go to that place because it's haunted,' and then the story just stops there. Nothing supernatural is really experienced and the house (is stigmatised) due to a malicious rumour.”
“Sometimes movies can have a psychological effect on people. But after they live in the house for a while and nothing bad is experienced, everything is fine.”
Sometimes, the imagination can play cruel tricks on the mind. If you're convinced that you have spiritual squatters living with you, get an expert to examine the place.
“It's always best to get to the bottom of things just to be sure,” says Vincent Liew, a seasoned roof repairman who also does household repairs.
“The sounds you hear could be caused by the wind and the vibrations you feel from loose fittings or a heavy vehicle passing by. If you're seeing shadows, check to see if they are caused by something external, like an overhanging tree branch or moving curtains, for example. Try recreating the sound yourself.”
If the house you own is looking a little dilapidated, giving it a ghostly appearance, all it may need is some sprucing up or a fresh coat of paint.
KL Interior Design executive designer Robert Lee says “a house looks like it is haunted” because of the lack of maintenance.
“If your house is overgrown with weeds, cut or trim the bushes. If the wall or fence is damaged, fix it. Some properties are so badly neglected, it can actually look abandoned or even haunted. This won't boost your resale value,” he says.
If, after everything you've done and you're still convinced that the property you have is haunted, then it's best to get an expert to deal with it.
“Getting help from a priest or a medium can help deal with this,” says Lee.
If, after everything you've done and your spooky inhabitants refuse to go away, then the next thing you need to consider is whether to disclose to the prospective buyers that the house you're selling is indeed haunted.
In certain countries, such as the United States, it is a legal obligation for the seller to disclose information about the property's history, for example the house may have been the scene of a gruesome crime such as murder.
Fortunately for sellers, no such law exists in Malaysia.
“In this case, the doctrine of caveat emptor (which is Latin for “Let the buyer beware”) applies,” says one industry expert.
“Here, the onus is on the buyer to do research about the property's history. There is no onus on the seller or agent to disclose anything,” he says.
Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer Dinesh Kanavaji concurs that there is no rule for a seller to disclose that his or her property is haunted.
“There is no legal obligation. But then, which seller would want to disclose that anyway? Of course, morally, you should disclose.
“Either way, a buyer should do the necessary research first if he's heard things about the house,” he says.
Not a bad thing
To some buyers, a haunted house may be more of an attraction than a deterrent.
“Not everyone is superstitious or cares if a house is haunted. As long as they have a roof above their heads, that's all that counts,” says one industry observer.
“In a hot property market where prices are sky-high, a haunted house, which would fetch a lower price, is more likely to attract prospective buyers in droves assuming of course they're not concerned about sharing their abode with some ghostly housemates,” he adds.
In an article last year, online business portal Business Insider reported that investors sometimes look to buy a haunted house in the hope of gutting the premises, building a new abode and reselling it for a larger profit.
“Other times, adventurous business owners purchase haunted houses in order to transform the properties into bed-and-breakfast, restaurants, or local businesses that will attract curious visitors.”
While many believe that it's detrimental to own a haunted property, whether residential or commercial, some believe that the impact would be lesser if it's the latter.
“If it's residential property, it will have a bigger impact because people are living there. That's not the case for retail premises because you're not living there, so it's not too much of a concern,” says Richard Chan, past president of the Malaysian Association for Shopping and Highrise Complex Management and national committee member of the Building Management Association of Malaysia.
“Of course it does not help if the (commercial) property is haunted, but it's not detrimental,” he says.
Chan adds that sometimes it's best to not know what you're buying into.
“What you don't know won't hurt you,” he says.
Another industry observer, meanwhile, believes one has to worry more about the living than the dead.
“It's better to live next to a cemetery than an unruly neighbour,” he says.