Would you buy a “haunted” house?
Halloween raises the spectre of stigmatized properties in real estate
With ghosts, zombies and other spooky characters preparing to descend on houses across the province later this week, this is as good a time as any to ask yourself: Would you be comfortable living in a house that has a reputation of being haunted?
The thought would send a shiver down the spine of some prospective buyers, while others wouldn’t mind as long as it had the location and amenities they’re looking for. Who knows, some may even consider it a selling feature.
“Regardless of how you answer the question, it raises the importance for homebuyers to protect themselves from moving into a property with a past that makes them uncomfortable,” says Joseph Richer, Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO), which regulates Ontario’s real estate professionals in the public interest.
“Halloween is the perfect time to raise the issue of so called ‘psychological stigmas’ in real estate.”
A psychological stigma is a non-physical attribute of a property that may provoke a negative emotional response by the potential buyer, like the ghosts rummaging about in the attic or if it was previously owned by a notorious individual like Count Dracula™ or another member of horror movie royalty. Stigmas are based on perception and individual sensitivities, so they vary greatly from one person to the next.
Some psychological stigmas may impact the value of a property because the stigma stems from a valid concern or something that most people would find spooky. Other stigmas are more individual in nature.
“The key is to ensure your real estate professional knows about all of your criteria for a home, including physical attributes and psychological issues, so they can ask appropriate questions,” says Richer. “Buyers are ultimately responsible to satisfy themselves that a property is suitable for them, so don’t assume that the seller or their real estate representative understands what matters to you.”
While sellers are required by law to disclose latent physical defects that are known to them, there is no legal precedent in Ontario that requires disclosure of a stigma to buyers. However, all registered real estate professionals are obligated to act with fairness, honesty and integrity when dealing with others in a transaction.
“If the seller’s representative is asked about the existence of a specific stigma then, consistent with their client’s instructions, they must either provide the information, or refuse to answer and suggest that the buyer find out for themselves,” says Richer.
RECO suggests buyers conduct their own investigation before submitting an offer to avoid purchasing a property they may not feel comfortable living in.
“Consider a simple internet search of the address, or speaking with neighbours about the property and the neighbourhood,” says Richer.