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For some, buying a haunted house is a treat, not a trick

Buying a haunted houseTeeta Moss isn't afraid of ghosts. In fact, she loves the ones who flit around her 204-year-old plantation. Sometimes, they even look out for her children.

"There's a million old homes," says the retired schoolteacher. "But how many are haunted?"

That's a question many people might be afraid to answer. Yet Moss, 48, her husband, John, and countless others around the country aren't scared at all. These phantasm fanatics have turned their noses up at manicured mansions and spotless suburban subdivisions in favor of certified, grade-A "haunted houses." Even during Halloween season, they have no regrets.

"We just love this area and it's a fabulous place to live," says Moss of Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, La. "It's never anything too scary or spooky."

A helpful ghost
The house, which has been featured in several television documentaries, is said to be haunted by several ghosts, including the spirit of a servant named Chloe. According to legend, she wanted to sicken her master's family to keep from getting sent to work in the fields. But she brewed her formula too strong and accidentally poisoned her mistress and the family's two children instead. Co-workers, fearful of retribution, hanged the woman that very night.

Rather than be vindictive, though, Chloe has proven protective of the family's two children, Moss says. In one case, Chloe imbued her with a sense of dread so that she'd check on one of her two sons. When she did, she found the 10-month-old, who had only been walking for two weeks, stumbling toward a pond in the backyard in which he could have drowned.

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"When I saw him, I was just wrapped in a warm velvety cloth and a voice just said to me, 'Never worry. They will always be cared for,'" Moss says. "We did, however, put a fence around that pond."

Haunted houses like the Moss' range from the down-to-earth to downright spectacular, with some around for only a few decades and others as old as the Constitution.

Almost as unique as the homes themselves are the people who live in them. Some are looking to capitalize on the local legends for profit. Others are just fascinated by the idea of waking up to something other than an alarm clock. But it's clear that these homes hold a special meaning for owners and visitors alike. Many owners feel obliged to share their experiences with the world and so turn their haunted homes into bed and breakfasts, restaurants and tourist stops.

"Apparently, it's just a good meeting ground for ghosts," says Jeff Hagemann, of Catfish Plantation.

The Waxahachie, Texas, home was built at the end of the 1800s and renovated by its previous owners as a restaurant about 15 years ago. People interested in the local fare are thanked by the answering machine for calling "the most haunted restaurant in America." And according to Hagemann, it enjoys visits from three separate ghosts: Elisabeth, a bride murdered on her wedding day in the 1920s by an ex-boyfriend; Will, a Depression-era farmer, and Caroline, a church organist.

"It's been fantastic," he says. "I walked into a pretty good deal."

How so? The previous owners were getting a little old, Hagemann says, and wanted to pass the property on to a new generation of plucky proprietors. As a result, he was able to get a low-risk haunted house/business with strong sales for about $300,000 in commercial loan financing.

The spirit of capitalism
That kind of arrangement is typical for haunted homebuyers who want to earn some money off their ancestor's antics. Their properties are usually financed like businesses, with Small Business Administration loans helping out in cases such as the Moss' and commercial loans providing the money in others. For those who choose to live in haunted houses out of morbid curiosity alone, regular mortgages should suffice.

Still, many buyers acquire homes that look as haunted as they are because they enjoy the challenge of fixing them up and reselling them for a tidy profit. They can get investment property mortgages at rates that aren't much higher than residential mortgage rates, or turn to the sellers for help. That's what James Pennington and his wife did when they purchased the so-called "Ms. Faye" home in St. Augustine, Fla.

"We got it at a good buy and saw it as an opportunity to make money," says Pennington, the owner of a local Internet service provider. "We didn't know at that time that it had such a colorful history to it."

The angry waitress returns
That history dates back to the middle of this century, according to Connie Daniels, a guide who leads tours of St. Augustine's haunted hideaways. Faye was a waitress at a local diner who brings to mind Mama Fratelli from "The Goonies." Surly toward customers and neighborhood residents alike, she supposedly paid the price when she broke her neck by falling down a stairway that had recently been "refurbished" by a local contractor. Now, legend has it that her ghost is just as grouchy as she was and that she bothers any owners who try to make her place their home.

Pennington recalls thinking the whole story was hogwash, considering there weren't any stairs in the property when he bought it. In the process of repairing termite damage and ripping up the home's guts, however, his workers found evidence of a staircase that did, at one point in time, exist.

"We all laughed about the ghost story that she fell down the stairs and we laughed because we said, 'Well, gosh, that's what they always tell the tourists.' But when we were redoing that section, we ran across where the original stairs were.

"We kind of had egg on our faces," he adds. "It certainly helped the story."

Look before you leap
For consumers who are thinking about, ahem, taking the plunge, sampling what it's like to live in a haunted house first might make sense. The International Ghost Hunters Society maintains a list of bed and breakfasts reputed to be haunted at this Web site.

With the lights down low in October, though, it's easy to forget a real world reality: Selling a haunted house can be a chore. Pennington says some of the prospective buyers he's talked to are thrilled at the prospect of living in fear, but others aren't. And for those of you buying, remember -- it's not just the neighbors who may not like you.

"The only advice I can give people is that this whole phenomenon of the paranormal living in people's homes can be somewhat of a detriment because it can actually hurt the value and marketability of the property," says Pennington.

"It's one of the things when people buy a property with a suspicious past or a suspicious tenant, they have to be careful. The wind can blow in either direction."

-- Updated: Oct. 5, 2007

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