real estate

Want to buy a haunted house?

Highlights
  • Ghost stories can make a house more valuable.
  • The value of a haunted house depends on what it is used for.
  • Murders or suicides can lower home values.

Oh, no, not the attic. Anywhere but the attic. But the visitors insisted on going in.

The house's owner reluctantly opened the attic door and stepped aside as her two visitors trod into the gloomy room.

"All I know is we walked into the attic with her, and it's cavernous, and we were just looking hard, and, I don't know, this feeling came over me -- this warm feeling," Craig Schaible says. "I looked at my wife and she felt it, too."

Craig and Yvonne Schaible were thinking of buying this 111-year-old Victorian house on a tree-shaded street in Fanwood, N.J. The owner had grown up in the house and was trying to sell it, now that her parents had died. But an uncanny presence threatened to scare away buyers and drive down the house's value. The owner had not yet told the Schaibles about the mysterious sounds and frightful sights that unnerved her -- and which terrified her husband.

"We were walking out of the attic," Schaible says, "and my wife said, 'Any ghosts?' And the lady said, 'Well, yeah.' We were like, 'Cool, tell us about it.'"

The owner didn't go into much detail. She said people had seen and heard things over the years. "We said 'We kind of think of it as a positive thing,'" Schaible says. The Schaibles decided then and there to buy the eight-bedroom house, a fixer-upper built in 1890. They paid the asking price.

Ghosts can add value

If you think ghost stories make a house less valuable, you might be right -- most of the time. But not all the time. The Schaibles weren't your typical house buyers. They were living in a two-bedroom town house and were looking for a big, old Victorian house to restore. As soon as they stepped through the pair of 8-foot-high front doors, they knew this house was the one. Furthermore, the Schaibles are famous among their friends for elaborate Halloween bashes they hold every other year, complete with caskets in the rooms and a hand sticking out of the punch bowl.

The ghost stories about the house "made it completely more valuable," Schaible says. "Would I pay more money for a haunted house? No. The decision to buy the house was based on the house itself." But, he adds, the spectral tales "juiced it up. The fact that the Halloween people bought a haunted house was so funny -- too perfect."

Six weeks elapsed from the time the Schaibles made an offer until possession. During that time in spring 2001, the seller's husband stayed behind to ease the transfer of ownership. The Schaibles loosened his tongue with a few beers one night, and the man told them about apparitions he had seen and described a time when he heard his wife calling from the basement. He went downstairs, but no one was there. Then he heard a disembodied voice chuckling in his ear. "According to him and his wife, this thing was picking on him," Schaible says.

"I'm skeptical," Schaible says. "I'm not saying I necessarily believed it. Everyone has their perception of things."

Then the Schaibles moved in.

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The second night, it became clear that "there was something in the house that wanted to make itself known to me," Schaible says.

They were moving in, and stuff was all over the place, including a Civil War rifle that was resting against a wall in a 12-foot-wide hallway. In the middle of the night, Schaible got up, "and this very heavy rifle launched across the hall and landed at my feet." It flew about 8 feet, he estimates. He looked for loose floorboards or anything else that could have caused the mysterious occurrence, but he couldn't find an explanation.

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