real estate

Want to buy a haunted house?

So Schaible went downstairs into the kitchen and delivered a spirited monologue. "I said, 'Hey, I live here, I pay the mortgage, and I don't need this scaring me out of my mind in the middle of the night.' I ranted for about an hour or so and sat around for a while."

After that, the Schaibles occasionally heard voices and glimpsed figures, but there were no scares in the middle of the night. Incidents have become less frequent as restoration work has progressed.

Cindy Neivert, the real estate agent with Burgdorff ERA who brought the house to the Schaibles' attention, says the presence of "ghosties" can add to or detract from a home's value. It depends on the buyer and what the house will be used for. Someone who wants to convert a big house into a bed-and-breakfast inn might see marketing value in ghost stories as long as they're not too scary. Adventurous buyers such as the Schaibles might not be spooked. But ghost stories might scare away the squeamish.

Neivert is kind of glad that the owner told the Schaibles about the haunting because she wasn't sure if she would have been required to disclose it. "I know you have to disclose if someone was murdered in a house," she says. "As far as a poltergeist or a ghostie, I don't really know."

Bad karma can depress price

There was no history of violence in the house that the Schaibles bought, and that's good because murder or suicide definitely can depress values. Neivert and her husband once considered buying a house where someone had committed suicide. "We were on the edge of yes and no, and it pushed us over the side of saying no," she says.

Infamous deaths can make houses especially hard to sell. Think of Nicole Brown Simpson's town house; or the house where 39 members of Heaven's Gate killed themselves to join a spaceship hiding behind the Comet Hale-Bopp; or the house where Charles Manson's followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four other people.

Randall Bell, a property appraiser for Bell Anderson & Sanders of Laguna Beach, Calif., specializes in "stigmatized" properties. Often a property is stigmatized because of an environmental or structural problem -- earthquake damage, contaminated soil, a faulty foundation. But some properties are stigmatized because something horrible happened there.

Bell says it took 2½ years for Nicole Brown Simpson's house to sell in a neighborhood where it otherwise would have been sold within three months. It eventually sold at a deep discount. The buyer simply was looking for a good deal. Following Bell's advice, the buyer renovated the facade. Afterward, Bell visited the house "and he had changed it so much that at first I didn't recognize the property."

The house where members of Heaven's Gate committed mass suicide "was heavily stigmatized," Bell says. "The owner tried very hard to sell it. Eventually he gave it back to the bank, and the bank sold it at a very deep discount. The property has since been bulldozed and may be redeveloped in the future." If that happens, it will have a different address. Neighbors changed the name of the street.

The Manson Family's first murder spree, one of the most infamous crimes of the 20th century, happened in July 1969 at the home of Sharon Tate and movie director Roman Polanski. The California bungalow in Benedict Canyon was on a prized site in Beverly Hills, with a stunning view of Los Angeles. "It sold in the early '90s for full value," Bell says. "The new owner bought it and tore it down and built a 10,000-square-foot Mediterranean mansion. That showed that no matter how heinous the crime, eventually, things can return back to normal. It can take many years."

What about ghosts? "If it ties to a real event, where there was a murder in the house, that's a whole world apart from a ghost that has been there since the 1800s," Bell says. "If it's a fun story, it probably has little effect on the house or might bring a small premium."

The Schaibles' house in New Jersey has a fun story. People ask Schaible if he's scared. "No," he says. "You have to live there to understand. It's not like a rattling of chains go bump in the night." Apparitions happen fleetingly, "so fast that it's over before you know it."

His dream is to grow old in the house -- just as all the previous owners did.

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