Two Beds, Two Baths, One Ghost? How to Know If You’re Buying a Haunted House

An image of a house in Hawaii that a house flipper said was the site of paranormal activity. Photo courtesy of Greg Gaudet
Greg Gaudet, who flips houses professionally, purchased this house in Maui, Hawaii, in late 2021. By the time Gaudet sold the house, it was clear that it was haunted.
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It was the day of the first showing and Greg Gaudet was putting the final touches on the Maui, Hawaii, home he’d bought a few months earlier, intending to flip. He climbed the stairs to the quaint ranch-style house. Everything seemed to be in the right place. Until he reached the kitchen. 

There he found all of the pots and pans stacked atop one another, from counter to ceiling. 

Gaudet, co-founder of Maui Home Buyers, was seriously spooked – and worried potential buyers would be as well. With a tower of pots and pans in front of him and months of unexplained occurrences in the back of his mind, Gaudet couldn’t ignore it anymore. 

This house was haunted.  

Buying a house can be scary, especially in today’s market. There might as well be an “Enter if you dare” sign for prospective buyers. Mortgage rates are climbing, inventory is low, and home prices aren’t dropping much just yet. But the scaries don’t stop there. 

Every house has a history and your dream home might just have its own skeletons in the closet. Whether real or perceived, paranormal activity can impact the buying and selling process. There are even rules and regulations to consider depending on the state you live in. 

So, if you’re looking to buy, it’s worth considering whether the biggest investment of your life has a nightmare lurking in the shadows. 

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A Haunting in Hawaii

Gaudet closed in late 2021 on the charming, if a bit run-down, bungalow in Maui. The price was low and the opportunity high. 

When renovations began, things started to get spooky.  

“Our contractor would call me and ask, ‘Why are there wet towels in the bathroom? Who just showered here?’ Even though we knew nobody was living there,” Gaudet says. “We went ahead and changed all the locks.” But whoever or whatever was haunting the house wasn’t going anywhere.  

Throughout the renovation process, Gaudet would find the television blasting and wet towels strewn about, with no way to explain it. The locks hadn’t been touched. No one was living there.  

“Things really didn’t click for me until the former owner told me about his experiences,” says Gaudet. They were eerily like his own, but it wasn’t until after the house was flipped and sold that the former owner disclosed this information. 

Knowing your home’s past will help you figure out if you’re walking into a nightmare. We dug up the details so you can avoid ending up in Gaudet’s shoes. 

Can You Know If a House is Haunted Before You Buy?

Let’s say you just moved into your dream home and it’s everything you imagined. Then you experience something that sours everything. Maybe you didn’t realize that living near public transit would be as loud as it is convenient. Maybe those beautiful oak trees surrounding the property play host to a family of flying squirrels. Or maybe the old architecture you fell in love with was the backdrop to years of sinister activities.  

You’d probably wish someone had given you a heads up.  

When selling a house, it’s common practice, if not legally required, for the owner or real estate agent to complete a thorough disclosure form. The goal is to ensure transparency and fairness in real estate transactions.  

On a disclosure form, the owner provides facts about the history of repairs to the house, the general condition of the property, and any other information that could affect the sale.  

Most states require sellers to disclose any known material defects, like a leaky roof or rotting wood. “We must disclose any material facts that we’re aware of – anything physical that plays into the condition of the home,” says Donna Haigh, a licensed New Jersey real estate agent with Keller Williams.  

In contrast, sellers are rarely obligated to disclose a property’s immaterial defects, which Nolo, an online legal encyclopedia, defines as “intangible problems with a property that buyers can’t discover through an inspection.” Immaterial defects can “stigmatize a property” which affects its value and desirability. 

Many things can stigmatize a home, including a murder or suicide in the house, alleged paranormal activity, or a notorious backstory, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). 

Haunted details “can most definitely sway negotiations when buyers are going in on an offer. But you’ll need a real estate agent who knows how to negotiate properly,” says Haigh. 

For sellers, transparency can be a double-edged sword. Full disclosure could spook potential buyers, but it also protects you from liability after the sale.  

That might explain why the haunting in the home Gaudet bought came as a surprise.

“I’m always a fan of over-disclosure,” says Cindy Hagley, a California real estate broker who specializes in stigmatized homes.  

Disclosure agreements are a great place to start, but they aren’t always foolproof.  

Which States Require Disclosure of Paranormal Activity? 

Depending on the state, you can end up purchasing a home without knowing it was the site of a violent crime, notorious incident, or rumored haunting. 

A state-by-state analysis from Zillow found that most states’ disclosure requirements do not include paranormal activity. In fact, only four states even mention paranormal activity in their policies. Of the four states, three cite situations in which disclosure is required. 

StateRequirement
MassachusettsDisclosure of paranormal activity is not required unless the buyer asks. If known, the seller must be truthful.  
MinnesotaDisclosure of paranormal activity is not required unless it affects the buyers’ use of the property.  
New JerseyDisclosure of paranormal activity is not required unless the seller is asked directly 
New YorkDisclosure is not required unless 1. The seller would be taking advantage of the buyers’ ignorance of the house’s reputation of paranormal activity  2. The seller has/continues to perpetuate said reputation  

Which States Require Disclosure of a Death or Tragic Incident? 

Nationwide, it’s more common for sellers to disclose any deaths or illicit incidents that occurred on the property. While many states reference deaths and violent crimes in their disclosure policies, only five states have explicit or circumstantial requirements. 

StateType of RequirementRequirement
AlaskaExplicitDisclosure of any known murders or suicides in the last year is required.  
CaliforniaExplicitDisclosure of all deaths in the last three years, including natural deaths, is required.  
New JerseyCircumstantialDisclosure of death is required if the death was connected to the physical condition of the home- I.e., death due to toxic mold 
South DakotaExplicitSellers must disclose any homicides or suicides that occurred within the last 12 months 
VermontCircumstantialDisclosure of death is required if the listing agent believes such information would impact the future value or use of the property. 

Other Ways to Know You’re Buying a Haunted House

While sellers might not be legally required to disclose intangible information, it doesn’t mean it’s not out there; and you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to find it. 

A good place to start is asking the seller or listing agent about any immaterial defects. Though not outlined in most states’ laws, if a potential buyer asks for information directly, the seller or listing agent, if aware, must answer truthfully.

Homebuyers should also do some research on their own. “I tell them to Google it and research the area. I send them in the direction where I think they can find the information. I can’t be the source because I don’t want to be wrong on something that can be traumatic to a buyer,” says Haigh.  

Another option: Talk to your potential neighbors. Ask a few broad questions about the history of the house and whether it’s a desirable place to live. If they’re truly nosy, you’ll get the information you’re looking for and then some.  

“People Google addresses all the time. You just have to spend a couple minutes finding out what you can to make sure you’re comfortable,” says Haigh. 

Can You Get a Better Deal on a Haunted House? 

For some people, living with ghosts just means they’ll never be lonely. For others, they’ll put up with paranormal activity if it means they can score a better deal on a home. 

Stigmatized properties can be difficult to sell even if there’s nothing materially wrong with them. So, it’s not surprising that many sellers would be reluctant to disclose anything that would stigmatize the property. 

“If word gets around that something bad happened on a property or there’s paranormal activity, it can affect the value of the home,” says Hagley. 

Negotiation won’t always work though, especially if a house is widely known for its spooky side. In that case, the immaterial defects – like ghosts or a grisly death – will already be factored into the property’s asking price. 

People often say the three things to consider when buying a house are “location, location, location.” But you’ve also got to consider the house’s past. Don’t let your dream home become a nightmare.