10 True Tales of Real Estate Terror
Practitioners recall the scariest moments they’ve faced in the field.
October 16, 2017
Real estate professionals are a brave bunch. You walk into unfamiliar homes every day, prepared to deal with whatever lurks inside. Hopefully, the scariest thing you find is a seller’s outdated sense of style. But some properties have more insidious issues that staging can’t fix.
No strangers to haunted houses, many practitioners have real-life horror stories of dealing with creepy, ghostly circumstances in the course of their daily work. With Halloween around the corner, REALTOR® Magazine asked its readers to share their most frightening experiences in the field. From paranormal occurrences during showings to apparitions in listing photos, read on ... if you dare.
‘It Wanted Me to Leave’
There was an old two-story house in my area that was on the market for a long time—a real fixer-upper in a hot neighborhood. It was eerie: Floors weren’t level, squeaky steps, the works. When I was inside, I felt like someone was watching me, and it wanted me to leave. It was when I noticed a light in the basement that I calmly walked right out ... because the house had no electricity. —Monette Chain, Metro First Realty, Oklahoma City
Did You Just Perform an Exorcism?
While showing my client homes one day, we walked into a vacant foreclosure that I thought no one else was showing at the time. There was no car in the driveway and no sign of anyone present. As we opened the front door, two men were coming down the staircase from upstairs—one wearing a long black robe like a priest would and a necklace with a huge cross. He had dark hair and a long, dark beard. The other man, whom I’m guessing was his agent, walked behind him. We all cordially greeted one another, and they walked out the back door. We never saw them get into a car or walk down the street. They just seemingly disappeared. My buyer never lets me forget that house and tells everyone that story. —Barbara Mattingly, SFR, Mattingly Real Estate, Upper Marlboro, Md.
Tragedy Amid a Sale
My husband and I took a listing right around the corner from our home in 2013. During the listing period, the 66-year-old seller fell ill and became progressively worse. We helped her as much as we could, taking her to doctor’s appointments, the pharmacy to pick up her medications, and even to Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, which was 40 miles away. Nine months into the listing—the home didn’t sell quickly because she was stubbornly holding out for the price she wanted—she told us she was heading up North to visit family. But after the day she was supposed to have returned, I could no longer reach her. Three days passed with no contact, and I finally began calling her family. I received a return call with an ominous message: My client had never shown up for her visit. I went to the seller’s house with a colleague and peeked in the front door window. It was a horrible site inside. There were overturned chairs everywhere, and I could see the back door was ajar. We could hear her dog barking. When we went inside, it smelled like death. I found my client’s body in the hallway; she had been dead for several days. We called 911, and when the police arrived, they were suspicious of the violent scene, not knowing that the seller had been so ill. They held my colleague and I all day, finally letting us go at 8 p.m. when the coroner arrived. At the time, there was a buyer for the property, and were two weeks into a 30-day escrow period. The buyer, an emergency room nurse whose daily routine involves matters of death, elected to continue with the escrow. The sale closed two weeks later. —Debra Kessler, SRES, Century 21 Troop Real Estate, Simi Valley, Calif.
A Ghostly Purchase Agreement
I have a client whose sister-in-law is a medium. After my client made an offer on a home, I joked that the sister-in-law should come through the house during inspection and make sure there were no spirits lingering. So she did! As she left, she said: “I got rid of two, but there is a spirit in the front room that doesn’t want to leave. If you buy the house, I’ll come back and get rid of him.” My client still took the house. —Allyson Valcheff, Keller Williams Realty Centres, Newmarket, Ontario
Nothing Left Behind
As soon as I pulled up the driveway, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. My buyers, a married couple whom I was showing the property to, were standing outside, and there was a feeling—and—odor of death. I had chills and began to shake. When I opened the front door, the wife—who was five months pregnant—felt like she was going into labor. We turned around immediately and left. As soon as we pulled out of the driveway and got about 100 feet away from the house, the wife said she felt better. Later, the listing agent, who was related to the seller, told me no one who visited the property wanted to stay long. Finally, after getting no offers, the seller decided to demolish the property. Three workers were injured one way or another during demolition, so the seller gave the remnants of the home to the volunteer fire department to use for controlled fire training. Three firemen were hurt, though not severely. The house smoldered for three days. Now there’s nothing but dead space where the house once stood, and nothing—not even grass—grows there. —Theresa Akin, SFR, Corpus Christi Realty Group, Corpus Christi, Texas
Moving Into Someone Else’s History
Several years ago, while searching the MLS for the perfect home for my client, I came across an intriguing photo of a midcentury dining room buffet in a new listing. I previewed the home and called my client to come see it right away. She didn’t like the buffet, which was bolted to the wall, but she loved the house. During the inspection, we happened to be at the home when an elderly woman knocked on the door. The woman, who lived next door, insisted that her deceased husband still lived in the listing, and, therefore, my client could not purchase it. The buyer, unfazed, completed the purchase. Later, she learned from neighbors on the block that her home’s original owner was an architect who built it and the house next door, which was an exact replica, for his wife. They lived in the separate homes rather than share one together. The elderly woman made several appearances at my client’s front door over the subsequent years, always insisting that her deceased husband was still occupying the home. She told my client that her husband had designed and built the dining room buffet, which was the only piece in the home that was not duplicated in the house next door. Eventually, the elderly woman was moved to a nursing home, and her house was sold. I recently sold my client’s home, and though she disliked the dining room buffet, she kept it through several renovations. The next owner also had lukewarm feelings about the buffet—but it remains in the house. I still can’t explain why that midcentury buffet intrigues me or why the people who have owned the home kept it when they didn’t like it very much. But I have a feeling that buffet will stay in that house for a very long time. —Monika Lenz, Monika Lenz Realty, Ridgecrest, Calif.
Not the Cat’s Meow
I was previewing a home for out-of-town clients one day. No one was home, so I used the lockbox key to let myself in. After looking at the upstairs bedrooms, I turned to find a giant black cat guarding the stairs. She tried to scratch and bite me every time I tried to go down the stairs. After five or six frightening attempts, I grabbed a sweater from one of the bedrooms and threw it over the cat as I sprinted down the stairs and out the door to safety! —Keith Willingham, Faith Wilson Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Open and Shut
A few years ago, I went with a customer to view a foreclosure in which the previous owner had passed away, we were told. When we went inside, we both felt a strong presence, but the house was vacant. As we toured the home, we felt as if someone was watching us. Halfway through, all the exterior doors, which were closed for our safety, started to slightly open and close. There was no power, and, therefore, no AC to make that happen. We looked at each other and said, “Nope, this is not the right house for you,” and got out of there. I never showed that house to anyone else again. I believe it’s still vacant to this day. —Sabrina Robles Ocasio, Weichert, REALTORS®, Land & Home, Brooksville, Fla.
A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Screams
I’m a professional real estate photographer, and I have taken photos of many old homes. When I edit the pictures, I am sometimes shocked by what I see. One time, the reflection of a tree in the window looked like a person wearing a creepy mask. But worse was when a woman was standing behind me while I took a photo in one of the rooms of a listing. In the picture, the reflection in a mirror showed an old man in an overcoat behind me instead. —Raylene Hansen, Raylene Inder Hansen Photography, Providence, R.I.
The actual rattlesnake Lisa Bartlett confronted during a showing.
‘Rattle, Rattle, Rattle’
Back in 2010, I was showing a home to a client while I was five months pregnant, and as I walked up to the front door and put the key in the lock, I heard “rattle, rattle, rattle.” I looked down and saw a young rattlesnake at my toes. Apparently, he had been curled up under the door jamb, and I didn’t see him. Now he was fully awake and quite annoyed at the disruption. I yelled to my client to stay back, and then I pushed off the door, jumping back as fast as I could. I felt the snake hit my leg, but miraculously, he didn’t break the skin. I still don’t know how I wasn’t bitten, but I thanked the “man above” for saving me and my baby. —Lisa Bartlett, RE/MAX Desert Showcase, Peoria, Ariz.