Graham Wood is senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Haunted House Can Be Marketing Gold
If your listing’s sinister reputation is turning off traditional buyers, try appealing to a different crowd by advertising it for what it is.
October 22, 2015
On his website last October, Justin Redding promoted one of his picture-perfect listings, a 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom home in Omaha, Neb. The listing description made only a brief mention of the newly renovated kitchen and large backyard and deck, which most would consider its strongest selling points. Instead, Redding focused on the home’s other attributes: apparitions, terrifying sounds, and unexplainable events.
“This is a rare, SPOOKTACULAR home … a personal favorite of local paranormal investigators,” read Redding’s ad, which detailed mysterious occurrences at the home such as footsteps in the attic, doors opening and closing on their own, and ghostly voices. (Though the home is no longer for sale, the listing still lives on Redding’s site.)
Why on earth would an agent want to purposely give buyers the impression that their listing is haunted? First off, Redding’s sellers had given their blessing to the selling tactic, and he adds that he wasn’t revealing any secrets anyway. The home, which had previously been listed but failed to sell, already had a reputation. It became a local media sensation after the Omaha chapter of PRISM, a national paranormal society, documented strange activity during several investigations.
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Redding, a 12-year real estate veteran and multimillion-dollar producer with Nebraska Realty in Omaha, says the activity had to be disclosed for legal reasons anyway. But he also figured exploiting the listing’s reputation would elevate buyer interest. “It was around Halloween, and I figured we might find somebody who says, ‘Hey, I think this is fascinating,’” Redding says. “I figured we would sell it to one of the various paranormal research groups, who would consider it an investment.”
But Redding had the listing for three months before the sellers abruptly decided to rent it out, claiming they had to leave immediately because the haunting had turned violent.
By now, you’ve probably decided whether you think Redding is a kook or a genius. Ghosts are just one of those things: You either believe in them or you don’t. Regardless of your personal convictions, though, there is a market for haunted houses. Sixty-two percent of house hunters say they’d consider buying one, according to a 2013 realtor.com® survey.
Even so, a home with a reputation for being haunted can turn off many traditional buyers. If you’re battling such a demon, maybe you can overcome it by being upfront about your listing’s peculiar nature and marketing it to people who will love it for what it is. No promises it’ll work, though. It’s a largely untested method.
Ready to dive into the nightmare niche? Here’s a blueprint for marketing a home as haunted.
Make Sure a Niche Exists in Your Market
First, do some research in your area to see if there are people who are likely to respond favorably to a haunted house. If there are active paranormal societies nearby, or if your community has legends, folklore, or myths about its history, that could indicate an open-minded buyer segment exists.
“Not everyone is afraid of the haunted,” says Tami Beckel, a former REALTOR® who founded the Key West Paranormal Society in Florida. Key West is often on lists of the most haunted cities in America, with many legends stemming from its nautical and rum-running history. You’re likely to find paranormal enthusiasts in that kind of environment, says Beckel, who used to be broker-owner of 1st Choice Realty in Key West. She was in the process of setting up her own company, Real Estate Places to Spooky Spaces, with the intention of marketing her listings as haunted but ended up leaving real estate to care for her mother.
KWPS has launched offshoots in Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and South Carolina, some with upwards of 50 people on their investigative teams. “The people I investigate with — those are the people who want to live in haunted houses,” Beckel says, adding that the growth of her organization is a testament to how prevalent the buyer segment has become.
These buyers, however, will want to see evidence that your listing is haunted. Before you market it as such, make sure you can furnish proof either by having ghost hunters document the activity or supplying stories from the sellers about their experiences.
Tell the Right Story
David Franklin Farkas, owner of HouseHealing.com, says the depiction of haunted houses in popular culture is often very different from the reality. In order to accurately tell the story of your listing, you may want to consult a paranormal expert who can guide you.
“Most ghosts don’t know they’re dead,” says Farkas, who has spent nearly 40 years performing house cleansings for real estate professionals. “They’re not scary — they’re confused. Think what it would be like if suddenly, for no reason you can think of, the world doesn’t work the way it did before. One spirit I communicated with, when I told him he was dead, he said, ‘Oh, that explains so much.’” He adds that the facts of most hauntings are simple: People hear whatever it is they hear or notice odd things, and it just confuses them.
Judy Allison, a sales associate with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Montana Properties in Hamilton, Mont., says most homes in her small town are more than 100 years old, and buyers are always curious about who lived in them and whether they died there.
It’s such a common theme that Allison launched an arm of her business three years ago called Resident Entities, a partnership between her and Stephanie Light, a local psychic. When Allison’s clients want to know more about a home’s past, she refers them to Light to perform an energy reading. Likewise, when Light’s clients are seeking guidance on whether they’re ready to purchase real estate, she refers them to Allison. The partnership produces several referrals each year.
“I think people are opening up and thinking about things on a deeper level,” Allison says. “I think it’s actually comforting to them to know who’s been in their home and what’s happened there and that they’re continuing the legacy.”
Be Careful What You Share
When targeting buyers who want a haunted house, make sure you’re not attracting the wrong kind of interest. Redding says his elaborate listing brought mostly those who had no serious intentions to purchase. “I had a lot of people who just wanted to tour the home for its haunted value, and the sellers didn’t want their home treated that way,” he says. “Plus, the [paranormal] activity really started to increase once buyers were coming through.”
Joy Di Ricco, a sales associate with Better Homes and Gardens Mason-McDuffie Real Estate in Antioch, Calif., took a much more understated approach when marketing a listing as haunted in 2007. Despite having experiences in the home herself — being shoved by an invisible force and being told to get out by a disembodied voice during a showing — she kept the details close to her vest.
“An atmospheric offering,” read a carefully worded flier she posted around the neighborhood, which only mentioned that paranormal activity had been documented at the home. “I didn’t want to sensationalize it and turn it into a circus,” Di Ricco says. “I wanted to be honest about the house without compromising my reputation.” It turns out, though, that the eventual buyer — who took a year to find — came from outside Di Ricco’s market and was unaware of the home’s haunted reputation.
Have an Alternative Plan
If no one wants to live in your haunted listing, it could be resurrected as an investment opportunity, says Maria Cronin, a sales associate with Carrington Real Estate Services in Orland Park, Ill. Some buyers were attracted to a historic mansion she listed in May 2014 with designs on turning it into a haunted-themed business. Built in 1882, the home was the site of numerous deaths, including the original owner, the shooting of a 19-year-old college student in 2004, and the sudden death of a later owner in 2007. It had long been considered haunted, but Cronin didn’t even need to point that out. When news of the listing hit, it went viral online.
“I had buyers who wanted to turn it into a haunted bed and breakfast,” Cronin says. “There’s a place like that in Missouri that does tours on the weekends. It could have been a good business model.” The eventual buyer, she adds, planned to restore the property to its former glory and was considering future commercial purposes.
Redding says he was in talks with investors about his property before the sellers took it off the market. The investors wanted to model the home after the Villisca Axe Murder House in Iowa, the site of a famous mass murder in 1912 that now hosts overnight tours for paranormal enthusiasts at hefty rates. The attraction is often booked out six months in advance, Redding says.
Marketing a home as haunted is a bold and potentially risky move but could do the trick for a listing that traditional buyers have shied away from. But it’s not a tried-and-true tactic. Consider that it may produce better results for you than your sellers. Cronin, Di Ricco, and Redding say their haunted listings brought them tons of attention and even landed them more clients and future deals because of the exposure. For the listings themselves, however, the marketing ended up having little to do with the direction of the deal.
So agent beware.