The perils of haunted home ownership have been a part of the modern public consciousness at least since the film industry began using ancient haunted mansions as set pieces in their early films. Some films, such as Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, and more recently The Conjuring depicted the terrifying prospects of buying a haunted home unaware. Typically, the films begin with a happy but financially strapped family moving into a fixer-upper, unaware of the home’s tragic past and demonic influences. As the events quickly begin to spiral out of control, the tormented family flees the home, never to return.
In the real world, 1991 court ruling, Stambovsky v. Ackley (also known as the Ghostbusters ruling) dealt with this very real situation when a home was purchased by an owner who was unaware of the home’s spooky reputation. The Nyack, New York home had previously been advertised as a haunted house in Reader’s Digest and in other publications. When the new owners arrived, they complained about poltergeist activity which included phantom rings given as gifts to the children which would later disappear and beds being shaken in the morning to awaken their occupants. Several apparitions were reported, as were footsteps and other sounds. Stambovsky sued Ackley for fraudulent misrepresentation and won on appeal, making this the first case of a legally declared haunted home in US history. Despite the ruling, the court case does not prove if the home was objectively haunted. Stambovsky won the right to be released from his contract due to the possibility that the home’s value may have been damaged by its reputation as being haunted.
Nevertheless, laws now exist for disclosure of ‘stigmatized property’ wherein a property may be shunned by the public because of criminal activity, death, murder or suicide occurring on the property, debt, and phenomena stigma. The last category pertains to properties that are advertised or reputed to be haunted. Real estate agents are bound by law in some states to declare a property’s stigma of being haunted, and will often accept a reduced price to get the property off the market. What was stigmatized before, however, is becoming a new exclusive and desirable commodity.
Haunted home buying is a new novelty niche market in real estate, thanks to paranormal shows that make it seem exciting and fun to live in a haunted house. It began first with haunted tourism, where amateur paranormal investigators searched for haunted bed and breakfasts for the sole purpose of catching a ghost or having a scary experience. Once hotel owners caught on to a new way to attract customers, they began to selectively advertise their haunted status by allowing paranormal investigators to write up reports of their experiences on various websites. Any hotel or bar that agreed to be filmed as part of one of the many new paranormal shows found a huge surge in visitors, eager to experience a paranormal experience themselves.
It was only a matter of time before home owners would seek out the experience of actually owning a haunted home for themselves for the purpose of delightful scares and all of the bragging rights that come with it. With mock exasperation, such home owners could regale tales of footsteps in the night and moving objects in their home to wide-eyed friends. Realty giants Zillow and Realty.com have jumped right in, with articles such as 7 Real-Life Haunted Houses for Sale and 6 Real-Life Haunted Houses you can buy Right Now. It certainly doesn’t end there. A google search revealed countless articles and websites dedicated to showcasing various haunted homes that can be purchased by paranormally-inclined buyers. There’s even a ‘Haunted Real Estate‘ blog. You would be mistaken if you believed that this market was small; Realtor.com’s 2013 ‘Haunted Housing Report’ determined that 62% of 1,400 survey respondents would be open to purchasing a haunted home. The poll also asked what type of experience might be ‘enough’ to scare the homeowner away. Interestingly enough, 75% of the respondents said that it would take witnessing a levitating object for them to back out of the sale. That means that a full 25% of respondents claim they could walk into a potential home, see a few plates whirling through the air against the laws of physics and still say, “Sold!”
Brazil’s president, Michel Temer recently vacated the Presidential Palace claiming ‘bad energy’ and possible ghosts. He told one Brazilian newspaper, “I felt something strange there. I wasn’t able to sleep right from the first night. The energy wasn’t good. We even started to wonder: Could there be ghosts?”
Andrew Cuomo also recently admitted he has trouble sleeping in the New York Governor’s mansion due to some unusual sounds and a generally creepy atmosphere.
“So, it’s me alone, when I’m in the house because my family is in Westchester … and there are stories that this house is haunted. Now, I don’t believe in ghosts, and I’m a big, tough Italian guy, but I’ll tell you, it gets creepy in that house, and there are a lot of noises that go on and you are very alone.”
Former Governor David Paterson responded to the Governor Cuomo’s story by acknowledging the ghost, relaying a story of his own where the household heard something smash in an unoccupied room. Rumored to be a former groundskeeper, Paterson reassured Cuomo that the ghost is ‘friendly’. “Big, Tough Italian Guy” Cuomo was sure to remind the press that he “wasn’t afraid of no ghost.”
But maybe Cuomo should reconsider his tough-guy attitude toward the paranormal. People who live for any length of time in a haunted house or apartment quickly begin to realize that the reality is often far more terrifying and crazy-making than just a few bangs in the night. Some people get lucky and live with a spirit who is simply confused but otherwise harmless. Others may find that their haunting is more of an echo of past events played over and over, often known as a residual haunting.
A rare minority will end up with a malicious spirit to contend with, and the experience can inflict real emotional, physical and financial damage. This was my experience ten years ago, when I moved into a lovely apartment that harbored a truly malicious spirit. This spirit unleashed its terror slowly, exploiting my deepest fears and anxieties to the point where I began to question my own sanity.
I have not spoken about my experience in the haunted apartment on my blog until now, and I’m not sure I’m ready to explain the whole story even now; it was so traumatic. But I’d like to provide just a few examples of what I experienced, perhaps to serve as a warning to anyone tempted to pursue haunted real estate.
The activity was quite tame at first, cute almost. I should have listened to my friend who took one step into my apartment, and refused to ever stay over, citing the dangerous and angry spirit that she could feel lurking around. I thought I could handle it, and dismissed her concerns. That turned out to be a grave mistake.
This particular malicious spirit manifested as a dark shadow that once appeared in my bedroom ominously pointing at me. Most frustratingly, it delighted in making cash money disappear. It got to the point where I went to bed with 20’s taped to my arm, as it was the only way to ensure that the cash wouldn’t completely disappear during the night. Of course, the missing money was a source of some terrible arguments and mistrust in the apartment, since my boyfriend and I accused each other of the deed. My car keys and wallet would also frequently disappear, causing huge amounts of stress when I had to go to work. I would find my keys in random places – in the freezer, for example. Once, I found my missing license and each of my credit cards stuck in a different page of random comic books from my boyfriend’s extensive comic book collection. They were only found after I had already gone through the trouble of replacing them all. All kinds of objects disappeared – often sentimental items. Rarely, they’d reappear in strange places, but mostly they never turned up again.
Sometimes I would wake up and find all of my doors unlocked and standing wide open, my bewildered cats sitting outside. The bathtub would mysteriously fill and overflow while I was at work, causing the apartment manager to become upset with me for causing water damage. One night, all of my heavy potted-plants disappeared from my terrace and never returned. Pennies were whipped past my head, making dents in the wall behind me. The thermostat would selectively blast the AC in winter and heat in the summer, causing my electrical bill to skyrocket.
These events were also accompanied by the nightmares, shadows, bangs and lights turning on and off by themselves – the kind of things that accompany most hauntings. Had they been the worst of it, I could have weathered the storm. But this haunting affected all aspects of my life – my health and relationships suffered, and I went through some ridiculously bad luck. Whatever could go wrong, just seemed to always go wrong. There was a pervasive sense of evil in the apartment and I felt as if a pall hung over my life. I withdrew from everyone, feeling depressed and hopeless as I continued to get tormented night and day. I began sleepwalking for the first time in my life, and often found myself doing strange things that terrified me. The apartment became a black void which seemed to consume me.
It took two years, but as soon as I could move, I shoved everything I owned in garbage bags, threw them into storage and never looked back.
So you see, it wasn’t just lights turning on and off, or odd bangs. My haunting was specifically cruel in a way that affected my entire life, my relationships, my finances, health and the security of my home. Over time, I realized that it wasn’t just my apartment that was haunted – it was me. I was being haunted; or more accurately, hunted and toyed with. Unfortunately, people attracted to owning a paranormal home don’t realize that truly malicious spirits don’t simply rattle around and move objects, they can be intent on destroying your life. At least, this was my experience.
Do paranormal investigators suffer disproportionately from tragic circumstances, bad luck or injury from their frequent contact with the paranormal? It’s hard to say. There is no real evidence that paranormal investigators suffer from their contact with spirits and I am the last person to push wild theories without good evidence. There were a few well-known cases of tragedy to befall people involved in paranormal investigations, but with a sample size so small there are no conclusions that can be drawn here, just tragic and mystifying stories.
In 2016, Gaurav Tiwari, founder of the Indian Paranormal Society, died mysteriously in his bathroom in his home. His wife and a neighbor tried to break through the bathroom door for over an hour, hearing his distress. When they finally succeeded in getting the door open, they saw Tiwari looking terrified, gasping for breath with a mysterious black line around his throat. He died later at the hospital. The police investigation found no evidence of a break-in or obvious assailant. It is still classified as a mystery.
Anyone who follows paranormal shows on television has doubtless heard of the rise and fall of paranormal investigator Ryan Buell. After achieving fame and success for his television hit, Paranormal State, Buell began to act strangely. He allegedly lied about having pancreatic cancer, accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from fans before abruptly claiming that he was in remission. Later, he was accused of defrauding fans by selling tickets to events that never materialized. In 2016, he was arrested and charged with “two third-degree felonies for theft of leased property and receiving stolen property, and one misdemeanor for theft of services” and arrested again in 2017 for assault. Finally, his mother wrote a desperate and somewhat cryptic post on Facebook pleading with Ryan’s fans to stop sending him money and claiming that he was ‘sick’, but not from cancer. Later, he admitted that he was a recovering drug addict.
Lastly, and perhaps most gruesomely, Mark and Debbie Constantino, famed for their EVP investigations on various paranormal shows, both died in an apparent murder suicide.
Do things like this happen everyday? Sadly, yes. Could the misfortune of these paranormal investigators be completely unrelated to their work in paranormal investigations? Most likely. Many paranormal investigators are perfectly healthy, well-adjusted people who have suffered no ill from their work, and might even take offence at my suggestion that contact with the paranormal may sometimes be dangerous to one’s health, sanity and well-being. Certainly the services of a good paranormal investigator can be a godsend to those in need and I respect their work. I also think most paranormal investigators would agree with me that dabbling in the paranormal is not for frivolous people looking for excitement or fame. It requires spiritual, mental and physical strength to wrangle with the spiritual world.
I also want to point out that the plight of ‘earthbound’ spirits is quite different from the spiritual experiences that some people have with loved ones who have crossed over after death. After-Death Communications are almost universally felt as loving, peaceful demonstrations of one’s continued existence and are cherished experiences. Spirits who refuse to cross or malicious spirits who hang out purposely on the earth plane to annoy the living look, feel, and act very differently, and are consequently experienced as fearful, agitating, or evil presences around us.
Experiences like what I endured living in a haunted apartment are likely exceedingly rare for those not looking for it, but should you or someone you know decide to pursue the paranormal – especially by pursuing haunted real estate, I would suggest understanding the risks and following up on the experiences of others first.
I live in a gloriously un-haunted home now, one that is bursting with the sights and sounds of the living. For someone fascinated by the idea of living in a haunted house, it may seem boring and pedestrian to live in a house free of ghosts if you have a true interest and fascination with the paranormal. In answer, I would misquote a mug owned by a friend of mine, ‘I’ve got 99 problems, but [the malicious dead] ain’t one.’
So what do you think?
Would you purposely live in a haunted house? If you’ve lived in a haunted house, was your experience harmless or terrifying?
I’ve love to know – so leave a comment!