Believe it or not, according to a 1991 ruling by the Supreme Court of New York (Stambovsky v. Ackley), a seller must disclose that a house has a reputation for being haunted because such a reputation could impair the value of the house. However, sometimes a home's reputation is so notorious, no formal notification is required. Check out some out some of these haunted American houses, and when they last went up for sale. (For a creepy read, check out Haunting Wall Street: The Halloween Terminology Of Investing.)
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The Amityville Horror House
Just in time for Halloween, a very famous haunted house changed hands in September: the Amityville Horror House. Although the new owners were well aware of the home's infamous reputation for demonic possession when they purchased it for $950,000, according to the Wall Street Journal, they're more worried about the ghoulish pranksters they expect will visit on October 31.
The same cannot be said for the owners who gave the home its scary reputation. George and Kathleen Lutz bought the home in 1975, just over a year after Ronald DeFeo Jr. Shot and killed his mother, father and four siblings within its walls. They got a bargain price on the home, and claimed they had no idea what had happened there until strange occurrences began taking place. It was the Lutz's experiences, which took shape in the form of a book by Jay Anson, "The Amityville Horror", which launched the house into the public eye and led to several movie spinoffs.
However, while there may not have been laws in place at the time to ensure that the home's gruesome vintage was revealed at the time of the sale, the success of the Amityville books and movies suggest the homeowners may have gotten their money's worth anyway. (Check out some of the most expensive things that can happen to your home (haunting not included) in 5 Expensive (And Unexpected) Things That Can Happen To Your Home.)
The Winchester House
Whether this house really is haunted or not, you will definitely be startled if you get a chance to visit. The 160 room house in San Jose, Calif., is now a museum, but despite its 160 rooms, unprecedented level of workmanship and acres of land, it was considered virtually worthless at the time of its owner's death in 1922. It was sold at auction for $135,000 and opened to the public five months later. It is now owned by Winchester Investments LLC and is marketed as the "Winchester Mystery House".
So just what makes this house so creepy? According to the Winchester Mystery House website, the home's eccentric owner, Sarah Winchester, lost her infant daughter and husband, but was left with a $20 million fortune. That's a lot of money now, but in the late 1800s, it may as well have been all the money in the world. Over the next 38 years, construction continued on a huge and unusual house with more than 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 staircases, 13 bathrooms and six kitchens. At one point, it soared as high as seven stories, and was constantly being renovated, added onto and rebuilt.
As you might have guessed, Ms. Winchester was an eccentric lady, and her house shows it in every bizarre nook and cranny. In what is believed to have been an attempt to ward off evil spirits, the house includes mazes of hallways, dead-end stairways, windows in the floor and many other twists, turns and secret passages.
Needless to say, ghost stories about the house abound, but if you want to find out whether it's really home to evil spirits, you may have to take a tour and find out for yourself.
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The LaLaurie Mansion
The LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans is a stately old home in the French Quarter and was once home to rich Creole Socialites Dr. Louis LaLaurie and his wife, Delphine. In the 1830s, many stories emerged surrounding Delphine's cruelty toward - and perhaps even murder of - her many slaves. Although some critics believe these were really rumors perpetuated by those who disapproved of the LaLauries' lavish lifestyle, the home's reputation as one of America's most haunted houses persists.
Its most recently owned by actor Nicolas Cage. According to an April 23 article in the Times Picayune, Cage purchased the house in 2006 for $3.4 million and put the stately, 10,000 square-foot home up for sale in 2009 for $3.55 million. Unfortunately for the Cage, the infamous home turned out to be a curse after all; according to Zillow.com, he lost it in a foreclosure auction later that year. (Learn more at Celebrity Recession: Stars Who've Lost It All.)
The Chambers Mansion
Historical information on this old San Francisco home is a bit slim, although many people who've visited report strange experiences. According to Zillow.com, the house was built in 1887 and named after its owner, Richard Chambers. The rest is legend, in which Chambers' two nieces inherited the mansion together after his death. One of them came to an untimely end in a "farm implementation accident", although other legends suggest she was murdered by an insane family member.
The mansion was converted to a hotel in 1977. In 2002, it was converted to two homes and restored. According to Zillow, it was last sold in 2009 and is estimated to be valued at around $3.4 million, right in line with other properties in the area. Clearly, its creepy vintage hasn't put a dent in its charm - or its value.
The Bottom Line
Although the courts have determined that a home's haunted reputation could have a negative effect on its value, the continued interest in the old houses listed here suggests that in many cases a haunting can be a valuable asset for a historic home. Every old house has a story, but if it involves betrayal, murder and a few ghosts, it can often give a vintage home just the right cachet.
For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: Ghosts Of Economies Past.
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