Ghosts of Ohio
About Goo

Ghostly occupants, well-publicized murder case can drop a property's value by up to 35%

by Susan Deutschle - Columbus Business First

It's not easy to sell a house inhabited by a ghost. Or a property that's been the scene of a ghastly crime or suicide. Worst of all is a residence occupied by the former who was the victim of the latter.

It's no wonder people contending with these kinds of problems are likely to be discreet about their interesting houseguests, or the history of their homes, in order to avoid having the dreaded label of "stigmatized" real estate.

James A. Willis, a Columbus-based paranormal investigator, sees it all the time. He's the founder and director of the Ghosts of Ohio Inc., a nonprofit organization that researches alleged hauntings by using the latest ghost-busting technology. More than 425 Ohio homeowners have reported unearthly appearances and other creepy stuff to his Web site,, since Willis' organization was established in 1998.

He estimates that half of the reports are probably bogus. But the other half keep Willis and his team of volunteer investigators busy with their infrared cameras and thermometers, electromagnetic field testers and other scientific equipment.

"One of the most common fears our clients have is that the data we collect on their homes will be made public ? which it never is. They absolutely don't want their property listed as stigmatized," Willis said.

There's good reason for that. According to a study of stigmatized housing in Ohio conducted last year by Wright State University professor James E. Larsen for the Center for Real Estate Education and Research at Ohio State University, a well-publicized murder case can lower the value of a house 15 to 35 percent, and it may take five to seven years for that effect to fade.

This often leads people to button their lips to prospective buyers about potentially stigmatizing information, Larsen's study illustrates.

He found that less that a quarter of the Ohio real estate agents who responded to his survey disclosed information between 1994 and 2000 on 74 stigmatized properties, which included five haunted houses, 16 murder sites and 33 homes where a suicide occurred.

Mysterious facts
"In one case, a Realtor told me that while she was filling out the listing agreement with the sellers, their young son was in another room chatting with a poltergeist. She just thought he was talking to his imaginary friend, or something, and didn't find out until after the house was sold what was actually going on. Apparently, the buyers were never told either," Larsen said.

Chances are, they know now.

If the resident ghost hasn't given away the secret, you can bet the neighbors have. That's why the Columbus-based Ohio Association of Realtors encourages its members to be upfront with the facts.

"Somebody will eventually spill the beans, so if you have reason to believe that the information would be material to the buyer, you really should disclose it," said Peg Ritenour, OAR's vice president of legal affairs.

It might be the right thing to do, but it's certainly not a legal requirement. To date, there's no statute on stigmatized properties in Ohio, in spite of a couple of recent court cases.

More than 20 states, according to Larsen's study, even have laws on the books that say agents can't be held liable for failing to reveal information about psychological stigmas. So far, just a handful of places, including California, require disclosure to prospective buyers.

In spite of the lack of legislative muscle in Ohio, Ritenour thinks it's a good idea to avoid potential liability by being forthcoming when it's appropriate.

The challenge, she admits, is in determining which prospective buyers would consider the information to be a material fact. Some people, like Willis, are attracted to the notion of living in a so-called haunted house. Others wouldn't care one way or another, and some would definitely be spooked by it.

"You have to look for clues from each individual buyer, like if they ask: `Did anybody die in this house?' " Ritenour said.

Not that scary
The good news is most haunted houses aren't as scary as one might expect. Sure, there are the occasional cold spots, unexplained footsteps and shadowy figures to contend with. But, as Willis reassures, those are generally just minor inconveniences.

"In all my years of investigating haunted houses, I've never come across the Hollywood version with bleeding walls and things like that. With stigmatized property, it's more about what happened in the house. The ghost itself doesn't have to be part of the stigma," Willis said.

Easy for him to say. He likes ghosts.

© 2008 The Ghosts of Ohio