A Pennsylvania Couple Finds Out the Hard Way That Everything Has a Reputation — Even Your Home
Here on the Reputation Management blog, we often discuss how reputation impacts individuals, organizations, and brands. But the fact is that in addition to people, things can develop a reputation. Cars earn a reputation for being reliable, toys are known for their popularity, freeways become notorious for traffic jams.
Homes are no exception, especially one particular home that’s earned a reputation for being “slightly haunted.”
Slightly Haunted. Nothing Serious, Though.
Home owners Gregory and Sandi Leeson are selling their 113 year old Victorian home in Dunmore, Pennsylvania. The listing includes, along with standard photos, features, and square foot information, points out one feature that’s become a sticking point for some buyers: “Slightly haunted,” reads the listing. “Nothing serious, though.”
Those five words, and the media attention that followed them, may haunt the home more menacingly than any spirits can. Now the home is no longer known as just a charming Victorian — it’s a haunted house!
The Leesons laid it all out for potential buyers, explaining exactly what “slightly haunted” means: “The sounds of phantom footsteps. A strange knocking sound followed by a very quiet (hardly noticeable, even) scream at 3:13am, maybe once a week. Twice a week, tops. And the occasional ghastly visage lurking behind you in the bathroom mirror. Even still, this occurs very rarely and only in the second floor bathroom.”
Still, despite the light haunting and occasional ghastly visage, it’s “all around a beautiful home with lots of updates and tons of charm,” say the Leesons. “Must see.”
Buyers are Spooked by the Home’s Reputation
For some, a “slightly haunted” home is a good thing. The listing attracted positive attention from ghost hunters and even former residents. When the Leesons hosted an open house, the residence was full of curious lookers.
But no buyers.
Now, Gregory Leeson is not so sure that mentioning their home as “slightly haunted” was the best way to sell it. “I tried to word it with a little bit of a sense of humor,” explains Leeson, but “I don’t think it has helped with marketing. We’re not really getting very many interested buyers. We’re getting a lot of nonsense people.”
Spiritual Disclosures Not Required
Leeson pointed out the haunting because he believed it was his duty to disclose the information. “I have been reading online, and people saying you are supposed to disclose it,” he said. “I don’t know the laws here, but thought better safe than sorry.”
But, it turns out, Leeson didn’t have to share that information after all. The Leesons would have benefited from working with a licensed Realtor, who would have told them under Pennsylvania law, owners are not required to disclose hauntings. Sellers in Pennsylvania are required to disclose all material defects they’re aware of. That does not include hauntings, which ultimately, can’t be proven.
That is not the case in New York state, where a home’s reputation for being haunted is fair game, whether it’s true or not. If a property has been publicly marketed as haunted, or believed to been haunted, sellers are required to disclose this information.
Selling a Home with a Bad Reputation
The listing has spent 41 days on Zillow so far. The couple is hopeful that they’ll get more traffic in the springtime. If they’re not able to sell, they may rent it out nightly to thrill seekers.
The Leesons aren’t the only ones plagued by a home with a bad reputation. Real estate appraiser Randall Bell has made a career out of determining the value of properties that have been stigmatized. Homes damaged by riots, Hurricane Katrina, even mass suicides earn a reputation for doom and gloom, and no one knows better than Bell that there’s a real price attached to a negative stigma.
One client of Bell’s — a Las Vegas homeowner whose property was featured on an episode of “Ghost Adventures” and then vandalized and used for Satanic rituals — revealed that he lost thousands due to his home’s bad reputation. His home sold for $300,500, far less than the estimated $450,000 to $500,000 the property would have earned without the stigma.
Reputation Matters in Real Estate
Reputation matters, even when you’re selling a home. In the coming weeks, we’ll release our Online Reputation Management Guide for Realtors and Real Estate Clients. This guide features reputation management tips and tools for Realtors and clients alike, explaining how realtors can establish a great reputation online, and even how to develop a good reputation for individual homes.