How I Sold the Spookiest House in Town
James Hern, of the Lee’s Summit (Missouri) market center, has had his share of challenging listings during his 25 years in real estate; the past 10 with Keller Williams.
Every fall, Hern thinks about a particularly complicated listing from earlier in his career.
A manager of his non-real estate business had decided to abandon her home and let the bank take it, Hern says. He was surprised: she and her husband had lived for years in the Civil War-era house sitting on an entire city block of their western Missouri county seat.
“I told them that would ruin their credit, and I should sell it for them,” Hern reflects.
They claimed strange things happened in their home, and they felt they’d endured enough. For example, they would occasionally see an apparition wearing a red flannel shirt and sporting a beard, although they could never see its face.
He listened to the stories, but didn’t put a lot of credence to them. He’d never been in the home until he listed it … then what he experienced changed his mind.
“There were many instances where I was alone in the house when it was vacant and the temperature would change suddenly in the room. It would drop and become very cold,” Hern says. When he moved to another room, the same thing happened.
He started to wait outside on the porch until potential buyers arrived. But the situation worsened.
One day he showed the house at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, then left. He returned at about 5 o’clock – at dusk – with potential buyers. As they were standing on the porch talking, Hern was spinning the old locker-type combo to get the key. He looked through the front door, which was mostly glass, to the foyer with its grand staircase leading to the second floor. On the landing, he saw a small antique table with a hurricane-style lamp permeating to the furniture on the foyer.
He couldn’t believe what he saw.
“About the time I get the lock unlocked on the box, it pops into my head that there is no furniture in this house. This house was empty earlier this afternoon. It had been empty for weeks as I had been showing it.”
At that point, Hern asked the buyers if they saw the furniture as well. “Yes. Why?”
He told them they were not going in the house.
“I’m sure they thought I was ridiculous because they didn’t understand what I was truly saying,” Hern explains.
When he went back for a showing the next day, there was no furniture in the home. When he checked the landing: there was no outlet there or in the foyer in which to plug a lamp. “None of it made any sense whatsoever,” he declares.
After three months of unexplained events, Hern sold the home. And, during the process, he picked up several lessons to remember when selling a less-than-ideal listing:
Take the emotion out of it. Selling a home can be an emotional experience. An agent’s role is to take the emotion out of the situation and lead with logic.
When Hern’s sellers told him “enough was enough” and that they just wanted to walk away from the home and sell it to the bank, he used his training to persuade them to list the house with him by stating the facts.
Know what you must disclose. State real estate laws vary, but most require sellers to disclose material facts related to the structure. Material facts typically include details about the home’s structure, environmental hazards, and sometimes neighborhood issues. Sellers don’t have to disclose their reasons for moving, but some states require them to disclose deaths related to the property.
State laws also allow an agent to accept the property owner’s disclosures, rather than independently investigate, unless the agent knows something that hasn’t been disclosed. Even when the law doesn’t require it, attorneys may advise clients to disclose additional details that may be cause for concern, such as paranormal activity.
To be safe, check your state laws and consult with an attorney about disclosing additional information that may affect a party’s decision to buy. Your credibility may be damaged if you, for example, don’t disclose to out-of-town buyers a violent crime that everyone in town knows about.
Don’t give up. “Regardless of the property’s less-than-ideal status, you were hired to sell the client’s home,” says Hern. Follow your marketing plan and pivot as necessary. “In some instances, the history and/or stories surrounding the home may garner more attention working in your client’s benefit.”