A spirited (but serious) discussion: should agents disclose hauntings?

Today is Halloween, which brings us to the ghostly topic of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.

Under these, should an agent disclose whether a house is haunted?

Of course, an agent may well take the view that he or she does not believe in ghosts.

However, according to a 2005 UK Gallup poll, 40% of respondents believed houses can be haunted, which means that a fair chunk of the public might want to steer well clear of ghostly homes.

Lawyer Mark Robertson, of Stevens & Bolton LLP, said: “A haunting may therefore affect an average buyer’s decision to buy a property, and its value. Disclosure may be the best course.”

Under CPRs, an agent has to disclose anything that could affect a potential tenant or purchaser’s “transactional” decision – not just purchase, but whether to view in the first place.

Nervy types might therefore not even want to step inside a house said to have a resident ghost.

Agents have, by now, become used to making the reasonable steps required under CPRs to investigating possible problems such as lack of planning consents which could constitute the “material information” that should be disclosed to buyers.

But ghosts?

Well, that hasn’t been tested here.

However, Robertson tells us that it was tested in America, in 1991.

In Stambovsky v Ackley, a New York court ruled that a buyer could reverse a sale contract because the seller had not revealed the house’s reputation as being haunted.

Importantly, the seller was found to have created and perpetuated the supposed haunting – by a poltergeist.

Robertson said: “On principles of fairness the court found it appropriate ‘to relieve the unwitting purchaser from the consequences of a most unnatural bargain’.

“Not all the judges agreed, with one commenting, ‘If the doctrine of caveat emptor is to be discarded, it should be for a reason more substantive than a poltergeist’.”

The closest we have come to such a case in this country was in 2004, in Sykes v Taylor-Rose.

Here, the court found that a seller was not obliged to reveal that a gruesome child murder had been committed at the property.

However, that was back in the days of the Property Misdescriptions Act. It would now be very different.

So, if your current vendor goes by the name of Morticia Addams and has an uncle called Fester, you’d better find out a bit more.

Meanwhile, we like this property on Rightmove (now under offer).

http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-41152271.html

Intrigued, we discover that The Ghost Train in Purton, Wiltshire, used to be a pub which was given the name after the local rail service closed.

However, we also discover that when a new landlord opened for business, he told the local paper: “It is the most haunted pub in Wiltshire as we have five ghosts.

“I’ve seen shadows and movements. Behind the bar we have an old gentleman who walks down towards the cellar. We have two ghosts in the kitchen and one in the restaurant.”

And to think he was just trying to promote the place!

Mind you, it did close down not long afterwards…

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9 Comments

  1. Rob Hailstone

    I bet there are some strange people out there who would actually pay more for a haunted home!

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  2. Trevor Mealham

    It depends on why someone is moving. If someone feels they have a friendly presence but is moving for a different reason ie work then there's no reason to mention. But if someone lives in what they feel is a disturbed house and needs to move due to disturbances, then it should be mentioned.

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  3. RealAgent

    Well personally I would have to think twice about whether I took a haunted house on to my books, after all, who you gonna call?………..

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  4. El Burro

    We had some tenants that posted 'ghostly' reports on social media after they left only, surprise surprise, to find out they ran a corporate entertaining business based around ghosts and goulies!
    We did tongue in cheek (which was in a severed head) mention it to our trading standards contact. He said if you are going to make a statement you have to be able to substantiate it. How would you do that? He also made the valid point that what happens when someone moves in and then complains there WEREN'T any ghosts? We all know the phrase, "That's the only reason we bought it . . .". Let's be honest, in Court "The seller told me . . ." isn't the best of defences is it??

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  5. devonagent

    El Burro is correct, we put a property for sale and were informed of ghostly goings on by the outgoing tenant. We checked with the Property Ombudsman for their advice and they pointed out that we could get in to trouble if it isn't haunted as a buyer could make their decision to buy based on the ghost!

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  6. PeeBee

    Is this the definitive answer…? http://www.ombudsman-services.org/rent-a-ghost—a-buy-to-let-nightmare.html

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  7. Richard Copus

    About 15 years ago I took on a semi-detached medieval cottage in a village which the owner said had 3 ghosts: the first a friendly lady who used to waft around the living room, the second a man who caused no problems, and the third an "evil" presence that lurked around the bottom of the vendor's bed on occasions. These "ghosts" had been well documented over the centuries. A month before I took the house onto the market, the local Anglican vicar had exorcised next door.

    Should I have disclosed these events? This was in the days of PMA. The county trading standards team leader said it was not necessary as it was not a specified matter under the PMA (immaterial misdecriptions?!). I did disclose it as I knew some people would be seriously put off buying the house and everyone's time would be wasted if I did not. Under CPRs I think there is little doubt that such matters should be disclosed. In a straw poll in our office 5 minutes'ago, half the staff (gender not disclosable!) said they would not buy a property if they were told about the happenings above. That tallies with the Gallup poll.

    Just make the most of a fascinating story and take advantage of the almost guaranteed front page editorial coverage!

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    1. wilko

      In just over 30 years of agency I have had to get just 2 houses exorcised. 1 was a new home on a development on an old hospital site (subject property was built over the site of the hospital morgue) The other was a cottage originally built in the 17th century. It is a tricky one whether to declare on details. We all know that after exorcism the houses are freed from the troubled, tormented souls, but then isn't a house that's been underpinned stronger than one that hasn't? and we have to declare that to buyers!

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  8. El Burro

    Whilst PeeBee's Ombudsman Services link bears out the advice we had, I'm not sure how up to date that is. Either it's pre CPRs as it refers to PMA and that there's no need to disclose or nobody's told OS that the law's changed! By referring to 'nobody' it wasn't a pun bearing in mind the subject matter. Neither was 'matter' come to think of it . . . time for my medication!

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