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.
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).
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…