‘€œ’€¦having reported the ghosts’ presence in both a national publication’€¦ and the local press’€¦ defendant is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted.’€ New York State Supreme Court Ruling, July 18, 1991*
The house was a lovely Hudson River victorian on LaVeta Place in Nyack. For years, one of the owners had recounted tales of a benign haunting in her home to everyone ‘€“ it was part of the Nyack Ghost Tour, it was on TV and it was in Reader’s Digest. Around Nyack, we all knew about the ghosts (or supposed ghosts) in “that house by the river.” We all knew it, but in 1989 when the house was put up for sale, buyers from New York City did not. They went into contract on the lovely home unaware that they might just have some permanent house guests they didn’t invite. Then they heard the story’€¦ from, well, everybody in Nyack. “Oh, you bought the ‘€˜Ghost House!” Thus began one of the oddest cases in New York Jurisprudence since we were New Netherland.
Realtors have an obligation to disclose any known defects of a home that might affect its’ purchase price, or its’ value thereafter. But is a haunting an adverse condition? Could it be argued that no such thing exists? Could it be argued in court that it DOES? The buyers, the sellers, the realtors and the Justices of the State of New York would find themselves ‘€œthrough the looking-glass’€ trying to determine precedent on the unprecedented.
After first deciding that though it was obvious that the common perceived notion in the area was that the house was referred to as ‘€œhaunted’€ and that perception could certainly affect the perceived value of the house, the trial court held that such a condition should fall under caveat emptor or ‘€œlet the buyer beware’€ and no wrongdoing occurred. An appeals court overturned that decision on the grounds that ghosts in a house are not exactly something that can be discovered in the average property inspection, nor is it likely to be an issue a buyer might ever think to ask about. Therefore, the court noted that whether the house was truly haunted or not, the fact that the house had been widely reported as being haunted greatly affected its value ‘€“ and that as a known perceived condition, it should have been disclosed. They wrote: ‘€œWhere, as here, the seller not only takes unfair advantage of the buyer’s ignorance but has created and perpetuated a condition about which he is unlikely to even inquire, enforcement of the contract (in whole or in part) is offensive to the court’s sense of equity. Application of the remedy of rescission, within the bounds of the narrow exception to the doctrine of caveat emptor set forth herein, is entirely appropriate to relieve the unwitting purchaser from the consequences of a most unnatural bargain.’€ The Buyers had their deposit returned.
The house was purchased by a corporation who quickly sold it again (not due to any poltergeist activities that I can ascertain) and the next buyers were brought to the closing table by Diane Smith, a fellow realtor at Nyack Rand Realty. The purchasers were an author and her husband, an A-list Hollywood screenwriter. (Other interested purchasers included ‘€œThe Amazing Kreskin’€ who once told me the reason he had any interest was BECAUSE it was reputed to be haunted and he wanted proof, one way or the other). Diane’s buyers weren’t fazed by the allegations of a haunting ‘€“ but thought their kids might have an issue, and decided the kids needed to go there first, hang out a bit, and see if it scared them. Diane was afraid the kids might be spooked and the deal wouldn’t have a ghost of a chance, but lo and behold, the kids loved the place and the whole family found the ‘€œvibe’€ of the house warm and inviting. They still live there 15 or so years on, and I’m told that there have been no negative experiences’€¦ which doesn’t necessarily mean there have been no experiences, now does it?
So, the next time you are purchasing property, maybe you might want to ask your realtor ‘€œhas anything ‘€˜unusual’ ever happened in this house?’€ After all, home inspectors can’t be expected to find EVERYTHING’€¦
John Patrick Schutz is a realtor for Rand Realty in Nyack, NY. You can read his blog posts at AtHomeInNyack.
Photo Credit: MentalFloss.com