Buyer Beware! Your new home may be haunted

  Buyer Beware! Your new home may be haunted

                                             By Michael Williams

   In October of 2012, Chuck Pence, a Realtor with Lenihan Sotheby International Realty, sold a farm home outside ofLa Grange, Kentucky.  Less than two weeks after the closing he got a call from the buyers who asked whether the previous owner of the home was still alive. Pence explained the previous owner was deceased.   He was shocked when the new owners told him they had seen her in the home three times that week.  It was a first for Pence but not a first in real estate.

  Kentucky is one of several states that have a Stigmatized Property Law in place. Under the law realtors are required to tell the potential buyers if a murder, suicide or haunting has taken place on the property. But the law stipulates the realtor does not have to report these events unless asked by the client.

  Purchasing haunted homes is becoming more frequent than most people realize. Many Americans are familiar with the “Amityville Horror”, a classic tale of terror in which the Lutz family were driven from their New England home by the anguished spirits of the previous family that had been brutally murdered in the home. Some neighbors have denied many of the events portrayed in the movies by the same name. But an increasing number of people are reporting supernatural occurrences in newly purchased homes.  So many so that many realtors are quick to report reported hauntings. Failure to do so may result in legal consequences.

   In one often-referenced case from New York, Stambovsky v. Ackley, Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky put a down payment on Helen Ackley’s home. While visiting the property, they heard of the rumors of the haunting. Ackley herself claimed in interviews to have seen ghosts, but didn’t mention it to the Stambovskys.

   Once the Stambovskys found out about the uninvited residents, they sued to get their down payment back. They initially lost the case, with the trial court ruling they should have done the research. They appealed and the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, ruled in their favor in a 3-2 decision. They received a refund of their down payment.

   In a local real estate transaction, a historic old home in Seymour was put up for sale in 2010. The home was more than 180 years old and during its long history several people had died on the premises including at least four that had been murdered.  According to the buyers,  Richard Parker and John Burns, the realtor handling the sale arrived at the house to begin staging the home and making preparations for the first showing.  While in the home alone he heard disembodied voices speaking I hushed tones and someone knocking on the front and back door as well as doors in the upstairs.  The realtor was so traumatized by the experience that when he showed the house to Burns and Parker, he told them of his experience and refused to go inside again. Incredibly he sold the home to the two men. But, he did the closing outside the home and never stepped back inside. 
“There’s a lot of negative energy inside this house,” said Parker. “I have experienced it myself.”

Knoxville businessman, J-Adam Smith is another individual who has unwittingly purchased stigmatized property. Smith was living in Leesburg Florida where he had purchased an historic, stately home across from a city park and two blocks from downtown. The house was a magnificent Victorian home built in 1923. Smith was delighted with his purchase. It was the first home he ever bought and it was priced far below market value. He was astonished that he was getting so much square footage for such a reasonable price.

"There is always a catch when things look too good to be true," said Smith. Soon after moving in Smith became aware that he was obviously not alone in the old home and some otherworldly presence was in the home with him.  His unease with his new home was exacerbated one day when a passing motorist gave him ominous news.

“The first I heard of the ‘hauntings’ of the house were while tending my garden in the front yard (1st month living in home)... Someone drove by, hanging out of the window and shouted...’"Hey mister, do you know your house is haunted?’ my response was ‘umm No... Thanks’.”

 Negative energy soon began to permeate the dwelling. “My business suffered the consequences of running in the home,” said Smith.  “I suffered an unusual heart arrhythmia which baffled doctors upon examination and it has not been back since that home, and I found myself emotionally compromised which affected my personal life as well.  The home taught me the reality of the paranormal world."

  A friend visited Smith and brought her dog inside the house. The dog behaved nervously and would growl at what appeared to be an unseen presence on the wall. Smith noted cold spots in the house. These cold spots tended to move about and because of their mobility and their location they could not be dismissed as drafts in an old home.  Lights would be turned on and off and Smith would lock doors only to go back later and find them unlocked. Several times he found faucets turned on when he had not used them. On one evening he was awakened to a male voice moaning an anguished cry. Smith immediately arose in a panic and went to his parents’ house at 4 a.m. in the morning not sure how he could explain what just occurred.

  Smith was anxious to find answers and decided to do some research. His investigation brought him to an unlikely but very plausible conclusion. His home was haunted and with good reason. Diving into the home records, he found that his house had been a nursing home in the 1980’s. There had been numerous people who died on the property and many of the patients, facing their own mortality, were obviously unhappy. Smith was forced to make a decision, run for the hills or combat these threats.  It’s easy enough to evict an unwanted living resident from a home but how does one evict the spirits of the former residents?  Unlike the Lutz family who was driven from their home by the restless spirits, Smith decided to make the best of the situation. He began studying and researching paranormal investigations and later sold the home.  But the paranormal activity continued.

“One week after I moved out, the living room ceiling fell in,” said Smith.  "Was it a good-bye from the spirits or just a coincidence?  I would like to think that I made it out and the spirits were congratulating me." 

 After leaving the home, Smith became possessed with a different kind of spirit--the entrepreneurial spirit. Through distance courses and programs, he became a certified paranormal investigator. His purpose was to get a foundation for proper investigation techniques. Smith started Cold Spots Paranormal in Florida, a paranormal research investigation team.

   After extensive study in the field andSmith has emerged as an authority in the field of paranormal research due to his tireless efforts to better understand the fringe based field. Through his research and with the use of electronic equipment, Smith has raised paranormal investigations from a pseudoscience to a respectable field.  Smith has trained research teams and investigated more than 500 cases. His once terrifying experience drove him to become a teacher in the field.

  He later relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee where he began another paranormal research organization. With his love for history and storytelling, he launched Haunted Knoxville, a company that offers adventure tours through the haunted areas of Knoxville and paranormal investigations.

  While Smith’s current home has no reports of otherworldly activity, the city he chose as his base of operation is teeming with ghostly phenomenon and is grabbing national attention due to his trailblazing. Through much research and discovery, he found out that the city had a very dark undertone.  Smith found  over 37 haunted sites in the city where the property could be considered stigmatized. Using scientific techniques he has discovered ghostly activity , captured EVP’s, personally witnessing orbs and apparitions.  Many of his guests have experienced the odd phenomenon while taking the tour.

  Smith strongly urges potential buyers of real estate to ask neighbors and the realtor if the home has a stigmatized history. Ask them if there has been a suicide or murder in the home.  Smith encourages buyers to research the deeds to determine whether the home was built on an old cemetery, burial mounds or battle grounds or if the building was used for a nursing home, hospital or funeral home.  It may sound like a scene from the movie “Poltergeist” but it is a very real threat. In Gatlinburg, Tennessee research has determined that a popular restaurant was built on top of an old cemetery. 

Smith admits he was never bitter about the experience in Florida and does not feel the previous owners ripped him off. However, he supports the idea of passing a law that would require realtors to release all documents pertaining to historical traumas or may be stigmatized.   

Among the many services Smith provides is real estate consultations in which he investigates property to determine whether or not the history of the property would make it a stigmatized property. For more information about Haunted Knoxville Ghost Tours or Smith’s Real Estate Consultation Service, please visit his website

Reader’s Poll:

Tennessee is one of many states that do not have a stigmatized property law on the books. What do you think, should realtors be required to disclose whether or not a property is stigmatized?

Have you ever moved into a haunted house?