Spirits in the material (facts) world
Former realtor explains ethics of 'haunted' property sales in Vermont
There is real estate, and then there is "distressed real estate."
Distressed real estate is when a former owner or tenant did something illegal or tragic, like manufacture drugs, commit suicide, or murder a partner or spouse and commit suicide. In such cases, there is a black cloud over the history of the property.
For some private sellers of distressed real estate, it's better from a marketing point of view not to say anything to the buyer.
In Massachusetts, the law is strict when it comes to the sale of distressed property -- property marred by crime, violence, or an alleged "ghost haunting." If the buyer has the presence of mind to ask the private seller or agent if a property is distressed, the seller or agent is legally bound to tell all.
While other states have simliar buyer protection laws on the books, it's a little different in Vermont, says Matt Musgrave, advocacy and development director for Vermont Realtors, a property owners advocacy group in Burlington.
Musgrave says there is no disclosure law in Vermont for a private seller who doesn't have a real estate agent to represent the sale.
"If you don't have an agent involved, you don't have a law [requiring disclosure]," Musgrave says. Even so, he says it's a "moral issue" for the private seller to disclose.
Agents in Vermont are required by state and national real estate codes of ethics to dislose -- even if the seller says not to when "material facts" are involved, says Musgrave.
A material fact, Musgrave says, is not as simple as a reported ghost sighting. It's when a property is known to be tainted "in terms of its lore -- a suicide, for example."
If the folklore does exist "it's a material fact, because of [the property's] history. That is where the challenge is," adds Musgrave, who sold real estate for 15 years in Vermont and had a ghostly encounter of his own.
An agent is "not supposed to hide that information, he says. "If it's a material fact, then they are required to disclose."
Some buyers may think living in a haunted house is cool. Others, however, might balk at a sale if they knew that their future home-sweet-home has a bitter past.
In the end, Musgrave says, honesty is the best sales policy in Vermont when dealing with distressed property -- even when it's to die for.