How Do I Tell If a House Is Haunted?

No matter what you believe about ghosts and the afterlife, it seems like some houses just have a lot more odd, unexplained activity than others. And such activity seems to ramp up at night, just when you’re trying to get some shut-eye. So how would you find out about any such propensities in a house you’d like to buy?

Check the seller’s disclosures. Most U.S. states require sellers to fill out a standard form, revealing what they know about the property’s physical condition. No, you’re not likely to see a “haunted” box ready to be checked off on any state’s disclosure form. Nevertheless, sellers are, in many states, obligated to disclose virtually anything that could affect a house’s marketability, which the oddities described above certainly could. Smart sellers would describe exactly what they’ve observed, without drawing conclusions. Or, they might need to describe related issues like whether you’ll face regular nuisances in the form of megaphones blasting from the local ghost-tour bus, or eager ghost-hunters taking photos through your windows.

Ask the neighbors what they know about the house. It’s best to start generally, with open-ended questions like, “Do you think that house would be a desirable place to live?” or “What can you tell me about the house’s history?”

Try a Google or other Internet search. Too bad Jeffrey Stambovsky wasn’t able to do a little Web-surfing before he bought a turreted turn-of-the-century Victorian home in Nyack, New York in 1990. Being from New York City, Stambovsky wasn’t familiar with local legends, and the seller hadn’t disclosed to him that the lovely riverfront home came with its own family of Caspers. According to reports by the previous owner, Mrs. Helen Ackley:

  • The ghosts periodically left gifts of baby rings for the owner’s grandchildren (and then took them back).
  • One ghost woke the owner’s daughter every morning by shaking her bed (until the girl loudly informed the poltergeists that she wanted to sleep in because it was spring break).
  • While painting the home, Mrs. Ackley (according to what she told The New York Times) saw a ghost sitting in midair, rocking and back forth. “I was on an 8-foot stepladder. I asked if he approved of what we were doing to the house, if the colors were to his liking. He smiled and he nodded his head.”
  • Another ghost was a Navy lieutenant during the American Revolution who confronted the owner’s son “eyeball to eyeball outside the basement door.”

Once Stambovsky got wind of all this, he wanted out of the purchase. He took the seller and real estate agent to court, claiming fraudulent misrepresentation. The lower court was not sympathetic and ruled that the seller and agent had no obligation to disclose ghostly presences. But a New York appellate court made the astonishing ruling that the house was haunted:

“Whether the source of the spectral apparitions seen by defendant seller are parapsychic or psychogenic, having reported their presence in both a national publication (Readers’ Digest) and the local press (in 1977 and 1982, respectively), defendant is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted.”

Apparently the seller had sold her story to Reader’s Digest for $3,000 and made a “verified” claim to the magazine that the house was haunted. As one contract lawyer pointed out, “If the seller now claimed in the litigation that the house wasn’t haunted, the seller would have been caught in a $3,000 lie to Reader’s Digest.”

Stambovsky was allowed to back out of the $650,000 purchase.

But don’t feel too bad for the sellers. Once word got out that the house was legally haunted, a new group of buyers were attracted to the property, including the well-known mentalist, The Amazing Kreskin.

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Personality change

When we think about possession, our minds immediately go to demons, demons, demons. Ghost hunter Newkirk says that more often than not, demonic possession and even a demonic presence is not behind whatever it is you’re experiencing. A “normal” ghost can possess you too. The tip-off is if someone you know is acting extremely strange all of a sudden. “We see cases of possession or influence by a spirit all the time,” he says. “If you start to notice someone has taken on a pretty distinct personality change, that can be a sign of that.” These chilling real-life ghost stories will make you believe!

5. Time For A Ghost Hunt

Debbie Fortune Estate Agents has some interesting top tips for all the ghost hunters out there. Study the history of your home and the region: “Allegedly, areas with a violent past can increase the risk of a haunting. You could try setting up a video camera in your home when you’re away to capture any unusual shadows on film.”

Don’t forget to rely on your senses and intuition; unusual images in the corner of your eyes, noises like footsteps and smells like sulphur can be more sinister than you think.

The three types of hauntings

Newkirk sorts hauntings into three categories: intelligent, residual, and intentional. “There’s the classic haunting which is an intelligent haunting. The spirit seems to interact very intelligently with people. And then the other common one people run into a lot is a residual haunting.” An example of a residual haunting would be like the one Negri experienced at the condo that burned down and seemingly still felt like it was filled with smoke. “With that, it just kind of plays over and over and over. It doesn’t ever really acknowledge that people live in the house. It just is. It just happens. Sometimes it’s because a traumatizing event happened on a particular date. There’s no intelligence there, so there’s really nothing you can do about it.” Lastly, an intentional haunting is actually more about living, breathing humans than ghosts. “It really comes from people who have put so much energy and intention into the belief that their house or object is haunted that they’ve ended up actually manifesting a haunting.” Think of kids who follow urban legends and routinely go visit the place of the supposed haunting. They feed the story so much that they actually open the place up to paranormal activity.

3. Lights flickering on and off

One of the most common signs of a paranormal presence that we often see in horror films is lights flickering on and off. Because some believe spirits can manipulate electricity and energy, a flickering light could be a sign that a ghost is trying to communicate with you. However, it may be more likely that you have some defective bulbs that need replacing. Before you invest in a night vision camera hoping to see ghosts wandering your halls, make sure you replace your light bulbs and ensure they’re screwed in tightly.

You Find Ectoplasm in Your House

Not unlike the slime in Ghostbusters, ectoplasm is a repulsive slimy substance thought to be left by ghosts, particularly when they are being contacted by a medium, according to Prairie Ghosts. But, you have every right to be skeptical if you find some as many paranormal experts aren’t even convinced it’s real. And, of course, that slime could’ve been made by your kids!

Looking for something really scary? Check out these horrific home inspector photos.

5. Things Keep Turning On Off On Their Own

Two of the most common instances that make people believe their home is haunted is watching their lights and TV turn on and off, without them—or Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant—triggering it. If your wiring isn’t to blame, Berry suggests doing one more test before questioning whether the undead disapproves of your lighting (or binge-watching) situation: “Make sure your neighbor doesn’t have the same remote,” he says, particularly if you live in an apartment or condo where your TVs might be sharing a wall. (Ditto if your garage door keeps opening and closing; your neighbor might have recently installed the same electronic opener.)

You Have Random Cold Spots in Your House

Before you panic, if your house is older, you may simply have some drafts. But, if you have a spot that won’t heat up, no matter how hard you try to heat it, you might have a visitor! Here’s the how-to for stopping drafts around entry doors.

3. Things Keep Disappearing Reappearing Elsewhere

If items you normally keep close eyes on—say, your wallet or keys—suddenly go missing all the time, you could be stressed and absentmindedly misplacing them. But if you put something down, step away, and immediately come back to find it gone (or moved), you may be dealing with a ghost, according to Berry.

6. Seeing unexplained shadows and apparitions

Nothing is creepier than thinking you’re alone when out of the corner of your eye, you see a shadow move. It can be nerve-wracking to check to see if what you thought you saw is really there. However, are you sure it was a ghost, or was it just your dust-covered colleague after performing 5 hours worth of maintenance on a boiler in the basement crawling into the break room for a much-needed glass of water? It might be worth considering before you hastily create a work order demanding that someone else take care of the spirit who’s haunting the mech room.

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