Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Is this house haunted? The question you shouldn’t be scared to ask

You might feel silly asking an estate agent about ghouls and poltergeists, but failing to could cost you big time - as one unlucky couple found out.

It sounds far-fetched, but checking for ghosts in a new home should be as routine as questioning ‘Which way does the garden face?’, according to the property watchdog.

The advice comes after a couple found out too late that there was a history of, well, unusual occurrences and were told they had no right to reclaim their deposit, in a landmark case seen by the Ombudsman Services.

So what happened?

The couple, whose identity has been protected by the watchdog, were looking at an old manor house they hoped would become their dream family home.

During the viewing the wife suddenly felt queasy. She asked the estate agent if the house was haunted, but the question was brushed off with: “I’ve never been asked that before.”

As the husband approached the master bedroom on the first floor, he felt an ice-cold breeze across his face. He slowly turned the handle to open the door a fraction, only to have it slam shut again. The door pushed back so hard it felt like someone had shut it from the inside, he later told the Ombudsman.
The estate agent had no such trouble, opening the door and joking to the wife: “That must be that ghost of yours.”

Despite their experience, the couple loved the house so much that they paid a large, non-refundable cash deposit to ensure it was taken off the market.

Weeks passed and the purchase was set to go ahead. Near the exchange date, the couple stumbled upon a book about the manor browsing a local second-hand shop.

With each page turned, more of the sinister history behind the home was revealed.  The manor house was more than 200-years-old and built by its first owner. He was said to be a cruel and wealthy shipping merchant who never entirely left the house he built.

Legend has it that his favourite haunt was the master bedroom on the first floor.

Who you gonna call?

When challenged about this, the estate agent said neither they nor the vendor knew about the history, and they didn’t believe in ghosts anyway. The couple withdrew from the sale, but the vendors kept the deposit.

The couple then contacted the Ombudsman Services to complain about the estate agent and ask for their deposit back.

However, when it comes to ghouls in a prospective home it’s not as “transparent as a ghost”, admitted the Ombudsman Services. 

It rejected the complaint because it felt the estate agent had fulfilled their obligations and said it wouldn’t be possible to investigate and prove if there was a supernatural presence at the time of the viewing.

Prospective buyers should always seek legal advice before putting down a non-refundable cash deposit on a house, it added.

Many kindred spirits

Tales of ghouls in the home among agents are not as uncommon as you might think.

“A couple of years ago we were selling a large mansion flat where the owner had passed away. Almost every time the property was shown, the wardrobe door in the bedroom, where he had passed away, would either swing open or would already be open when the viewers entered the room, despite us always closing and locking it when we left,” said Spencer Cushing, manager of John D Wood & Co. in South Kensington.

“If we are selling a probate property, viewers will always ask if the deceased died in the property,” he added.

Indeed one in five viewers asks whether there are ghosts in a prospective home, according to a survey of agents by Move With Us.  Respondents even reported cases of viewers trying to connect to the ‘other side’ in the hallway - just to make sure.

In theory it’s the responsibility of the seller to disclose if a property is haunted at contract stage when asked: "Is there any other information you think the buyer may have a right to know?"

Though again, it’s difficult to later prove whether the vendor knew a home had such an unwanted guest.

What should you do?

Prospective buyers can protect themselves by asking questions that can be backed up with evidence, according to the Ombudsman Services. For instance, by asking upfront if there are any “stories or rumours” about ghosts or murders in the house and following up questions in writing.

The watchdog pointed out that visiting a local library and speaking to neighbours can be invaluable resources when researching a potential purchase.

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