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Experts say home sellers don’t have to disclose murders, hauntings

When Patricia St. Vincent bought a 1910 colonial revival house in Tempe more than 30 years ago, the seller congratulated her and said, “You bought yourself a haunted house.” That didn’t bother St. Vincent when she closed the deal on the Ash Street property. She transformed the house into Casey Moore’s Oyster House. But shortly after the remodel, odd events began to happen. For three nights in a row, the alarm went off at 4 a.m., she said. Neighbors called and said they saw a woman dancing upstairs. St. Vincent would arrive to find the house empty. “I found it amusing,” she said. Although St. Vincent took the “haunting” in stride, some buyers might not react the same way. And in this case, the seller went above and beyond Arizona law by disclosing the paranormal activity to St. Vincent. Sellers in Arizona must disclose certain aspects of a property, including things like mold, termites and roof damage. A haunted house, however, is not in the mix. In fact, sellers don’t have to disclose murders, natural deaths or any sort of paranormal activity, said Amanda Salvione, an associate at Radix Law in Scottsdale. If you don’t want to end up like the families in “Poltergeist” or “The Others,” you have to do your own homework. “A buyer has to do their own investigation and diligence,” Salvione said. Salvione calls this the “buyer beware” warning. Salvione said even heinous crimes are classified as psychological effects and do not need to be mentioned when selling a house. So, the buyer must know the right questions to ask. “Do your research, maybe talk to the neighbors and find out if the house is rumored to be haunted,” said Shelley Sakala, a real estate agent at HomeSmart. But there is a catch: If the seller lies about paranormal activities when asked by the buyer, the seller can be held liable. “They can’t lie to you to get you to buy the house,” Salvione said. If the seller believes the house is haunted and actively promotes it as such, the seller has an obligation to tell the buyer. Such was the case in the 1991 Supreme Court case Stambovksy v. Ackley. Jeffrey Stambovsky bought a house in New York and later found media articles about paranormal activities in the house. The court decided that because the seller, Helen Ackley, brought the paranormal activity into the spotlight, she was obligated to tell Stambovsky.

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