The Haunting of Hill House: Experts weigh in on how to sell a real-life haunted house
Presented by: Jennifer Vineyard
An upscale Los Angeles hotel recently closed down for extensive renovations, but when the workers tried to fix up the place, something disturbed them enough to make them drop their tools and run. Security officers saw a ghostly little girl appear and then disappear on camera — which was enough for the hotel's general manager to call in a professional psychic.
"Everybody was freaking out," psychic Mark Christopher Nelson told SYFY WIRE. "No one knew what to do." Fortunately, Nelson did. When the little ghost manifested again, Nelson simply struck up an acquaintance (while spooked construction workers looked on, he says). Talking to the girl, he learned she had died on the property at some point in the past.
"I was able to say to her, 'Do you want to go to your mom and dad? Can you hear them calling your name? Can you start moving towards the light?'" he says.
And then, like that, the little girl was gone.
"She hadn't been aware that she had passed, and she wasn't aware of her circumstances, so I was just able to help." The people who witnessed this, he says, "got very choked up."
Usually, when he's called to a property, Nelson finds himself dealing with confused spirits. Sometimes they're just hanging around, sometimes they're mischevious, and sometimes — although not often — they're malevolent. Either way, by the time the owners feel compelled to call Nelson in, they're usually desperate. "They're trying to live there and feel forced out," he says. "They don't know how to live with this, but they can't just pack up and leave."
The Crain family in The Haunting of Hill House doesn't pack up, though they do end up leaving. But what if rather than running, they'd decided to quietly flip the house, as was their original plan?
Well, real-estate agent Cindi Hagley would have been happy to help take it off their hands.
Hagley has a team of consultants she can bring in to "cleanse" a property, from feng shui experts to psychic mediums (including Nelson) to various clergy members.
"If I'm the listing agent, everything goes out," Hagley told SYFY WIRE. "The house will be totally repainted. It'll be cleaned to the hilt. It'll be staged. And if I know that something is haunted or stigmatized, I'll meet with the owner. We'll do a walkthrough, I'll call my psychic, we'll get an idea of what the presence is. If it's a 'good' ghost — not mean-spirited — we can clear it. If it's a dark energy, though, we have people who specialize in that because neither of us touch it."
Hagley says she's wary of prospective buyers who say they want to buy a haunted house ("They're nuts"), but she's never had a prospective buyer back out of a deal because of a prior haunting. If they're concerned, she lets the client test drive the home for a long weekend.
Perhaps understandably, there are mixed feelings about the supernatural among prospective home-buyers. In a recent survey by Realtor.com, 33 percent of respondents said they were open to living in a haunted house, though some paranormal activities were thought to be more acceptable than others. (Strange noises, unexplained shadows, hot and cold spots are no problem; levitating objects and touchy-feely spirits are deal-breakers.)
While Hagley believes it's important to disclose a haunting to prospective buyers, she's not convinced it needs to be done right away. Better to wait until it's time for them to make an offer, she says, plus laws about disclosure vary state by state. Murders and suicides definitely require buyer-beware warnings, but hauntings are a gray area. "If it could potentially affect the material value of the house, it needs to be disclosed," Hagley says. Otherwise, you could end up with an Amityville Horror or Haunting of Hill House situation, which Randall Bell, a specialist in stigmatized properties, describes as "an incredible house with a storied history of misfortunes and haunting, and the buyers are somehow blissfully unaware of it — until it's nearly too late."
This is why New York has a so-called Ghostbusters rule. Under this regulation, homeowners who have let it be known publicly that the property is haunted must disclose that fact before selling, since it's not the sort of information that would be uncovered in a routine home inspection. Even if the haunting is in dispute, it must still be disclosed. In the Amityville case, the Lutzes, who claimed (not entirely persuasively) that they had experienced supernatural phenomena, moved out after a month. Another family, the Cromartys, moved in, and although they experienced no supernatural hijinks, they were plagued by crowds of curiosity seekers — uninvited gawkers who rang their doorbell, wandered through their yard, and generally obliterated their privacy. The Cromartys sued and won a settlement because the law is more concerned with the property's reputation than any spectral houseguests.
Very few haunted houses end up being abandoned, according to both Hagley and Nelson. The psychic said he could only think of a few such properties to which he had been called — houses that wouldn't sell, and whose owners didn't know what to do. "It's like trying to sell a house with a room on fire," he says.
One of these places was Wolfe Manor, a spooky old mansion in Clovis, California. Local kids kept breaking into the place, so the owner boarded the windows and set up motion detectors. Nelson and his team were called in and caught a couple of "dark opaque shapes" on camera. But the psychic says he was most creeped out when he and his team were sitting outside in their cars. It was a windless night, and they had their car doors open, he recalls. "All of a sudden, our cars were illuminated in white light, as if something has set off the motion detector. Then all the car doors slammed shut, and it was like, 'Okay, they want us to go.'"
But even the so-called Murder House (which inspired American Horror Story's first season) eventually sold. The case, in which a man bludgeoned his wife to death and attacked his daughter with a ball-peen hammer before killing himself, resulted in the property suffering from reports of supernatural sightings, squatters, and general decline. But in 2016, a couple bought the place, with plans to renovate.
If a property with an alleged haunting hasn't been selling, Nelson says, it's possible the spirit wants the house to be empty.
Nelson says part of his job is reassuring the family about what is in the house — telling them, "You don't need to be afraid, this isn't anything dark" — and arming them with information so they can live there with the spirit if need be. "I had one case where the kids of the family saw a man walk through the walls, and they were freaked out," Nelson says. "They all wanted to sleep with the parents. But it turned out that this spirit had been a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, and he was harmless. And I told the man, 'You're scaring the kids. Don't do that.' And when I told the kids that, they were no longer afraid. They were all like, 'Okay, we know who he is. And he doesn't harm us.' And they could live with that."
A lot of spirits don't want to be recognized, Nelson says, because it's more fun to keep people guessing and afraid. So Nelson identifies them and addresses them: "I see you, Dave. You don't live here anymore, Dave." It's also important to invoke a higher power — to pray for protection, and to invoke the higher power when asking a spirit to leave. Without that, "you're naked on the battlefield," he says. "Even if you don't believe in gravity, it will catch up with you."
Nelson does this and uses spiritual objects such as holy water, burning sage, dropping rice liquor into boiling oil (a Daoist ritual), and rattling a shakujo (a stick threaded with metal rings used by Buddhist shamans) to get his point across to spirits. And not that you're going to try this at home, but Nelson also strongly warns against using Ouija boards. "If you have them, burn them," he says. "They really are like leaving the door open in a bad neighborhood."