Maybe you’ve seen one too many haunted house movies. Or maybe your spouse doesn’t believe in ghosts or evil spirits but wants your new house blessed “just in case.”

If you’re worried about buying a haunted house, or one that has dark secrets, maybe you should be: A Pennsylvania court ruled that homeowners and real estate agents are not required to disclose to potential buyers if killings took place there years earlier.

According to a news report on, “If the property was the site of bloody crime, the seller does not have to divulge that scrap of information. In a decision handed up in Pennsylvania last week, a panel of Superior Court judges reaffirmed that the sordid reputation of a home — no matter how gruesome — does not count as ’material defect’ and does not have to be disclosed to the buyer. ‘The fact that a murder once occurred in a house falls into that category of homebuyer concerns best left to caveat emptor’ — let the buyer beware, the court wrote.”

The decision stemmed from a Delaware woman who bought a home only to later discover that a murder-suicide had occurred there a year earlier. She claimed that she never would have bought the home had she known of the deaths. The couple that sold her the home (and their real estate agents) were not legally required to disclose the house’s bloody history. The woman sued, saying that she suffered financial loss from her “stigmatized” house, and that the tarnished reputation amounted to a material defect, comparable to a leaky roof or broken furnace. The judges ruled otherwise.

Is it fair for the home seller to keep from the buyer something bad that happened? A bloody massacre might be one thing, but what about an elderly person dying in his or her sleep, or someone killed in a car accident in the street?

Old and/or spooky homes are often claimed to have resident spirits — ghosts of those who lived and died there over the years. However simple math suggests that unless you are the first or second owner of a home, it’s likely that someone probably died either in your home or nearby at some point.

If someone believes houses are haunted by violent or untimely deaths, or people dying with “unfinished business” (whatever that means), then there should be literally billions of ghosts all around us. In fact recent research demonstrates that the dead outnumber the living; according to Carl Haub, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, only about 6.5 percent of the number of people who have ever lived are alive today.

Beliefs about ghosts and the dead have been influenced by pop culture, such as the 1982 horror film Poltergeist, in which a family is haunted and attacked by spirits of the dead buried under their new home. Perhaps the most famous haunted house was at 112 Ocean Ave., in Amityville, N.Y., where soon after moving into a new home a family claimed they encountered supernatural evil. The homeowners said doors were ripped from hinges and cabinets slammed closed, and they reported slime oozing from the ceilings, and demonic faces threatening the family.

Though it was not infested with evil spirits or demons — the case was later admitted to be a hoax after multiple investigators found holes in the family’s story — it really was the site of a massacre in 1974 when six members of a family were killed in that house by their eldest son, Butch DeFeo.

Superstitious folks might refuse to live in such a home for fear of evil spirits or bad juju, while skeptics might not have a problem with it (though smart skeptics might pretend to have second thoughts, bargaining for a cheaper price).

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