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“Probably Haunted”: Marketing Ploy or Avoidance of Misrepresentation?

By: Amy L. McIntyre

I live in a relatively quiet small town just outside of the City of Worcester. The typical kind of town where nothing unusual happens to strike the interest of national news outlets. All of that changed last month after the townspeople were all buzzing over a particular new residential sales listing that hit the market. The most common question heard was “why would they do that?”

The president of the listing agency, Erika Kristal Eucker, told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that “Anytime someone looks at a house built in the 1800s, I think their first initial thought is, ‘I wonder if it’s haunted.’ I mean, I’m not a paranormal investigator. I don’t pretend to be. I leave that to the experts.”[1] “Joking[ly]” a “Probably Haunted” sign was attached to the listing sign outside of the property, listed as a residential property, that was built in 1850 and last served as a funeral home since 1946.[2] Although unsure if the property is actually haunted, Eucker is pleased with the result of the marketing tactic as she has stated “It definitely deserves all the attention that it’s getting and I can’t wait to see what happens with it next.”[3]

Even if the “Probably Haunted” sign was initially intended as just a marketing ploy, it may amount to more: avoidance of misrepresentation of a material fact. In addition to the “Probably Haunted” sign, the “Turgeon Funeral Home” sign still stands outside of the “gutted” and “move-in ready” property listed as a three bedroom, five bathroom, colonial style residence.[4] In Massachusetts, there are no disclosure requirements regarding “haunted houses, paranormal activity, and unexplained occurrences” nor do deaths that occurred on the property.[5] Being a “caveat emptor” state, sellers do not need to volunteer such issues that would impact the marketability and value of the property leaving a buyer who is concerned about such conditions must ask, as part of their due diligence to otherwise receive such disclosure by the seller.[6]

Not everyone believes in ghosts or that properties can be haunted, so how is a buyer supposed to do their due diligence pertaining to supernatural activity? MassRealty has suggested that a buyer, specifically ask about the common, but not determinative, signs of a haunted house in addition to completing their own research on the property’s history and looking for logical explanations of any signs that the seller may report to have been experienced.[7] The common signs described by MassRealty include: unexplained noises, sudden drops in temperature known as “cold spots”, independent movement of objects or door closings, erratic electrical disturbances, shadow figures or ghostly manifestations, unexplained odors, and “[s]ensations of being observed, touched, or a feeling of someone standing nearby when no one is present.”[8]

The disclosure statutes of forty-six states have no mention of or references to paranormal activity while four make clear their requirements.[9] The statutes in Massachusetts, along with Minnesota, expressly state that there are no disclosure requirements; New Jersey “must disclose known info about potential hauntings or paranormal activity only if asked,” and New York prohibits a seller who has created or perpetuated a home’s reputation of such activity to benefit from an “unfair advantage of a buyer's ignorance” of the same.[10]

Massachusetts disclosure requirements regarding “psychologically impacted” property are rooted in Chapter 93, Section 114 of the Massachusetts General Laws.[11] The statutory definition of such includes, among others, a property that is by fact or suspicion to be the site of allegedparapsychological or supernatural phenomenon.[12] Further, the statute determines that such a stigmatization is not a material fact that warrants disclosure.[13] In fact, “[n]o cause of action shall arise or be maintained against a seller or lessor of real property or a real estate broker or salesman, by statute or at common law, for failure to disclose to a buyer or tenant that the real property is or was psychologically impacted.”[14] Spooky!

So how important is a buyer’s due diligence? Fortunately, while Massachusetts law does not require a seller to voluntarily disclose the fact or even suspicion that the property being sold is stigmatized, the statute does affirmatively prohibit “misrepresentation of fact or false statement.”[15] Under the doctrine of caveat emptor, when a material fact was concealed or misrepresented or there is sufficient evidence presented to rise to the imposition of undue influence, to have caused the buyer to change their position in reliance thereof, a court will deem a transaction void and award damages to bring the parties back to as close to their original status before the transaction occurred.[16] Further, a rebuttable presumption exists as to the buyer’s reliance on misrepresentations regarding the material facts and proven to have been made prior the formation of the contract.[17] However, fraudulent concealments cannot be established by a seller’s silence on a material fact when there is no fiduciary duty between the parties.[18] Due diligence, therefore, is imperative regarding psychologically impacted properties as “statements which concern the value of the land or its condition or adaptation to particular uses which are only matters of opinion and estimates are not actionable.”[19]

While stating that a property is “probably haunted” is not a legally required disclosure in Massachusetts, it arguably removes misrepresentation from a possible cause of action against the seller. Miriam Webster defines “probably” as “insofar as seems reasonably true, factual, or to be expected: without much doubt.”[20] A “probably” alleged haunted house or that of known paranormal activity still puts a buyer on notice to make an informed decision in purchasing a home and still provides them with the ability to specifically ask the seller if they know of or have themselves experienced any of the common signs there associated to determine if they are willing to accept the risk in purchasing the property.


Amy L. McIntyre is a paralegal with Rubin and Rudman LLP in Boston. She is a member of the firm’s trust and estate department and elder law practice group. She concentrates on asset restructuring and Medicaid eligibility. She is a current law student at Western New England University Law School, where she is a JD candidate for May of 2024. Ms. McIntyre served as a junior staff member on the Western New England Law Review for Volume 45 and is serving as the online content editor for Volume 46. She is a student member of the Massachusetts chapter of National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Ms. McIntyre earned a bachelor’s degree in legal studies from Becker College and a master’s degree from Worcester State University in managerial leadership.

[1] Tatum Goetting, It might be haunted, but this former Millbury funeral home could be yours, Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Sept. 21, 2023 at 10:21 am, updated Sept. 21, 2023 at 3:59 pm), https://www.telegram.com/story/business/real-estate/2023/09/21/funeral-home-in-millbury-mass-for-sale-sign-says-it-may-be-haunted/70912116007/. [2] Id. [3] Id. [4] Media Realty, LLC, https://www.movewithmedia.com/search/details/1t8/2/ (last visited Oct. 1, 2023). [5] Massrealty, Does a Haunted House Have to Be Disclosed in Massachusetts?, NewsBreak (June 29, 2023), https://original.newsbreak.com/@massrealty-1600066/3074605640141-does-a-haunted-house-have-to-be-disclosed-in-massachusetts. [6] Id. [7] Id. [8] Id. [9] Lauren Phillips, A Few States Will Protect You from Buying a Haunted House—Does Yours?, Real Simple (updated Mar. 9, 2023), https://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/home-improvement/maintenance-repairs/how-to-avoid-buying-haunted-house. [10] Id. [11] Bill Gassett, DISCLOSING MURDER SUICIDE OR HAUNTED HOMES IN REAL ESTATE, MASSACHUSETTS REAL ESTATE NEWS (Dec. 14, 2022), https://massrealestatenews.com/disclosing-murder-suicide-or-haunted-homes-in-real-estate/. [12] Id. [13] Id. [14] Id. [15] Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93, § 114. [16] Francis T. Talty, Patricia Sullivan, and Alan L. Braunstein, Doctrine of caveat emptor, 5 Mass. Prac., Methods Of Practice § 11:7 (4th ed., Mar. 2023 Update). [17] Id. [18] Id. [19] Id. [20] Probably, Miriam Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/probably (last visited Oct. 11, 2023).


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