Buying a real haunted house (© Carson Ganci/agefotostock)

© Carson Ganci/agefotostock

Oh, no, not the attic. Anywhere but the attic. But the visitors insisted on going in.

The house's owner reluctantly opened the attic door and stepped aside as her two visitors trod into the gloomy room.

"All I know is we walked into the attic with her, and it's cavernous, and we were just looking hard, and, I don't know, this feeling came over me — this warm feeling," Craig Schaible says. "I looked at my wife and she felt it, too."

Craig and Yvonne Schaible were thinking of buying this 111-year-old Victorian house on a tree-shaded street in Fanwood, N.J. The owner had grown up in the house and was trying to sell it now that her parents had died. But an uncanny presence threatened to scare away buyers and drive down the house's value. The owner had not yet told the Schaibles about the mysterious sounds and frightful sights that unnerved her — and terrified her husband.

"We were walking out of the attic," Schaible says, "and my wife said, 'Any ghosts?' And the lady said, 'Well, yeah.' We were like, 'Cool, tell us about it.'"

The owner didn't go into much detail. She said people had seen and heard things over the years. "We said we kind of think of it as a positive thing," Schaible says. The Schaibles decided then and there to buy the eight-bedroom house, a fixer-upper built in 1890. They paid the asking price.

Ghosts can add value
If you think ghost stories make a house less valuable, you might be right — most of the time. But not all the time. The Schaibles weren't your typical house buyers. They were living in a two-bedroom town house and were looking for a big, old Victorian house to restore. As soon as they stepped through the pair of 8-foot-high front doors, they knew this house was the one. Furthermore, the Schaibles are famous among their friends for elaborate Halloween bashes they hold every other year, complete with caskets in the rooms and a hand sticking out of the punch bowl.

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The ghost stories about the house "made it completely more valuable," Schaible says. "Would I pay more money for a haunted house? No. The decision to buy the house was based on the house itself." But, he adds, the spectral tales "juiced it up. The fact that the Halloween people bought a haunted house was so funny — too perfect."

Six weeks elapsed from the time the Schaibles made an offer until possession. During that time in spring 2001, the seller's husband stayed behind to ease the transfer of ownership. The Schaibles loosened his tongue with a few beers one night, and the man told them about apparitions he had seen and described a time when he heard his wife calling from the basement. He went downstairs, but no one was there. Then he heard a disembodied voice chuckling in his ear. "According to him and his wife, this thing was picking on him," Schaible says.

"I'm skeptical," Schaible says. "I'm not saying I necessarily believed it. Everyone has their perception of things."

Then the Schaibles moved in.

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The second night, it became clear that "there was something in the house that wanted to make itself known to me," Schaible says.

They were moving in, and stuff was all over the place, including a Civil War rifle that was resting against a wall in a 12-foot-wide hallway. In the middle of the night, Schaible got up, "and this very heavy rifle launched across the hall and landed at my feet." It flew about eight feet, he estimates. He looked for loose floorboards or anything else that could have caused the mysterious occurrence, but he couldn't find an explanation.

So Schaible went downstairs into the kitchen and delivered a spirited monologue. "I said, 'Hey, I live here, I pay the mortgage, and I don't need this scaring me out of my mind in the middle of the night.' I ranted for about an hour or so and sat around for a while."

After that, the Schaibles occasionally heard voices and glimpsed figures, but there were no scares in the middle of the night. Incidents have become less frequent as restoration work has progressed.

Cindy Neivert, the real-estate agent with Burgdorff ERA who brought the house to the Schaibles' attention, says the presence of "ghosties" can add to or detract from a home's value. It depends on the buyer and what the house will be used for. Someone who wants to convert a big house into a bed-and-breakfast inn might see marketing value in ghost stories, as long as they're not too scary. Adventurous buyers such as the Schaibles might not be spooked. But ghost stories might scare away the squeamish.

Neivert is kind of glad that the owner told the Schaibles about the haunting because she wasn't sure if she would have been required to disclose it. "I know you have to disclose if someone was murdered in a house," she says. "As far as a poltergeist or a ghosty, I don't really know."

Bad karma can depress price
There was no history of violence in the house that the Schaibles bought, and that's good because murder or suicide definitely can depress a home's value. Neivert and her husband once considered buying a house where someone had committed suicide. "We were on the edge of yes and no, and it pushed us over the side of saying no," she says.

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Infamous deaths can make houses especially hard to sell. Think of Nicole Brown Simpson's town house or the house where 39 members of Heaven's Gate killed themselves to join a spaceship presumably hiding behind Comet Hale-Bopp or the house where Charles Manson's followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four other people.

Randall Bell, a property appraiser for Bell Anderson & Sanders of Laguna Beach, Calif., specializes in "stigmatized" properties. Often a property is stigmatized because of an environmental or structural problem: earthquake damage, contaminated soil or a faulty foundation. But some properties are stigmatized because something horrible happened there.

Bell says it took 2 1/2 years for Nicole Brown's house to sell in a neighborhood where it otherwise would have been sold within three months. It eventually sold at a deep discount. The buyer simply was looking for a good deal. Following Bell's advice, the buyer renovated the façade. Afterward, Bell visited the house "and he had changed it so much that at first I didn't recognize the property."

The house where members of Heaven's Gate committed mass suicide "was heavily stigmatized," Bell says. "The owner tried very hard to sell it. Eventually he gave it back to the bank, and the bank sold it at a very deep discount. The property has since been bulldozed and may be redeveloped in the future." If that happens, it will have a different address. Neighbors changed the name of the street.

The Manson Family's first murder spree, one of the most infamous crimes of the 20th century, happened in August 1969 at the home of Sharon Tate and movie director Roman Polanski. The bungalow in Benedict Canyon was on a prized site in Beverly Hills, with a stunning view of Los Angeles. "It sold in the early '90s for full value," Bell says. "The new owner bought it and tore it down and built a 10,000-square-foot Mediterranean mansion. That showed that no matter how heinous the crime, eventually things can return back to normal. It can take many years."

What about ghosts? "If it ties to a real event, where there was a murder in the house, that's a whole world apart from a ghost that has been there since the 1800s," Bell says. "If it's a fun story, it probably has little effect on the house or might bring a small premium."

The Schaibles' house in New Jersey has a fun story. People ask Schaible if he's scared. "No," he says. "You have to live there to understand. It's not like a rattling of chains go bump in the night." Apparitions happen fleetingly, "so fast that it's over before you know it."

His dream is to grow old in the house — just as all the previous owners' parents did.