This autumn’s movie chiller, The Little Stranger, features a rambling old house, owners with a secret past, unexplained accidents, bloodshed and ghostly goings on.
Staple ingredients of horror, but what if a home has its own history of violence or was the scene of unexplained events? It’s not as far-fetched as you might think.
Take The Cage, a two-bedroom cottage in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, that’s on sale now and claims to be Britain’s most haunted home.
Spooky surrounds: Don’t be afraid of buying a haunted house – it could work in your favour
The seller of this former medieval witches’ prison, who is revealing the price only to would-be buyers, has even issued a statement about it. The ghost is said to be Ursula Kemp, a former prison inmate who was hanged nearby in 1582.
‘Ursula may haunt The Cage still . . . this property can be set up to be a paranormal business if the new owner desires,’ reads the statement, which appears on Sarah Beeny’s Tepilo online estate agency.
While sceptics may say there’s no scientific proof that Ursula or any ghost exists, there’s no doubt homes that were once the scene of gory accidents or murders are tough to sell even decades later.
‘I once viewed a property and it was obvious the vendor and estate agent were not being open. Then I met a local who told me about the shocking accidental death of the seller’s husband. It involved a garden mower,’ says James Greenwood, of Stacks Property Search, a buying agency.
His client was unsettled, but willing to go ahead and Greenwood was able to negotiate a deal.
‘Competition from other purchasers was lower than expected,’ he admits.
More than a decade ago — before sellers were obliged to reveal more information about a property — buying agent Simon Barnes bought a flat in London’s St John’s Wood for his family.
Haunted house: The Cage, a two-bedroom cottage in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, that’s on sale now and claims to be Britain’s most haunted home
He made a cheeky £350,000 offer despite the £600,000 asking price and, to his amazement, it was accepted. Soon after, he discovered from a builder that an elderly woman had been murdered there.
In today’s age of social media and 24-hour news, there is less chance of a property’s supernatural or murderous past going unnoticed.
Even so, a survey in 2016 for property firm Sell House Fast, found that 44 per cent of buyers would think twice about a purchase if they knew there had been a recent death in the home. Some 36 per cent would call off the deal altogether.
The Sellers Property Information Form, given to existing owners by lawyers when a home goes on the market, obliges the owners to declare problems such as neighbour disputes.
Bizarrely, it doesn’t ask for the reason behind a sale, such as a death, suicide or apparent supernatural occurrences.
Tough sell: While sceptics may say there’s no scientific proof that Ursula or any ghost exists, there’s no doubt homes that were once the scene of gory accidents or murders are tough to sell even decades later
However, under the 2008 Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, failing to tell a buyer about a major issue is termed a ‘misleading omission’ and could land the agent with a complaint to a property ombudsman or legal action.
‘A death in the house — even a natural one — might be a deterrent to some buyers and the law makes it clear an estate agent must reveal it,’ says Integra Property Services’ Michael Day.
But buyers are not entitled to know if a home appears to be haunted, because there is no proof that ghosts exist.
In 2013, a buyer complained to an ombudsman scheme saying that his non-refundable deposit on a property should be returned to him because he felt a supernatural ‘presence’ in the building.
The ombudsman scheme batted away the claim saying: ‘It would not be possible to investigate if there was a supernatural presence at the time of the viewing.’
So if you’re moving home this autumn, do your research carefully — and that includes finding out about the property’s past.