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Written by Posted On Friday, 16 December 2005 00:00

Question: I've been a broker for more that 20 years and this is the first time I have come across this question. In a small group discussion about disclosure a recent buyer wanted to know why the sellers didn't have to disclose that the house had ghosts? I was more than a little surprised. One member of the group told me her next door neighbor's house had been haunted for years. The original owners moved out because of the ghosts and the subsequent three renters moved out for the same reason.

The owners then moved back into the house and after three weeks they put it up for sale and said they were not going to disclose any information about the ghosts.

Another group member told me about what the ghosts were doing at her house and that she was quite surprised when a neighbor asked her one day if her house was haunted. He told her that it wasn't only her house that was haunted, but also his home and two others.

If a seller told me his house was haunted, would I be obligated to disclose this information?

Answer: Welcome to the world of "stigmatized" housing, homes which are physically fine but have a certain "something" that makes them different.

The subject of stigmatized homes is complex because a number of states have disclosure rules relating to such properties. Some say, as an example, that you must disclose if the home was the site of a suicide or murder. Some say disclosure is required but only for so many years. The definition of "stigmatized" varies from state to state and in the those jurisdictions without a stigmatized housing rule it is difficult to know what the standards are, if any.

A home with ghosts may well be very disturbing to some buyers -- a real deal-breaker. Other purchasers, however, may have a very different view; they may enjoy interactions with phantasms and specters.

To such buyers, an infestation of ghosts is a plus.

As a broker you have an obligation to see what the rules for stigmatized properties are in your jurisdiction.

If disclosure is necessary, say in writing and as part of the sale agreement that it has been reported that the property is haunted (occupied?) by one or more ghosts. You need to assure that neither the seller nor you guarantees the presence or absence of ghosts -- each would be a difficult reality to prove. Please see what the American Bar Association says about stigmatized properties and see a local attorney for specific advice and language.

Question: I'm selling my house and it has been for sale for six months and with only one offer. My agent has found buyers who want to buy with a seller take-back -- in effect, I would be lending them some of the money for the purchase. Is this a good idea?

Answer: Financing with little or nothing down is widely available. What would prevent the buyers from getting a loan from a regular lender? Credit? Income?

Why has your property not sold for six months? Is there a question of price? Condition? Location? Perhaps a lower price or different sale terms would create more buyer interest.

If you have a seller take-back you'll have fewer cash dollars to acquire a replacement property. Is that okay with you?

If a seller take-back seems attractive, do not sign the sale agreement or any loan papers until the materials have been reviewed by your attorney or legal clinic. Require that all loan papers must be prepared by your lawyer and that they must be in a form "satisfactory" to you. Be sure to get a credit check for the borrowers and take all the steps to protect your loan that any lender would take. Make sure you get a healthy downpayment -- enough to assure that the buyer has an interest in paying off the loan.

Question: We're considering buying a second home and renting our current house. This is totally unexpected and unplanned as we just refinanced our current home in August as we had no intention of going anywhere.

I have three different estimates for mortgages. Two are about the same cost but one is less expensive. One lender we worked with before and found very unresponsive. One is a small firm with the best offer and the third company is a mortgage giant.

I looked up all three with the Better Business Bureau. The big firm had complaints but it also does the most business. The two smaller lenders had no complaints during the past three years. Who do you trust?

Answer: You have contacted three lenders -- but there are large numbers of lenders in every community. You would be better served by speaking with more local lenders to get a stronger sense of the loan options available to you. Also, why not ask your real estate broker for recommendations?

Question: I was told by a financial advisor that if I sold all my real estate, put the money into a mutual fund I could earn 10 percent or more a year. I'm getting a return of 48 percent plus on my properties but, the idea of $200,000 or more a year sounds very appealing and a lot more cash. I make somewhere over $100,000 a year by working. What are your thoughts?

Answer: Why is 10 percent better than 48 percent? If you sold all your real estate what would be your cost for renting?

No one knows what the rates of return for any investment medium will be in the future. But, for fun, let's say a mutual fund did pay 10 percent annually. Is that 10 percent before or after all fees? Before taxes or after? Can you depreciate stock holdings? Shelter as much as $500,000 from capital gains taxes every two years?

All investments inherently include a healthy dose of risk. For the past five years real estate as an investment class has greatly outperformed the stock market, but this does not mean the same results will be repeated in the next five years.

Also, we do not buy "real estate" or "stocks" -- instead we buy a particular property or a given security or mutual fund. What happens in the market generally may be different than the results with a specific investment.

Why is it that you would place all your assets in one investment format? Would not a diversity of investments give you the potential for greater security should the economy change?

If you went to a doctor who recommended a major operation you would no doubt seek a second opinion. Why not get a second financial advisor to review your investment options?

Question: I'm looking for whom I might talk to about a timeshare I bought in Florida. I feel very misled. Do you know who in Florida that I might be able to talk to that could help me out?

Answer: As a start, contact the Florida Division of Real Estate , 400 W. Robinson Street, (Suite N801), Orlando, Florida 32801-1757. Telephone 407/481-5662.

Question: The broker we're dealing with has a team concept where no one agent is particularly responsible for trying to sell your house. We would like a more traditional approach going in the opposite direction. The one thing the company did say was that they have spent thousands of dollars getting our house advertised. It's been 2 1/2 months now! How difficult is it to switch from one real estate company selling your house to another?

Answer: Some consumers prefer the team concept because it allows more than one broker to cover the property if someone is out with a cold or on vacation.

How long does it typically take to sell homes like your property? Is your property more expensive or more unique than others in the area? What about location and condition?

Why not meet with the broker and review the marketing plan -- and the marketplace. The market has changed in many areas during the past few months and the pricing and ideas which may have made sense in August may need to be re-thought.

Have a real estate question? Send your inquiry to Ask Realty Times . Because of the volume of mail received, Mr. Miller cannot respond to questions individually or privately. Published letters may be edited for space and style. For comments regarding other Realty Times articles, please contact individual authors by pressing here . For past columns, please press Ask Realty Times .

This column is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is made available with the understanding that neither the author nor the publisher is engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional services. If legal services or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought.

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