Cindi Hagley looked at the spot where the woman had been bludgeoned to death and paused. It had happened on the front lawn of an expansive property in the Midwest, with distinctive landscaping work acting as a backdrop for the media that had descended on the scene. The arrangement of flowers and other foliage would be familiar to anyone in the area who had looked at a local newspaper.
“What you need to do,” she told the seller’s agent, “is change the lawn. Rip it up. Plant something else. Make it look softer.”
Like an FBI profiler called in to consult with local authorities on a murder, Hagley had been summoned by the property’s representatives for advice on how best to market what’s known in the business as a “stigmatized home”—a slice of real estate that’s been the site of a violent crime or one purported to harbor spirits. As one of just a few realtors who specializes in houses with tumultuous histories, Hagley knows how to rid a listing of negative connotations.
It’s a skill that goes beyond simple remodeling. In many cases, Hagley is approached to market houses that owners are convinced are a hub of disturbing paranormal activity. That might require psychic consultations, signed disclosure forms, or the presence of a rabbi.
In 12 years, she has never failed to close on a haunted property. “Marketed properly,” she tells mental_floss,” I don’t believe a stigmatized home should sell for a penny less than market value.”
Hagley grew up in Southern Ohio experiencing what she calls a “sensitive” awareness to peculiar activity. When she was in high school, her family unknowingly moved into a home that was once a funeral parlor. “Faucets would turn on by themselves,” she says. “There were apparitions, noises in the basement. I believe it was haunted.”
After a stint in network television ad sales, Hagley made a move into real estate. While preparing for her first open house, she sensed movement out of the corner of her eye. When she asked the seller if she had ever noticed anything unusual, the seller said that her boyfriend had seen some sort of apparition.
Hagley believed her. She also wondered how a ghost could potentially affect the value of a home. “I asked my broker if I had to disclose that,” she says. “And I did. It can affect the material value of a home.”
California requires sellers to be forthcoming if a property is “stigmatized”—that is, if it has been the site of a death within the past three years, if it was home to drug manufacturing, or even if a spirit is believed to inhabit the premises, which are all considered psychological impactions that can affect a buyer’s perception of the home. It’s one of roughly 25 states that have such a mandate on the books, urged by a desire for real estate sales to be transparent (and made more relevant by the fact that one in five Americans have seen a ghost). A California appellate court once ruled in 1983 that such a belief can lawfully have a material effect on price. (A woman bought a house and was not informed five people were murdered in it. She was unhappy, sued, and won.)
Hagley studied the requirements carefully and became intrigued by the potential for a sub-specialty in her business. “Not long after that house, I had two homes where people had died a natural death,” she says. “No one else was an expert in this, so I just decided to run with it.”
Word of Hagley’s willingness to tackle properties with lurid histories spread: Sellers started reaching out and requesting her services. If they claim their house is haunted, Hagley will arrange for a walk-through to see if she can observe any unusual activity herself. She’ll also interview the homeowner to get details of what he or she may have experienced. Historical research on the address might lead to a possible cause of the disturbance—if someone was murdered there, or if previous owners had expressed concern over ectoplasmic squatters.
What Hagley does next depends on whether she considers the spirits to be generally benevolent or not. “Some buyers will be okay if the spirits are believed to be gentle,” she says. “Sometimes they need to be removed.”
If it’s the latter, Hagley has a psychic she works with regularly. Other times, prospective buyers will request that a representative of their church perform a kind of spiritual audit on the home—a “bless and assess.”
“I’ve had priests and rabbis walk through,” she says. “I’ve held séances. I’ll do whatever the prospective buyer feels they need to do.”
If someone is still unsure, Hagley offers to call a caterer and let them stay in the house over two or three nights. Safe in the knowledge that the dark doesn’t lead to any kind of real disturbance, they’re more likely to stand behind their offer.
The Hagley Group
Hagley doesn’t openly advertise homes as haunted or stigmatized. That kind of publicity just results in crime scene tourists or would-be ghost hunters wasting her time, she says. Instead, buyers interested in a home are told about its colorful history in person, with written disclosure forms sent as a follow-up.
Hagley is not required by law to get into details. “I might say, ‘There was a death on the premises in 2014,’ or ‘The seller believes there is paranormal activity here,’” she says. “I’m not going to say, ‘Someone was swinging from the chandelier with a gunshot wound to the heart.’”
If an interested party presses for details, Hagley will explain further: “At least 75 percent of people just don’t care. If they do care, I have three or four final offers in already. Someone is going to buy it if they don’t.”
Although Hagley hangs a shingle, Past Life Homes, to remind people of her unique skill set, she says less than 3 percent of her business comes from stigmatized deals; most of her homes are high-end luxury properties. Past Life is simply a way to satisfy both her curiosity about spectral entities and to assist sellers who may feel their home is unmarketable.
Despite her spotless record, she won’t take on everything that crosses her desk. “Recently, I got a call to consult on a haunted house in West Virginia,” she says. “I found out the owners had been offering Halloween tours, opening it as a haunted attraction. To me, that’s taking advantage of spirits. And while I don’t like to say I’m superstitious, I don’t want to piss them off.”