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Selling a haunted house? Better disclose those ghosts

Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
The Red Brick Inn in Allegan County is for sale, ghosts included

Everyone wants a haunted house on Halloween, but the rest of the year, not so much.

How do you sell a house that’s haunted anyway? Are you legally liable for any lurking ghouls?

Kalvin Schanz meets me in the parking lot of an old building, and takes a few long strides up the steps of one of Allegan County’s most historic buildings.

“Welcome to the Red Brick Inn,” he says.

Inside it’s dark, a little dusty from sitting empty the past few years.

The place was built in the 1800s as home, one of the first in the county. Then it was turned into a restaurant. Schanz leads me past a long wooden bar.

There’s an October chill in the room.

“I’m gonna just turn this fireplace on,” Schanz says.  

A low gas flame hisses to life, setting a spooky mood.

Which is appropriate. Because this place has as reputation.

“I’m not claiming that the place is haunted,” Schanz says. “But when I bought it, I drove in the driveway and that evening some people stopped by and said, ‘You’re aware this place is haunted,’ and I said, ‘No’ And they said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ I was like, ‘Well, Good!’ What are you supposed to tell them? There was no return policy on it. So whatever ghosts are in here they’re included, and they’re friendly. A lot of good spirits and happy times have been had in this place over the years.”

Schanz bought Red Brick Inn in 2015. Its previous owner, a restaurant chain known as Sam’s Joint, was haunted by low revenues. The company filed for bankruptcy. Schanz bought it in an auction, as is.

“We bought it because we had a little fear that maybe somebody would tear the place down,” Schanz says. “And it’s way too nice a place for that.”

And Schanz says he’s never seen a ghost in the place. He doesn’t believe in that stuff. But there was one ethereal being in the building a few years back.

“Pokémon,” he says. “Now last year or the year before, the Pokémon was in the place. And everybody kept calling me and saying Pokémon is in the Red Brick Inn. And I said, ‘Well, tell him to beat it.’ The place is locked.”

“If that’s not a ghost I don’t know what is,” I say.

So the thing is now, the Red Brick Inn is for sale. Kalvin Schanz says he bought it not knowing about its haunted history.

"If it's haunted, or it has a reputation for being haunted, you would probably be safe to disclose that to potential buyers."

If he’s heard about it now, does he have to disclose it to the next buyer?

Now I know that doesn’t sound like the most important question in the world. But you know who loves questions like that? Law professors.

Like David Tarrien, associate professor at WMU Cooley law school.

“If it’s haunted, or it has a reputation for being haunted, you would probably be safe to disclose that to potential buyers,” he says.

If not, he says, you could be sued for fraud. Or, the buyer could just back out of the deal and ask for their money back.

It actually happened in a case in New York in the 1990s, a case known as Strombovsky vs. Ackley.

And Tarrien says it doesn’t really matter whether you believe ghosts are real.

“So it’s really more a matter of whether the reputation itself creates a stigma and affects the property’s value,” Tarrien says.

Okay, but what about the other possibility? Maybe the ghosts don’t hurt the property’s value, they help it?

It’s Halloween after all. Lots of money to be made on Halloween.

And if you’re into that, Kalvin Schanz has just the property to sell you in Allegan County.

“We hope it is haunted!” Schanz says. “Come on out and meet us. We’ll buy you a cup of coffee. We’ll get some ghosts to tell you a story.”

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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