Being a first-time homeowner can be an absolutely terrifying experience. And needless to say, things can only get more terrifying if after moving into the fixer-upper of your dreams your 5-year-old daughter makes a new imaginary friend prone to dressing in turn-of-the-century garb, your ottoman starts levitating, and you find a bunch of weird symbols scratched into your bedroom wall.
Do you have reason to believe that you’re sharing your home with the spirits of its past inhabitants? You could simply ask them to give all that moaning and slamming of doors a rest and to kindly chip in with the mortgage payments. That may do the trick. Or you can review these six methods in which to detect and to dispel any unwanted housemates of the supernatural variety. Most are of the DIY variety — after all, you want to be perfectly certain that something is going on before you call in the big guns or go on a spending spree at GhostStop.com — and most have beneficial side effects such as saving on energy bills, getting to better know your neighbors and clearing out boxes of junk from your garage.
Have you ever suspected that your house was haunted? What were the symptoms? And what did you do to clean house?
Grill the neighbors
Excuse me, I realize I’ve never properly introduced myself, but I was wondering if you happened to know if anyone was brutally ax-murdered in my basement within the past 60 years?
Just an FYI, but I have reason to believe that the closet in our master bedroom is a portal to hell. Have any insights? Oh, and here’s that Tupperware I borrowed over the summer. Sorry, I didn’t return it earlier. I’ve been preoccupied.
Grilling your neighbors — particularly ones who have lived in your neighborhood for eons and may be familiar with the history of your home and its past inhabitants — about supernatural goings-on in your home requires finesse and tact. Whatever you do, don’t start in with “I think my house is haunted and need more info” approach as that may only raise eyebrows, not yield answers.
Play the part of detective and start in with your research in a subtle manner. Don’t act panicked, scared or desperate. Perhaps buzz up the 85-year-old woman who lives across the street and tell her you found some sort of valuable antique hidden away in the attic and want to know more the folks who lived in the home previously (if said antique doesn’t exist, hit up a local estate sale so you have something to show for it). Better yet, tell her that you are starting some sort of blog (you can just refer to it as a “project” if said neighbor is truly an octogenarian) documenting the rich history of the neighborhood and would love for her invaluable insight. The deeper you delve into the past, the more unsavory truths about your home you may (or may not) uncover. (Try watching the excellent 1980 haunted house flick, “The Changeling” on the right and wrong ways to go about this).
And if horror films have taught us anything, it is that any haunted house reconnaissance work should also involve spending endless hours at the local library poring over old newspapers with the assistance of a microfilm reader.
If your research doesn’t turn up an gruesome revelations about your home that support your haunted hypothesis, at least you’ve established some type of rapport with the neighbors. And you may as well kill two birds with one stone and talk to them about that neighborhood clean-up day or recycling effort that you’ve been plotting.
Call up your real estate agent
This house is apparently not haunted. (Photo: Jake Palmer/flickr)
Like tactfully gathering information from your neighbors about the history of your home, calling up the real estate agent who sold it to you and urging them to spill the beans about whether or not your house is haunted can also be helpful. That said, it varies from state to state as to whether sellers are required to disclose if a house is a “stigmatized property” that falls under the haunted category (but hey, it never hurts to ask).
Steven J.J. Weisman, a professor of business law at Bentley University, explains the basics of selling allegedly haunted houses to RealtorMag: “Haunted properties fall within the category of stigmatized properties, or real estate that is not defective in any physical manner, but due to psychological or emotional factors may have a reduced value. Among the situations covered under the title of stigmatized is a property that was the site of a murder, suicide, alleged haunting, or other parapsychological phenomenon.”
Weisman adds: “In one well-documented New York case from 1991, the sale was voided due to the seller not informing the buyer of the house’s reputation for being haunted. The same reasoning could also be used in other states if there aren’t clear laws about disclosing paranormal activity.” You can read more about that case here.
So there’s that. Hopefully, like leaky faucets and creaky floorboards, anything that could potentially go-bump-in-the-night will present itself during a showing so that you don’t have to make any freaked-out late night calls to the realtor a couple on months after move in. But, really, pity the beleaguered agent whose showings keep on getting interrupted by massive fly infestations, slime-oozing toilets and a red-eyed pig demon named Jody.
Planning on moving to Hong Kong? In one of the most exorbitantly priced real estate markets in the world, you can actually score quite a deal by moving into a hongza, a deeply discounted home that’s been legally declared haunted and that the superstitious locals wouldn’t dare set foot in.
Conduct an energy audit
Unless you have Tangina Barrons or Peter Vankman on speed dial, you may want to consider bringing in a completely different type of outside professional help when confronted with possible supernatural activity: an energy auditor. Subjecting your home to a full energy assessment may be something that you’ve considered doing for a while now but have balked for some reason or another. A suspected haunting is an excellent reason to finally get ‘er done. Click here to find an energy auditor near you and remember to take advantage of any weatherization-related rebates or incentives. DIY energy audits are also a fine alternative if you’d rather not bring in outside help.
In addition to blower door tests, most professional energy audits include the use of a thermal imaging camera to pinpoint sources of heat loss around the home. This is extremely helpful if you ultimately decide to “button-up” your abode and improve its overall energy performance. It could also be effective in locating, you know, any heat-generating spectres or spooky “cold spots.”
That said, when you hire an energy auditing team for an appointment you probably shouldn’t mention that you think your house is haunted. I realize that you’re busy detecting air leaks, but could you spend some extra time in the guest bedroom with that fancy infrared camera? We’re trying to figure out if a woman named Rebecca hung herself in there in the late 1930s. And if the offending ghost has a penchant for fiddling with light fixtures, you should probably bring in an electrician to investigate.
If anything, conducting an energy audit and making the recommended improvements to increase your home’s efficiency can eliminate sources of any unnerving, ghost-like activity: mysterious drafts, slamming doors, banging noises, rattling windows, etc. (keep in mind that your home might just be old and leaky, not old and haunted). Added bonus: You’ll save on monthly energy costs. However, if you seal up any leaks and further invest in home weatherization projects and still find yourself being plagued by phantom footsteps and the wail of a banshee at 12 a.m. on the dot, than you’re dealing with something that can’t be remedied by a new furnace and a caulk gun.
Smudge ‘em out
Remember that scene from the second “Paranormal Activity” film when Martine, the housekeeper, is caught — and subsequently fired by her doomed employers for — burning sage? Well, she was on to something. Smudging is an ancient purifying ritual that involves burning bundles of pungent dried herbs — usually white sage but sometimes cedar, sweetgrass or tobacco — to cast out existing negative energy from a home and further keep bad mojo at bay.
A smudge bowl, commonly a simple earthenware bowl or an abalone shell, is used to catch the embers and ashes from the smudge stick and a feather is used to distribute the smoke to every nook and cranny of a home. Incantations, whether elaborate and read from a book or simple and improvised (please leave, please leave, please leave) generally accompany the burning of a smudge stick.
This may seem all rather stinky and esoteric — the spiritual equivalent of opening up a can of Glade and spraying it all over the place — but performing a simple yet sacred smudge ceremony is often the first line of defense when combating a pesky supernatural presence. The burning of sage also comes up several times in a 2008 New York Times article addressing the fine art of “Supernatural cleaning methods.”
However, in that article, San Diego-based medium Bonnie Vent offers this, ahem, sage advice: “There are people who will take advantage of others by using holy water, burning sage and spreading salt around the perimeter of the house. Spirit people are people — these things have no effect in the long term. You really have to get to the root cause.” Vent also mentions that communication is key during supernatural cleaning sessions and that while they don’t always exactly make the ghosts pack up and leave, they do result in a more “livable situation.”
Hey, a little compromise ending up working for the Deetz and Maitland families after a bit of comedic trial and error.
Above all, just remember to be civil and not to taunt the spirits. Politeness is key. In the aforementioned article, interior designer Guy Clark reveals the low-key manner in which he banished a ghostly interloper from his home in Bullville, N.Y. He simply said aloud: “O.K., this is my house. If you need anything, I’m here, but you don’t live here anymore, move on.” Apparently, it did the trick.
Focus on critters
Maybe a critter is to blame for the ghostly noises. (Photo: dat'/flickr)
So yeah, those unexplained scratching and bumping noises, the inhuman wailing, the mysterious stains on the floor and the fact that your beloved antique vase that was found broken when you woke in the morning? It could end being the handiwork of a mischievous pet, not a vengeful poltergeist, so don’t be quick to rule your beloved kitty or pooch out of the equation.
Don’t have a pet? Well, a critter of another sort could be responsible for the disturbances — a squirrel in the attic, a family of mice living in the basement, etc.
If you come to the conclusion that ghostly goings-on are not stemming for your pets or another type of animal that may be taking up residence in your home, it may help to observe your cat or dog’s behavior. Has it changed? Have they become suddenly more aggressive or high-strung? Does Princess Muffincakes growl at one certain wall in the home and then run under your bed and hide and whimper? Does she refuse to enter a room that she normally hangs out in? Has she been levitating and speaking in Hebrew?
Animals are thought to be more sensitive to supernatural activity than humans, so watching your pet and taking note of any strange behavior is a vital step in evaluating the haunted-ness or non-haunted-ness or your home. Or, their behavior may have nothing to do with a haunting. They could be upset by the presence of a new baby or another animal or the fact you’ve been listening to Barry Manilow again.
Hold a garage sale
Thinking about holding a séance? Try holding a garage sale first.
By unearthing boxes of crap from your basement or garage in preparation for a yard sale or a run to the Salvation Army, you may stumble upon some forgotten-about relics that could prove to be useful in the quest to find out whether your home is populated by spirits. Key items to look for: old VHS camcorders, baby monitors, motion sensors, Ouija Boards or, umm, EMF detectors. If you eventually decide to employ any of these items, keep in mind that politeness and keeping an open line of communication is key when hunting for and/or trying to contact ghosts.
Purging your home of unwanted material possessions is also an opportunity to cast out any objects that you suspect may have something to do with a haunting (particularly objects that came with the house like photos, paintings and keepsakes). After all, ghosts can have sentimental attachments, too. And if you’ve recently moved into a home and find something hidden away in the basement or attic that resembles a wine cabinet, a box of rather disturbing home video reels or a weird puzzle-like contraption called a Lament Configuration, put ‘em in the garage sale pile post-haste. On second thought, just bury them deep in the ground or burn them and don’t look back.
Woman in doorway: Claude Robillard/Flickr
Thermal imaging: ZUMA Press