What to Do if You Buy a Haunted House

what to do if you buy a haunted house
Justin Hoffman/Thrillist
Justin Hoffman/Thrillist

Silvio Trioni was walking up from the basement in the house he recently purchased with his husband Dan Rizzo. The house is the kind of beautiful that belongs to the horror genre: it’s a big, old Victorian, spacious and imposing. It's located in a Savannah, Georgia neighborhood famous for multiple yellow fever outbreaks that killed thousands, which birthed legends about the tunnels under Old Candler Hospital being used to secretly dispose of bodies so numerous the staff couldn’t keep up. In short, prime real estate with tons of character. 

As Trioni moved up the stairs, he felt something. “I was in another room,” Rizzo says, relaying the story. “(Silvio) came to me, and he was white. He was like, ‘I just had the weirdest experience. It was a ghost.’”

Every house contains ghosts in the form of stories. Sometimes you live with the stories of previous tenants in the form of the cans of paint left in the basement. The odd-colored bedroom where their child slept. The floral wallpaper buried under layers of paint. Or, sometimes, if you believe that kind of thing, ghosts.

Trioni and Rizzo discovered their new home has some very serious stories.

“(Silvio) said, ‘I felt another person behind me walking up the stairs,’” Rizzo continues. “‘You know when you’re walking up the stairs and the air kind of moves because you’re moving? All of sudden, the air stopped moving. I felt a man behind me wearing a hat. I could feel his breath on my neck.’”

house for sale

Selling a haunted house

Old houses creak and moan, and everyone accepts this. But some are wary of getting a house that does more than make a little noise. Chelsea Phillips, a realtor in Savannah, Georgia who sold Trioni and Rizzo their home, sees it often.

Savannah is a very old city,” Phillips says. “Most of our houses are over a hundred years old. If someone hasn’t died in the house, then that’s a sad house.”

However, she’s had clients with concerns those past tenants may have left behind more than their stories.

Most states have some kind of disclosure requirement where the purchaser has to be informed of any violent deaths that took place in the house. But not every state has that requirement. There is no such requirement in Georgia, for instance.

“It just comes up in conversation,” Phillips says. “There are a lot of people who ask if someone died here. I would just assume that someone died in most of these houses. If you’re squeamish, we can look through the history, but this is an older home. There are dead babies buried somewhere underneath.”

It’s something that concerns buyers, many of which take steps to guard against it. “There are certain clients who will bring a medium to a showing,” Phillips says, “to see if there are any bad spirits.” Others use numerology to determine if the address numbers are a bad omen.

“There was one listing appointment where I had to draw a tarot card. Since I got the Queen of Swords she was like, ‘You’re probably not the right agent for me.’ I was like, ‘Oh! So sorry!’”

It’s an unexpected quirk of real estate some agents discover on the job. “Nothing about the real estate exam prepares you at all to actually deal with real people,” Phillips says. “You don’t expect people to say this house is haunted or to say they have feelings about houses when they walk in.”

house for sale

Buying a haunted house

That kind of disclosure didn’t sway Rizzo and Trioni.

“We saged [the house] several times,” Rizzo laughs. “Then our friend came over with holy water and sprinkled it around the house.”

His philosophy is akin to a Pascal’s Wager on ghosts. It can’t hurt to act as though the worst is possible, even though he’s full of positivity about his home “We looked at a lot of houses, and this house doesn’t have a bad energy. It has a really positive, nice vibe.”

The couple moved from New York to Savannah looking to renovate a historic home. “We were a little freaked out at first,” Rizzo recalls, “but then we were like, 'You know what, the house is 130 years old or more. The odds of there being a ghost in here are pretty good. We can’t let that one little episode distract us from our project.'”

They discovered their house has a couple of dark chapters. The episode he refers to was the suicide of a recent tenant.

“My friend calls herself a seer,” Rizzo says. “I said to her before we bought the house, ‘Is there any weird thing in this house I need to know about?’ She said, ‘The house is OK. But there are two spirits in there. One is the guy who killed himself. He wants to see what you’re doing.

“'And there’s a woman. The woman is in there, too. She wants you to know the beautiful things she put in the house, and that she put a light in the window when she wanted her lover to visit. She wants you to look for the ring from the candle that was there.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ Whether you believe in that stuff or not,” Rizzo says, “it’s kind of entertaining.”

It is entertaining, and it’s familiar. Whether or not you believe, you’ve heard an unexplained noise late at night or thought something in the house had been inexplicably moved while you weren’t looking. That familiarity is undoubtedly why haunted houses still hold a firm grasp of our imagination. Around Halloween, we go to haunted houses. The Amityville Horror-style horror films hit the theater annually. We re-read The Turn of the Screw. We come back to American Horror Story again and again.

burning sage
Burning sage. | Shutterstock

What do you do?

To be fair, not everyone finds it entertaining. Some people are genuinely concerned about winding up with that freaky girl from The Grudge living in their walls. If you’re not sure saging is enough, you might turn to someone who counts themselves an expert in the field. Someone like the Minnesota-based psychic Ruth Lordan, who believes having a house with spirits in it is damn near unavoidable.

“Here’s something I explain to everybody,” she says. “If you leave out chocolate cake, you’re going to get ants. If you spray Raid, they’re going to go away. But what happens when you leave more chocolate cake out? You’re going to get more ants.”

It takes a while to get there, but spirits are the ants of her analogy.

“Spirits are everywhere,” she says. “Whether they’re from Native American and the original inhabitants of the land, whether they died in that house, those spirits are there. It’s true.”

And those spirits love the negative energy you produce. That’s the chocolate cake.

“This bad energy is going out and entities feed on it,” Lordan continues. “These are hungry ghosts. These are spirits. They’re attached to this Earth. If you put out more [bad] energy, they’re going to come feed. So, you have got to be checking yourself. Are you stressful? Are you fighting? Are you being strange?”

To hear Lordan explain it, it seems impossible not to put out bad energy. Couples fight. You have bad days at work. You move into a new house and -- surprise! -- you need to take care of $2,000 in unexpected plumbing repairs.

So, your house is lousy with ghosts. What next? You could start by chasing them with metaphysical Raid.

“When you get a house like this, you can sage it," says Lordan. "You can use Saint John’s Wort to clean it. You can place holy oils. In New Orleans, you definitely repaint the walls, the floors, and the ceiling. It changes the energy.”

She also recommends having a priest of one ilk or another bless the house.

But don’t get too excited. Those spirits are coming back. That must mean the next stage is something crazy, right? An exorcism. A cleansing fire, maybe. “There’s a point where you have to tell them, ‘You have to leave,'” Lordan says.

That’s actually more complicated than it seems on the surface. You could stand in your living room and shout “Go away!” three times like it’s a reverse Beetlejuice incantation. But Lordan says you need an expert.

“You have to create a portal and help them move," she says. "Then you have to not give them a reason to come back.” There, again, she’s talking about putting out bad energy in your home, which, again, seems impossible.

Believing in your haunted house sounds like a lot of work. It sounds like a futile enterprise, in fact. To recap: Every house is haunted, and unless you never feel bad, there’s pretty much nothing you can do about it.

Maybe Rizzo and Trioni have it right. They don’t seem too concerned about purging their house.

“We may do ghost tours in the basement. We’ve been approached,” Rizzo says. “There are some ghost tour companies around. Basically, they drive people around in a hearse. It’s kinda creepy.”

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Dustin Nelson is a News Writer with Thrillist. He holds a Guinness World Record but has never met the fingernail lady. Follow him @dlukenelson.