- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 28, 2010

Every house has a story to tell, whether the residence is a few months old or centuries have passed since it was built. Often, though, historic properties carry with them the ambience of a mysterious past.

Some of the oldest homes in the Washington area date back to the 1700s, and there are plenty in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs that played important roles as havens for wounded Civil War soldiers. It should be no surprise, then, to discover that Realtors in this area have had their share of ghostly experiences.

Teresa Maloney, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Lake Ridge, Va., had a number of clients who resided in a row of town homes in Prince William County. They reported strange happenings from what seemed to be a neighborhood ghost or ghosts. The homes were close to one another, with a handful of them connected.

“The neighborhood is an area that I often work in, so over time, I had multiple clients from that row of town homes,” Ms. Maloney says. “During the first listing appointment, the homeowners told me about the strange things they had experienced. I didn’t know what to believe. But then on the second and third listing appointments with different families from those homes, I continued to hear similar stories.”

Some of the strangeness sounded as if it could be grounded in mundane explanations like plumbing irregularities, such as toilets that would flush by themselves in the middle of the night, the handles jiggling. But there were wilder tales, like an unseen force juggling Christmas ornaments, opening presents and playing with toys.

Some of the homeowners claimed actually to have seen apparitions, ranging from a gray fog to a spectral form floating over one of the residents while she was in bed to the ghosts of an old man and a little girl.

“One family’s children said the little girl would play with them,” Ms. Maloney recalls.

Even though Ms. Maloney heard these stories from clients who were moving out of the town homes, the weird phenomena didn’t seem to be the reason for their departure.

“They all thought it was very strange, but they weren’t afraid of the ghosts,” she says. “You can’t keep a good house down.”

Ms. Maloney says not everyone talks about their strange experiences, so there may have been more ghostly tales from the neighborhood that she never heard.

“There were three different families who lived in different town homes in that row, and they all claimed to have experienced strange happenings,” Ms. Maloney says. “It makes me wonder if some of the other families I worked with on that street also had odd experiences but never disclosed it.”

Sometimes, it’s the real estate agents themselves who come across something strange.

Bryan Felder, an associate broker with Re/Max Gateway in Chantilly, Va., had a spooky experience at a home in Lake Barcroft in Falls Church, Va., when he was helping a client sell his mother’s home.

“I was set to hold an open house for other agents and brokers one Tuesday and was having a title company assist us in marketing the open house,” Mr. Felder says. “They were providing the food and refreshments and were running a little late.

“I arrived at the home about 20 minutes before 11 in the morning, and as always, I turned on all of the lights, opened all the doors and opened all of the window treatments to let as much natural light come through on the upper level first. …

“I went downstairs after setting everything up upstairs and turned on the lights and opened the doors on the lower level. When I came upstairs, all of the lights were off. I didn’t think anything of it, so I turned them all on again.”

The experience got stranger as the morning wore on.

“I heard something downstairs and went to check it out, and the lights downstairs were all off,” Mr. Felder says. “I got a little spooked - the home is in a cul-de-sac and is surrounded by a lot of trees, so there is a lot of privacy and no through traffic, so I felt a little isolated.”

Mr. Felder was joined a few minutes later by the representative from the title company.

“As soon as he walked in the door, he immediately asks me if someone died in the house,” Mr. Felder says. “I asked him why would he ask, and he proceeded to tell me that he could feel something weird about the house and that he was a ghost hunter.

“I started to laugh, and he then went on to explain how he and four other people are part of the Northern Virginia chapter of a ghost-hunters association. They spend nights in homes with different instruments to measure paranormal activity, usually about four to eight times a year.”

Mr. Felder says that after listening to more ghost stories, he began to believe in the possibility that there really was a ghost in the house.

“When the title-company representative said he had to get back to the office, I told him he couldn’t leave me there alone, but he laughed and said the ghost was probably friendly and I should be fine,” Mr. Felder says. “A few minutes later, I heard a noise. I called one of my team members and told them to stay on the phone as I packed everything up and left.”

Mr. Felder eventually sold the house, but he says he never went back to the property alone.

Brad Griffin, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Bethesda, had an experience while listing an Arlington, Va., home that might have been caused by nothing more than freak weather on a summer day in July but was creepy nonetheless.

“The previous resident was an elderly woman who had died in her bed,” Mr. Griffin says. “While preparing the house to sell, we were in the bedroom and another person made a comment about the tacky wallpaper. And it could have been pure coincidence, but at that moment, it began raining outside the room. I mean literally outside the room. We looked outside, and it wasn’t raining anywhere else, just one little column of rain in front of that room.

“We locked the house and left,” Mr. Griffin says.

While these stories may be simply creepy anecdotes, Realtors often need to handle the reality of selling a home in which someone has died or there has been some type of trauma. Mr. Felder says he has sold many estate listings and also worked with purchasers who are buying estate homes.

“Typically, older homes will have a lot of history and character to them, so I think it is important to put a positive spin on how interesting it can be to own a home with a past,” Mr. Felder says. “I always tell potential purchasers what I know about a property. I think people should find out as much as they can about a home, so I suggest they get in touch with people or places that can give them an in-depth history. I’ve never had a sale fall through because of a sad story or a creepy history.”

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