Coffee Break: Disclose ghouls or the deal may die

This article first appeared in Capital, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on September 4, 2017 - September 10, 2017.
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WELL, horror fans, we are suckers. How else can you explain our going back to watch the same plot being played out on the big screen over and over again?

An unfortunate American family sells its cramped big city apartment after a bitter marriage break-up or the loss of a loved one and starts afresh in a beautiful house in the countryside that was going cheap. In the midst of adjusting to the new environment, the family members realise they are not alone — this remains one of Hollywood’s staples to this day.

An all-time favourite horror movie that had such a storyline is 1979’s The Amityville Horror, which went on to become a platform for countless other spin-offs. It is based on a true story. In case you don’t remember or have never heard the story, there was a mass murder in a New York home in 1974. A 23-year-old shot and killed his parents and four of his five siblings. Subsequently, people who moved into the house experienced strange manifestations.

Then, there are the other less notable works, including 2002’s Darkness, 2003’s The Haunted Mansion, 2007’s The Attic and Dark Mirror, and the list goes on. We still watch them, probably so that we can say things like, “It wasn’t scary” and “The first one was better”. The fact that some of the movies advertised themselves as being “based on a true story” also worked on suckers like me.

Fortunately, we horror fans were treated to gems like 2013’s The Conjuring, which had us glued to the screen until the very end. Some of the best horror movies that have come out of Japan, such as 2002’s Ju-On: The Grudge and Dark Water, share a similar storyline.

But if you analyse the movies, you may find a fallacy. The fact is that if you want to sell your house in countries such as the US, Canada or Japan, you have to disclose whether someone died in the house and, yes, if he or she is still living there. Apparently, it is stated in real estate disclosure laws.

And if you don’t disclose that ghoulish information? Well, you can get sued.

A Malaysian fund manager recently expressed how he loves the Japanese people for their honesty when selling their property. “They will tell you if someone died in the house or a violent crime occurred in it. You don’t have to go around asking the neighbours what they know about the house and whether or not it could be haunted,” he says. That brutal honesty seems to have worked because he now owns several ski chalets in Japan.

Says a real estate broker in Canada, “Real estate agents are obliged to tell potential buyers if there had been a death on the property or if the house had been used for illegal drug production, that is, if the previous tenants had grown weed in it. All must be made known to the clients.

“Some buyers run for the hills when they find out a violent death had happened on the property. Some, especially Asian buyers, don’t care so long as the price is cheap. They just have the home blessed!”

So the next time an American family decides to buy a house that is going for an unbelievable price, they could probably do a background check on DiedInHouse.com, a web-based service — apparently the first of its kind — that helps you find out if anyone had died at any valid US address.

Or they could take their cue from their dog or cat, or small children when they enter a house. If the dog or cat refuses to go in or starts whining and one of the children starts speaking to an invisible apparition, forget about buying the house. As one of the slogans on The Amityville Horror posters says, “For God’s sake, get out.” After all, if something is too good to be true, it probably is.

The problem with the characters in horror movies is they don’t seem to take heed of these warnings.