Posted on Thursday, January 13, 2011
Buyers Worried About Bad Vibes From Foreclosed Homes Seek a Cleansing
SALEM, Mass.—There's a certain look and feel to a foreclosed home, and 31 Arbella St. has it: fraying carpet, missing appliances, foam insulation poking through cracked walls.
That doesn't faze buyer Tony Barletta since he plans a gut renovation anyway. It's the bad vibes that bother him.
So two weeks before closing, Mr. Barletta followed witch Lori Bruno and warlock Christian Day through the three-story home. They clanged bells and sprayed holy water, poured kosher salt on doorways and raised iron swords at windows.
Cleansing Foreclosed Homes of Bad Vibes
"Residue, residue, residue is in this house. It has to come out," shouted Ms. Bruno, a 70-year-old who claims to be a descendant of 16th-century Italian witches. "Lord of fire, lord flame, blessed be thy holy name...All negativity must be gone!"
The foreclosure crisis has helped resurrect an ancient tradition: the house cleansing. Buyers such as Mr. Barletta are turning to witches, psychics, priests and feng shui consultants, among others, to bless or exorcise dwellings.
Sellers, too, are adopting the trend to help move a property stuck on the market.
In recent months, foreclosure and other distressed sales have represented about a third of all home sales, according to the National Association of Realtors. With so many foreclosures riddling the market, some buyers find that a coat of paint is hardly enough to rid a house of its creepy quotient.
"It's not entities or ghosts that we're dealing with anymore," says Julie Belmont, a so-called intuitive who works in Orange County, Calif., where 40% of home sales last year were distress sales. "With foreclosures, a lot of it is energy imprints from past discussions, arguments, money problems. All of that is absorbed by the house."
Homeowners of various faiths have turned to different rituals—called house cleansings or space clearings—for centuries. Catholics and Hindus, for example, might ask a priest to bless a new home before moving in. Before their new year, the Chinese cleanse the home to sweep away any bad luck accumulated over the past twelve months.
Ms. Bruno's process pulls from a few methods: Ringing bells, she says, breaks up the negative energy of a place. Iron keeps evil spirits away, says Mr. Day, brandishing a sword across the living room.
Mr. Barletta heard about the pair through his real-estate agent after his offer on the home was accepted. "I'm a spiritual person," he says. "I just wanted to remove the negative energy first."
In Salem, the site of the 1692 witch trials, the occult is a part of the everyday, from the high-school sports team known as the Witches to entrepreneurs such as Mr. Day and Ms. Bruno. He owns the Hex Old World Witchery magic shop downtown and she gives psychic readings there.
"It's a very spiritual city," says Salem real-estate agent Janet Andrews Howcroft.
But the city's real-estate market hasn't been so charmed. Home prices here fell by about a third in the past two years, according to Ms. Howcroft. And Essex, the county that Salem calls home, had the state's second-highest foreclosure level in October, says the Warren Group, which tracks real-estate data in New England.
In Salem, Mass., the high foreclosure rate is giving new life to an ancient practice: house cleansings performed by a witch to rid your home of bad vibes. WSJ's S. Mitra Kalita reports.
Ms. Howcroft attributes recent requests for house blessings in part to the economic picture here. She counted at least eight transactions last year that involved a house cleansing, compared to the occasional request in prior years.
The house on Arbella Street is under contract for $167,000, and was appraised for nearly double, pending renovations. But, Ms. Bruno cautioned, that bargain comes with a price. She gestured toward an empty room with "Mike, Age 13" scrawled on the wall in child's handwriting. "If someone took your home away, how would you feel?"
Taking her cleansing agent of kosher salt in a bowl of water and lighting a candle, she led the group—including the buyer's agent—up the stairs. Arriving at the upstairs kitchen, gutted of its cabinetry and appliances, Ms. Bruno yelled into the air: "You will not hurt anything I hold dear. I am the exorcist of your garbage!"
She is quick to distinguish her services from that of a plain-vanilla psychic. "Unlike psychics, witches know you can change the future," she explains.
They might be described as good witches. Ms. Bruno, who feels she is well compensated for her readings, doesn't charge for her house cleansings—she's done more than 100, she says. Rather, she considers them to be a form of charity work. "I don't want to live off people's sadness," she says. Fellow Salem witch Lillee Allee also performs house blessings and, like Ms. Bruno, she doesn't take a fee.
Elsewhere, others are viewing the rituals as a real business opportunity. Austin, Texas-based feng shui consultant Logynn B. Northrhip is teaming up with Scottsdale, Ariz., real-estate agent Jason Goldberg to offer a package of services to create better vibes in a home, either before sale or after purchase. The two met at a yoga retreat.
In Sacramento, Calif., realtor Tamara Dorris also used feng shui to help speed the sale of a property that had been on the market for more than a year. She placed a jade plant, believed to bring good financial luck, in a "prosperity corner" and waited.
"Within two weeks, I had two offers," she says. "Most homes have at least one or two prosperity flaws. Foreclosed homes have five or six flaws."
Sometimes, it's bad feng shui to even attempt to buy a foreclosure. That was Grace Lee's discovery as she toured 30 houses in the San Diego area, her consultant Simona Mainini in tow, to find a new home. In the end, Ms. Mainini just advised her to buy new construction, saying it would save her money on repairs and other troubles in the long run.
"You can keep looking for deals in distressed properties," Ms. Mainini recalls telling her client. "But they all have an energy that is very weak for money."
By S. MITRA KALITA, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL