Humorist. Improviser. Father. In that order.


You're going to sell your home. Should you mention the demons?

The Ethicist | May 17, 1949

We live in a California Gothic-style home on a one-acre plot, and one-quarter of that is dark woods, full of creatures like deer, rabbits, the occasional groundhog, chipmunk, or even rat — and quite a few ominous demons.

We have lived here for 35 years. I see eight to 10 demons a year. They are not aggressive, and you learn to take precautions. Nevertheless, I have been possessed, as have several neighbors. The demons can show up in the backyard, in the driveway, or underneath my bed at night. Once, I found one staring back at me in the bathroom mirror.

We have had the woods and the house exorcised several times over the years or as the paranormal investigators called it “cleansing this cursed land.” It only angered the demons. We still believe they made old Mr. Peabody hang himself off the tall elm tree. How else could he have got up that high? We’ve accepted that the demons are here to stay.

We will have to sell soon. It’s simply too much house for a couple of empty nesters. I am worried about the demon problem. What if parents of small children wanted to buy the house? I remember it was more challenging than puberty when our Roland had a demon using his body as a vessel. I wish I had back what I spent on getting the vomit smell out of his sheets. And my gosh, the language he used! I am afraid the demons will be a deal breaker for many prospective buyers. We want to sell, but also do not want to mislead anyone. I thought of sending anonymous warning notes to real estate agents, but every time I did a demon leaped inside my body, caused me to speak in a guttural voice, and forced me to carve a reversed pentagram into my skin. I was only able to pen this letter by sitting in a bath of holy water while Jesuit priests chanted around me. Of course, if an agent or an interested buyer asks me about any strange occurrences; I will mention the demons (I think).

[Name withheld]

You are one of the main reasons real estate agents don’t like to have sellers around prospective buyers. Ideally, the demons will not be around either at your first open house. Typical demons lurk in the shadows, and often only present themselves when conjured out by satanic practitioners, if an ancient relic is disturbed, or if you suffer from refer addiction. However, there are exceptions, and your demons, not an observation on your personal history, by the way, seem to fit that criterion.

You’ll have to ask your lawyer about the legal obligations regarding this matter. Morally speaking, you should mention the demons to anyone who is serious about the property. You would want to know, so extend them the same courtesy. If you are wavering or concerned about bodily harm due to the demons’ wrath, ask yourself how you would feel if you learned that, after you had sold your home, the buyer’s child became a soldier of satan resulting from a demon possession.

Savvy buyers shouldn’t avoid your property, as long as you give them the facts. For one thing, you’ve lived there for 35 years relatively unscathed, beyond a few minor incidents; it’s never been life-threatening, although the risks are greater for children and spiritually weak adults. In fact, there have been no reported cases of death by possession. The exception is a few handfuls of individuals burned at the stake by overzealous religious fanatics. But those days are mostly behind us.

And the risk of being possessed is pretty small. How often have you been possessed over the last 35 years? All of these facts, helpful tips on what to avoid doing (coaxing out the demons using an Ouija board), and what to do if possessed (call the Catholic church), should reassure discerning buyers. By being forthright, you’ll help them to realize it’s not a big deal.

However, it’s easier to say it’s not a big deal. Even the slightest chance of demonic possession is enough for people to dash into the protective embrace of their local priest. While this may be unfair to someone like you who is selling their home so they can downsize and not out of fear, it is a reality that you need to face.