When an odd sign appeared in front of a 1905 Crozet rental property she owns, Elizabeth Ferrall was a bit startled, slightly confused and very amused.
“Not Haunted,” said the rider hanging below Nest Property Management’s “For Rent” sign.
The sign was first created for a Locust Grove house near the old Martha Jefferson Hospital, and it’s admittedly just a tongue-in-cheek marketing play designed to draw attention to an older home. But the rental agent, Adam Holbrook, was not aware of the ironic note he had just struck.
Ferrall turned to her husband, David (who is a Nest sales agent, but had nothing to do with the placement of the sign): “Do I have some sort of professional responsibility to make sure this house is not haunted?” Ferrall recalled asking. “Because hauntings are like viruses — just because you don’t have a virus one day, doesn’t mean you won’t have one the next day.”
Believe it or not, Ferrall knows of what she speaks: She’s dispatched more than a few ghosts in her day. To borrow a phrase from the 1984 classic “Ghostbusters,” she’s seen [stuff] that’ll turn you white.
Ferrall holds a certification in elemental energy clearing from the International Institute of Interior Alignment School of Feng Shui & Space Clearing. The institute was founded by Denise Linn in 1996, and the space clearing process uses ancient and native ceremonies to “shift and change the energy felt in a home or office,” whether it’s emanating from your own history in the house, from energy left behind by previous occupants, or even being generated by spirits, ghosts or other astral beings, according to the institute’s website.
Space clearing is apparently a big thing among real estate agents in New York City, and there are seven certified practitioners in Virginia. Ferrall said she’s performed as many as 300 clearings over the past 15 years in the Charlottesville area, usually to make new owners feel more dominion over their houses or to help an existing client get a fresh spiritual start.
We leave a stronger energetic signature when we do things “repetitively and with strong emotions,” Ferrall explained.
For instance, serving family dinners in a certain room over and over again might leave an imprint that subconsciously signals to the next owners that it’s not appropriate for a nursery. If somebody dies in agony in a certain room, those quarters might feel creepy for years to come. And if an occupant constantly paced the halls of the house in worry, you may well feel their presence — or even see their specter — in that hallway.
“But that’s not a ghost,” Ferrall said. “That’s residual energy. It’s not intelligent; it’s not interactive. When you walk into a room where there’s been a strong emotion of worry or anger, you can feel that. It’s uncomfortable.”
Local agents and brokers say it’s relatively common to want to summon a higher power in real estate transactions. Michael Guthrie, the principal broker at Roy Wheeler Realty Company, said buyers have been known to do prayer walks through the house, asking for God’s blessing for each room. He’s also known of people planting a St. Joseph statue upside-down in the front yard — facing the front door.
“People think it helps get their house sold,” Guthrie said.
Kelly Lindauer is a Nest Realty agent who has reaped the blessings of God, St. Joseph, Buddha — or perhaps Lady Luck — from time to time. She’s given clients sage smudge sticks to clear bad energy out of a house (a yoga tradition), and she’s attended a Buddhist home-blessing ceremony (involving three chanting monks) for clients who were asylum seekers from Burma.
“I buried a St. Joseph statue, followed the directions exactly, and got the offer on Christmas Eve,” Lindauer said. “I recently threatened to bury one in an atheist client’s yard because his house isn’t selling.”
He declined. She’s still waiting for a response from the universe.
On the other hand, Ferrall has not only dissipated true ghosts — she’s lived with one, too.
Her first foray into ghost-busting was entirely a matter of self-preservation and necessity. Her husband and both children had seen a female apparition in their home and, after a couple of years, they could no longer co-exist peacefully.
“It took me a long time to get rid of her,” she said. “I was not very good at it back then.”
She tried a feng shui ceremony first, starting at the top of the house and sweeping the energy down the stairs and out the front door.
“By the time I got to the front of the house, my toilets were flushing, my phones were ringing and my screen door was slamming — all at once,” Ferrall said with a laugh.
The ghost returned as soon as she heard Ferrall telling her husband about the events of the day.
“If they hear you talking about them, they think you miss them and it’s permission for them to come back,” she explained.
Next, she decided to apply the same philosophy she would use for a toddler throwing a tantrum: Don’t spank ‘em, just focus them, bring them back to the present and move them on to their next activity.
“Ghosts are disorganized beings, and they’ve often forgotten why they decided to stay here. I just decided to find someone who loved that person in life, and ask that energy to come back and collect the ghost,” she said. “Sometimes they have just not transitioned in so long that the idea is kind of freaky. But if their beloved dog comes to get them, they’ll go.”
Although Ferrall’s rental house at 1118 Crozet Ave. is so not haunted, she has used her clearing techniques to clean it up between tenants.
“There is a lot of residual energy here — a lot of lives were lived here,” she said. “And most of us are not super tidy about our energy.”
Her techniques might involve an altar, a color that means something to the client, some dissonant sounds — drums, bells or clapping — to break up the negative energy and then some sort of harmonizing sound to smooth things over, she said.
But the key to having a not-haunted house, according to Ferrall, is not worrying about your house being haunted.
“People get this idea, ‘Oh no, my house is cursed!’ So then your house WAS cursed. By you — because it’s something you planted in the house every time you came in,” she said. “Nice work. Now somebody like me has to sweat and make the curse go away. Stop it!”