Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, October 15, 2021

Killer listing: Looking past the warts of a haunted house

Realtors Tatiana and Micah Hall of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices J Douglas Properties serve homebuyers and sellers in the greater Chattanooga area. - Photos by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

“If you’re walking through a haunted house and start assessing its fair market value,” the meme goes, “you might be a Realtor.”

Every profession has its blessings and its curses, including home sales. While Realtors enjoy a flexible schedule, for example, they often find themselves burning both ends of the proverbial candle – and then looking for new ends to burn when those are gone.

As the meme suggests, this can make it hard to turn off work and enjoy life.

That’s a shame during this splendid time of year, when Halloween raises a bloodied specter to herald the arrival of ghosts, witches on brooms and black cats posing against a harvest moon.

From carving jack-o’-lanterns to dressing up for trick-or-treating to taking shelter from chilly winds, there’s no time of year like Halloween.

And there’s no Halloween tradition like braving the primal horrors of a haunted house.

Bearing this in mind, and curious if a pair of Realtors could resist talking shop while touring one of Chattanooga’s grislier attractions, I invited Micah and Tatiana Hall – husband and wife agents from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices J Douglas Properties – to join me on an excursion through Dread Hollow.

(Cue evil laughter and foreboding music.)

(No, not the theme from “Psycho.” Save that for later.)

Most houses come with a story, including Dread Hollow, which legend claims was built in the 1600s. (It actually opened in 2017 in a strip mall along Browns Ferry Road, but work with me.)

Legend also says Dread Hollow was once home to a coven of witches. Eager to rid their community of evil, a group of locals allegedly burned their nefarious neighbors at a stake and then tossed their ashes into the Tennessee River. Ever since, fiendish things have been drawn to the area, as if the spirts of the witches are still there, beckoning them.

A number of hellish occupants have reportedly made their home in Dread Hollow since the witches’ fiery demise. From the prisoners of a penitentiary for the damned, to the cursed Harker family (which endeavored to gather body parts for their patriarch, Doc Harper), to the gruesome and unimaginable creatures of a diabolical research facility, each inhabitant has left his, her or its mark on Dread Hollow.

As Micah and Tatiana stood outside the building that contains the 20,000 square feet of nerve-rattling horrors that comprise Dread Hollow, they agreed these morbid scars would make the haunted house a hard sell, even in a market that’s kicking like a feisty bronco.

“We could market it as-is, with no repairs to be made,” Micah speculated. “As long as it has good bones, we should be able to scare up a few offers.”

Clearly, Micah was already in the spirit of the evening. So was Tatiana, who offered her own clever nugget after a wave of ghostly moans washed through the doors of the attraction.

“There are certain things Realtors are not required to disclose, such as the death of someone who once lived in a house,” she said. “That would work in the homeowner’s favor.”

“But what if there’s blood on the walls?” I asked. “Wouldn’t that be a dead giveaway?”

“Splattered blood might be OK, depending on someone’s taste in wallpaper,” Tatiana submitted in a bid to take the lead in the contest for best haunted house pun. “Selling a house is about finding the right buyer.”

“You could frame the splatters and claim it’s a Jackson Pollock,” Micah countered, putting him neck-and-neck with his wife.

At least their necks were still intact, which is more than I could say for some of the denizens of Dread Hollow.

As we passed through the doors of the attraction and entered the tight and dimly lit passages of what appeared to be a former prison, a chorus of manic cackles, blaring horns and blasts of air greeted us, setting the mood.

As unspeakable things thrust themselves out of gloomy corners and broken window frames, it became apparent there was nowhere to hide.

Around one corner, something hideous and misshapen fought to free itself from its chains and perhaps make a meal of us.

While were we inching down another passage, a birdlike face poked through the bars of a prison cell and offered to provide us with accommodations for the night. “Who wants to join me? Room for one, bed for three,” it chirped.

At one point, we passed a decrepit shack, which Micah said could serve as a she-shed for a creative homeowner. “More like a she-through-shed,” I quipped as I peered between its broken planks and caught a glimpse of, well, something moving.

Micah laughed politely. Or perhaps nervously. The screaming around us made it hard to tell.

At this point, Tatiana was in the front of the pack, acting as a buffer between the horrors to come and Micah and me. While this was less than chivalrous, it also gave her first dibs on wisecracks.

“It’s a laundry room,” she said as we passed into what appeared to be a mad physician’s gore-drenched laboratory. “You can negotiate with the seller to keep the washer and dryer.”

Not that anyone would want them, given what the current residents had slipped into them.

My tolerance for loud noises reached its limits when a young woman who appeared to have stepped off the set of “Horror Hospital” darted up behind me and shrieked her displeasure.

“Don’t you want to stay and help me?” she screeched, hitting the fabled 11 on the volume knob.

“This is what I get for bringing up the rear,” I grumbled.

Meanwhile, Tatiana continued to increase her lead in the battle of the puns. “I doubt these cramped corridors are going to be appealing in the current market,” she said. “Although buyers are beginning to prefer some segmentation, open floor plans are still popular.”

As Tatiana was speaking, we stepped onto what appeared to be the set from the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Moments later, an elderly woman hoisted herself out of a nearby armchair and crossed the room to give us a onceover.

The first thing she spotted was Micah’s thick mane, which rivals that of the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz.”

“All that hair would make a nice rug,” she said with a crazed Southern drawl.

She then turned her attention to Tatiana and complimented her complexion. “Your skin is so clear. I would love to make a dress out of it!” (Now cue the theme from “Psycho.”)

After suggesting that Tatiana’s legs would “cut up real nice,” grandma invited us to join her for dinner.

We declined, of course.

If we had accepted her summons, we likely would have missed the final stage of our journey, which took us through a realm of macabre creatures that could have sprung only from fertile but twisted minds.

As Tatiana, Micah and I emerged from the blackness of Dread Hollow to the deepening darkness of early evening outside, the couple began to assess what they had seen.

Upsides included copious square footage, an abundance of ambient lightning and a wine cellar, although none of us were certain the bottles therein actually contained wine.

On the downside, Micah said future occupants would need to update the plumbing and wiring, repair the tilted foundation and renovate the pool, which appeared to contain more viscera than water. (Cue foreboding music one last time.)

Tatiana and Micah remained optimistic that Dread Hollow would find its Gomez and Morticia Addams, however, due to the sizable crowd at the open house.

“Too bad there weren’t any snacks,” Micah said. “I’m hungry.”

“Didn’t you see the meat trays?” Tatiana asked, securing her victory in the battle of wits.

I received an email the following day from Micah containing his estimate for the fair market value of Dread Hollow. After weighing its pros and cons and (ironically) taking into consideration a nearby church that’s selling for close to $100 a square foot, Micah said he would recommend listing the haunted house for about $1.5 million.

Although Tatiana and Micah were unable to resist the urge to think like a Realtor while exploring Dread Hollow, they did demonstrate that working in a demanding profession has not diminished their wit or their ability to have fun.

And that’s all that matters during this splendid time of year.