Culture Scan

At the intersection of real estate, media, and pop culture.

How to Create Your Own (Cheap!) Haunted House

Check out our DIY tips for staging a family-friendly homemade haunt. Hint: Start saving your empty toilet paper tubes now.
Front door/porch decorated for Halloween

In October, the air feels a little crisper, the nights grow a little longer and many kids start thinking about costumes, candy and Halloween. More than a few adults get in on the spooky spirit of the holiday, too. Transforming your home into a haunted house is a great way to add a little eerie atmosphere for the trick-or-treaters who come knocking at your door. Here, we share a few tips on how to create a DIY haunted house that’s fun, safe and just the right level of scary for the little ghosts, ghouls and goblins that will be haunting your neighborhood this Halloween.

Have You Met My Mummy?

Kick off your haunt with an eye-catching entrance. Decorating the front of your house with cornstalks, jack-o’-lanterns and cardboard gravestones is a low-cost way to set the scene. For an extra ghostly touch, spray-paint your pumpkins white. You can also guide trick-or-treaters up to your door with Halloween inflatables like witches, skeletons and spiders.

Don’t forget to gussy up your front door with a costume: Wrap your door with white paper streamers or medical gauze and add a pair of plastic eyes to transform it into a monstrous mummy.

You can even set up an inexpensive portable fog machine to add some mysterious mist. But be sure to leave the porch lights on so younger kids can see what’s going on. “With kids, it’s about enabling them to look openly at everything,” professional haunted house designer Angela Colone tells “You don’t want to push your scene on them.”

Somebody’s Watching You

Floating candles suspended from the ceiling are a magically spooky way to welcome trick-or-treaters into your haunted abode. And you can create eerie eyes by cutting eye shapes into empty toilet paper or paper towel tubes and filling them with glow sticks.

You can set up separate stations or rooms for each of your haunted attractions. (And you can use yarn cobwebs festooned with plastic spiders to cordon off areas that aren’t open to visitors.) Some fun haunted scenes include:

Carnival: Have a family member or friend dress up in a costume to staff a cardboard box ticket booth. Give out tickets (and prizes!) for indoor games like a bean bag toss, mini bowling or a pumpkin race.

Haunted Library: Stock up on children’s books at a thrift store and have a witch, wizard or ghost invite kids to select a book to take home.

Dead Man’s Body: Have a mad scientist usher guests into the lab to see and touch body parts. Grapes can double as eyes, baby carrots make good fingers or toes, and jiggling Jell-O can be molded into brains. Pro tip: You may want to set up this attraction in the kitchen.

As visitors leave, consider gifting them with a non-food item: Halloween stickers, magic wands (you can make a DIY version) and plastic spider rings are all good options. “Kids like to have something to take with them that isn’t just candy,” says Colone.

Share a Hair-Raising Tale

You may prefer to keep your haunted house entirely outdoors. If so, there are plenty of options for fun, al fresco frights.

Campfire: Set up a fake campfire—faux fires can be purchased cheaply online or fashioned from tissue paper and toilet paper tubes—and have a costumed actor pass out blankets and flashlights. Your actor can tell scary stories or invite guests to share one of their own.

Haunted barnyard: Create a barnyard scene with pumpkins, cornstalks and hay bales (real or fake). You can add inflatable ghosts or hang DIY paper lantern ghosts from nearby trees. Have an actor dress up as a scarecrow to regale visitors with the barnyard’s spooky history.

If you’d like to go a little bigger for your outdoor haunt, you can often score cool Halloween props at low prices at secondhand shops and yard sales. “My biggest piece of advice would be to go to the thrift store and explore the entire thing, not just the Halloween aisle,” interior design blogger Kate Pearce tells “Thrift is cheap, and therefore, not a huge financial commitment.”

A few additional tips: If you do use actors, Colone advises having them wear makeup rather than masks. Masks can be frightening for younger kids. She also suggests that actors use their natural speaking voices rather than trying to adopt a scarier one. And the number one piece of advice? Give your imagination free rein to play. On Halloween, says Pearce, “you can really have fun and let your mind run wild.”


Submit Your Ideas

The Culture Scan blog explores the intersection of real estate, media, and popular culture. If you have an example of how culture plays a role in your real estate business, feel free to send story ideas to the REALTOR® Magazine team.

Learn more about Culture Scan's focus here.

Comment Policy

The opinions expressed in reader comments sections on this website are those of the reader and not NAR or REALTOR® Magazine.