These real-estate agents walked into real-life houses of horror
The first floor of the house contained many floor to ceiling bookshelves, displaying countless vases.
That was odd.
In the second-floor office, sitting on a desk, sat a sign that read “World’s Greatest Mortician.”
“Either it was the craziest coincidence that the owner liked to collect vases and was a mortician, or we were in a mausoleum,” and all those vases were actually urns, said Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.-based real-estate broker Phil Faranda, of J. Philip Real Estate.
It doesn’t have to be Halloween for real-estate agents to stumble into some truly creepy houses. In some cases, sellers haven’t taken the care to stage their home properly before listing. Foreclosures also often yield some rather odd showings. Here are some of their stories.
Halloween spectacular: The seller’s birthday was on Halloween, and his home décor showed it. The house was decorated with skulls, scary dolls and other odd items, said real-estate agent Cyndi Lesinski, of Cyndi Lesinski & Associates — Cobalt Realty Group, based in Valencia, Calif. She took limited pictures for the listing so she wouldn’t scare off buyers. When prospective buyers arrived, some people couldn’t give the house a chance, and would walk out of the showing.
Haunted-looking house: Atlanta real-estate agent Colette Barnett and her clients saw a foreclosure home that could rival a haunted-house attraction: The porch was held up by cinder blocks — and had caution tape strung around it. The stairs were crooked. A garden window was caved in. A huge patch of black mold colored a wall in the basement, and tiles were falling off the shower. The house “looked like it had survived an earthquake,” said Barnett, an agent with Redfin.
Strange boarding house: Something about the house in Santa Clara, Calif., looked not quite right from the outside. But when Janelle Boyenga, with the Boyenga Team of Intero Real Estate Services, entered the place with her client, they discovered it was, in essence, a boarding house. Bedroom after bedroom had locks that needed to be accessed with a key, and even more rooms were carved out in the attic, garage and storage shed spaces. Some rooms they could get into, some they couldn’t. “It was kinda creepy — every nook and cranny was occupied by someone,” Boyenga said.
Terrifying money pit: In Colorado Springs, real-estate agent Willi Ellis, with ERA Shields, showed a pre-foreclosure home where most of the flooring was ripped out, exposing the plywood subflooring. A beat-up refrigerator was in the dining room, and clothes were piled in a bathtub. Her clients bought it anyway, seeing it as a diamond in the rough, but the problems continued — asbestos remediation was required and radon levels were well over the EPA’s limit.
Someone’s watching you: A number of times, Jordan Clarke, a buyer’s agent with Redfin in San Diego, has come across mannequins lurking in corners — clearly items used by seamstresses in their work, but very creepy when you’re not expecting to see a human figure while walking through an empty house. “You walk in and get that sense that something is staring at you,” he said. “This has probably happened a half dozen times now. I had one client scream briefly,” Clarke said.
Creepy reptiles: The townhome was fairly new, and very normal — until they reached the basement, said Tonya Nelson, a real-estate agent with Redfin in Arlington and Alexandria, Va. Once down there, she and her clients discovered 10 large reptile aquariums containing frogs, snakes and alligators — and fluorescent lights everywhere.
Disgusting discovery: When you visit a foreclosure, you might not be expecting the tidiest home on the block. But you also don’t expect to find piles of feces in the bedrooms. That’s what Atlanta-based agent Barnett and her clients found in a house they visited, likely the work of homeowners who became very angry when they were told to leave. Barnett wasn’t sure if the waste was from a human or a dog, but it didn’t matter — she and her prospective buyers rushed out of the house quickly. While the former owners left that surprise behind, they took plenty of the house’s fixtures with them, including the kitchen cabinets.
Teen spirit: The house wasn’t exactly clean, but that was no preparation for when Clarke, the San Diego agent, and his clients entered the mother-in-law suite of one particular home. The area reeked of body odor, he said, adding “it was almost as if a dozen teenage boys were living in there with no housekeeping whatsoever.” His clients were able to stay and look at it; he had to get out of there.
In preparing a home for sale, it’s important for it to be clean and uncluttered. “Anything that is too specific to a homeowner has to be put away,” said Kerrie Kelly, interior design expert for Zillow Digs, Zillow’s home design site, and the founder of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab.
To make sure smells aren’t a problem, be sure to air out your house regularly. Do this even as the weather gets colder, just keep the doors and windows open for a shorter amount of time, she said. You might even ask a friend or family member for a second opinion on how fresh your place smells.
Also, it’s best to board pets or keep them at a friend’s home during showings and open houses, said Nelson, the real-estate agent from Arlington who stumbled upon the reptile-filled basement.
Of course, if you can look beyond the scary aspects of these homes as a buyer, you may be able to cut a good deal — since much of your competition will run for the door.