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Home Inspectors Tell All: Strange but True Tales From the Trenches

November 5, 2019

BrandyTaylor/iStock

Home inspectors go where none of us particularly wants to go—into all the nooks and crannies around our homes, both inside and out. So you can bet that they’ve seen it all. You know—all that stuff that you don’t want to think about happening in those dark and creepy spaces.

Wait, actually we do want to know. (Is it masochism?) So we asked home inspectors who’ve been in the biz for a long time—and boy, did they deliver, with stories ranging from Stephen King–level horror to just downright weird. Check out some of the crazy things these home inspectors have witnessed. It’s all in a day’s work!

It’s a zoo in there

“Some of the nastiest stuff we find is animals—dead ones in attics or crawl spaces, which are always disgusting, and live ones, which are always scary,” says Reuben Saltzman, president of Structure Tech Home Inspections in Minneapolis. “In Minnesota, we usually find raccoons and squirrels, and inspectors in the Southern part of the country find a lot worse.”

There have been drowned frogs under water heaters, cooked mice in furnaces, frozen porcupines in crawl spaces, and dead fish on a roof. Was it a bird that somehow dumped it there, or something weirder, Saltzman wonders?

“We’ve also found wasp’s nests the size of basketballs inside of attics, and in the basement at the ceiling rim joist, and homeowners who didn’t know they had wasps,” Saltzman adds.

Bruce Barker, founder and president of Dream Home Consultants, in Cary, NC, has collected close to 6,000 photos documenting things like fried lizards and mice inside electrical panels, snakes in basements and crawl spaces, and even a black widow spider.

“We’ve found termite tubes hanging down from the ceiling. Termites need soil to travel and live, so they build tubes out of mud,” he explains. “It looked like there were stalactites hanging down.”

Then, of course, there’s the mass quantities of bird poop, which is nasty, toxic stuff.

Puzzling decisions

Home inspector horror stories
One beam holding up an entire deck.

Reuben Saltzman

“One of the craziest things that I’ve ever seen was a boat trailer being used as the foundation for a home,” Saltzman recalls.

“In the crawl space, I saw a tire half-embedded in concrete. I had to stare at it for a little while to figure out what I was looking at,” he says. “And I realized the whole addition was built on top of a trailer.”

Sometimes projects are half-finished, or half-baked, like a deck being held up by a single, wobbly post.

“This puts the ‘can’t’ in ‘cantilever,’” Saltzman quips about one memorable photo featuring a doomed deck.

Perilous plumbing solutions

Saltzman frequently discovers homeowners have tried to fix leaky plumbing with whatever materials they have on hand. Contrary to popular belief, duct tape does not, in fact, fix leaky pipes, shower wall tiles, or drains, he says.

“People will use caulk, radiator hoses, hose clamps, vice grips—just the craziest stuff—to keep water from coming out of a place where it shouldn’t,” he says.

This sparked some concern

Home inspector horror stories
Definitely an electrocution hazard

Bruce Barker

Perhaps the most alarming things home inspectors come across involve electrical systems and outlets in a home, Barker says.

“I’ve seen people not putting the wire connections in boxes, and just leaving them hanging out. If I had a dollar for every one of those, I wouldn’t have to crawl through crawl spaces anymore,” he says, noting that this is a major fire hazard.

Also in the “What were they thinking?!” department: Another home featured rows of Christmas lights strung directly over a pool (see image above). When the water fountain feature is activated, the swimmers beneath could get seriously injured from electrocution.

Ridiculous roofs

One homeowner strategically placed a basketball net with its glass backboard leaning against the roof, making it the ideal magnifying glass fire-starter on a blazing sunny day. Saltzman has also seen a roof so covered in moss and plant debris, it should have been mowed.

Barker has been amazed to see turbine vents in older houses that have lost their covers, unbeknown to the homeowners, or worse, have been covered with strange things—like an upside-down Halloween candy bucket.

Makeshift chimney repairs are often laughably ineffective, adds Barker, who has seen flammable asphalt material used to fix crumbling chimneys.

Weird and wacky windows

In older homes, it’s not uncommon to find wooden window frames that have seen better days, Saltzman notes. What’s odd are the homeowners who think up outlandish ways to fix them.

“One of my favorite photos of all time was taken 15 years ago: Somebody had taken spray foam to fill in all the rotted wood, and then cut the spray foam to match the profile of the wood, which they painted to match,” he recalls.

Deal-breaking disasters

Other head-scratching discoveries Saltzman’s team has made include a mysterious pile of leaves in the attic, scissors embedded in an electrical panel, a downspout aimed squarely at an electrical outlet, a roof fascia repaired with a hockey puck, and a bunch of unopened bags of insulation in an attic. (Pro tip: A home will always be warmer when insulation is actually laid out and not trapped in plastic.)

It’s not just horrifying for the home inspectors—all this weird stuff could kill a deal. Once potential buyers see things like mushrooms growing out of a floor drain, a crawl space filled with animal excrement and spider webs, or frost in the attic, they’ll wonder what else hasn’t been maintained, Saltzman says. And often, they’ll be spooked enough to walk away.

“We’ve got about 20 inspectors on my team,” he says, “and between all of us, every day someone decides they’re not buying a house based on what we found.”

The post Home Inspectors Tell All: Strange but True Tales From the Trenches appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Come and Get It, Please! The Weirdest, Grossest Things Home Sellers Leave Behind

October 31, 2019

trekandshoot/iStock

Once the ink is dry on your purchase agreement, it’s time to close the deal and bring your belongings into your new home. But what happens when moving day unearths some seriously odd items left behind by the previous residents?

Sellers are supposed to remove everything from the house that wasn’t previously agreed to be part of the sale. Still, many homeowners dish on social media about finding stuff that they’d wished the sellers had packed up, tossed out, or hauled away—including a hyperbaric chamber for small animals, a stash of porn under the floorboards, and a strange self-portrait of the previous resident. (We can’t make this stuff up.)

So we asked irritated buyers and their savvy real estate agents: What do you do when you literally get more than you bargained for?

Disgusting discoveries

When Jane Langille and her family moved into their Toronto-area home, they were dismayed to discover that the sellers had left large stacks of old magazines behind, and they hadn’t mowed the lawn or cleaned a toilet in weeks.

And things quickly went from bad to worse.

“They left someone’s old tooth in the bathroom cabinet under the sink, and a bottle of liquid people use to teach dogs where to pee. It had leaked in the kitchen cabinet, and it reeked to high heaven,” Langille recalls.

Stacey Freed’s experience in suburban Rochester, NY, was even stranger.

“I found a weird flesh-toned rubber cone in the wall where the bathtub pipes were. My husband and I had no idea what it was,” says Freed. “My 80-year-old father Googled it and announced it was a sex toy.”

Can sellers do that?!

While some buyers worry about items being taken from the home that were included in the purchase price, it’s much more common that sellers leave stuff behind, says Danielle Stepp, a Realtor® at Foundation Realty in Tecumseh, MI.

“Two of the biggest things I’ve seen left in a house after a seller has moved out are pianos and ashes,” Stepp says. “You have this urn, and you can’t throw out Uncle Billy, but you can ‘accidentally’ forget him. Just as you can say that the piano fits the room so well, we thought we’d leave it for the buyers.”

The thing is, sellers can’t just randomly leave things in the home, even if they weigh a ton and are a huge pain to move, adds Rona Fischman, principal broker at 4 Buyer’s Real Estate in Cambridge, MA.

“Sellers are obligated to leave the house free of all possessions and broom-clean, which means that anything that’s big enough to push with a broom is supposed to be gone,” Fischman explains. She often sees sleeper sofas left behind, because they’re impossibly heavy, along with 1950s-era dead refrigerators in the basement.

“Probably the most disgusting bit I’ve ever seen in my life was a house with a refrigerator that had rotten food in it. When we walked in, we thought somebody had died in there,” she recalls.

Sometimes, sellers honestly just forget things

Moving is exhausting, and sometimes sellers just run out of steam, Fischman says.

For example, she once did a walk-through in a big, old Victorian house that had lots of window seats with storage spaces, so she made sure to peek inside every nook and cranny.

“We found a bag with equipment for a whole hockey team—a couple of thousand dollars’ worth of sticks, pads, and helmets,” she recalls. “The seller came back and got it within a couple of days. Another time, we found four bags of stuffed animals in an eave. The seller didn’t want them, so we asked if we could give them away. She wanted to ask her kids—who were 35. They came back and took their favorites before we gave them away.”

Inspect the property before you get the keys

So how do you keep from having your own disgusting discovery? A final walk-through—before closing day—is the best way to ensure that the house is empty and move-in ready, Stepp says.

“Once the closing is finished, it’s much harder to take care of any issues that have arisen,” she notes.

During your preclosing once-over, take photos of anything that’s not supposed to be there, so your agent can present them at closing, Fischman adds, because all items should be collected at the seller’s cost, not yours.

“When we say, ‘We have an estimate from a mover who will charge us $300 to get rid of all this stuff,’ the seller’s attorney usually says, ‘Fine. Here’s a check for $300,’” she says.

If all else fails, take the sellers to court

If the previous owners won’t cough up some cash to have their things carted away, buyers may go the legal route, says Stepp.

“Many times, the only way to settle things is to go through the court system, but that can take months, with no guarantees,” Stepp says,

Good things get left behind, too

When Vanessa McGrady moved into her Los Angeles condo, it was as if Santa had stopped by first.

“There was a brand-new, boxed KitchenAid mixer, a coffee maker, and four crates of sweet collectible Christmas ornaments,” McGrady recalls. “I kept trying to get hold of the previous owners, and no dice. I donated the coffee maker to hurricane efforts, kept the KitchenAid, and gave away the ornaments at my annual Christmas party.”

Brette Sember’s sellers in Clarence, NY, left two ’50s-style coupe glasses and a split of Champagne for her.

“We also found a can of boiled peanuts and a pack of American cheese in the fridge,” she recalls.

Nothing like a snack after a long moving day!

The post Come and Get It, Please! The Weirdest, Grossest Things Home Sellers Leave Behind appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

6 Things in Your Bathrooms That Are Freaking Out Potential Buyers

March 1, 2019

iStock; realtor.com

Bathrooms are, by design, private spaces. After all, there’s a door and a lock for a good reason.

But when your house hits the market, dozens of strangers will suddenly be tramping through your bathrooms—and everything that once felt so private will now become painfully public. And those strangers will be passing judgment on what they see.

True, the nose hair trimmer you accidentally left on the counter or pile of sweaty running socks forgotten behind the door might not be a deal breaker to a potential home buyer. But they certainly won’t be forgotten.

Why chance it in the first place? We talked with the experts to lift the lid on the weirdest things buyers found in the bathroom during a home showing—some of which actually killed the sale.

1. Inappropriate art

When Elizabeth Williamsberg, a real estate and brand photographer in Boulder, CO, went into a quiet, suburban home to take photos, she didn’t register anything out of the ordinary.

Until she entered the half-bath.

“On the wall above the toilet was a 10-by-13 framed photo of a naked child peeing in an in-ground pool that we immediately recognized as the pool in their backyard,” Williamsberg recalls. “I ran out of the bathroom, and the real estate agent followed right behind me.”

They called the homeowners to come over and immediately remove the photograph. Even weirder was the reason the photo was there.

“It turns out that it was the couple’s now-adult son,” Williamsberg says. “The parents had placed it there when he was a teen to embarrass him when his friends came over. He’d long since moved out, and they had simply forgotten to remove it.”

Heads up: Your bathroom shouldn’t be an experimental art gallery. Remember: You want guests to imagine themselves living in your home, not picturing what went on before you got there.

2. Words

Justin M. Riordan, founder of Portland, OR–based Spade and Archer Design Agency, isn’t a fan of word art—and that opinion was only reinforced when he recently walked into a bathroom of a client’s home. Over the toilet was a poorly placed sign that read “DREAM BIG.”

“They hung it in a bathroom and then proceeded to leave the toilet lid up. The story it tells the viewer is not too far off from a very effective Metamucil ad,” Riordan says.

Heads up: If you love word signage, no one’s stopping you from putting it up throughout your house. But steer clear of the bathroom, where pretty much anything can turn into a poop joke.

3. Food storage

When Susanna Haynie, broker-owner of Co-Re Group in Colorado Springs, CO, took young, first-time home buyers to see a historic home, she expected some old-timey quirkiness. What she wasn’t prepared for was the small fridge placed within reaching distance of the toilet.

“The combination of the two, next to each other, got my buyers rolling,” Haynie says.

The mysterious toilet fridge apparently wasn’t a deal breaker—the couple ended up buying the house.

“But when my clients moved in, the fridge was removed,” Haynie says.

Heads up: Food storage only in the kitchen, please. And if there’s anything else in your bathroom that belongs in your kitchen, be it a microwave or your collection of spatulas, please put them back.

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Watch: Does Your Bathroom Decor Stink? 5 Surprising Looks Home Buyers Hate

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4. Cigarette butts

After listing a hoarder’s house, Candy Miles-Crocker, an associate broker for Long and Foster Real Estate in Washington, DC, poked her head into the crowded bathroom—and saw an enormous mound of cigarette butts in the sink.

“Why the owner did this, I never asked,” Miles-Crocker says.

Even worse, the seller wouldn’t allow her to clean them up—or move anything—to prep the home for a showing. Instead, he created a path through the home’s crowded contents from the front door to the kitchen and bathroom.

“Agents and prospective buyers could not see the bedrooms unless they climbed over the hoard,” Miles-Crocker recalls. “It was crazy.”

Heads up: If your house is in serious disarray, consider “extreme cleaning” professionals to help get your home show-ready.

5. Smart toilets

One of the weirdest bathroom encounters Lauren Cangiano, a licensed associate broker for Halstead Manhattan in New York, ever had was with a trendy, high-end Toto programmable toilet.

“Every time we walked past the bathroom during a showing, the toilet came to life and scared the daylights out of us,” Cangiano says. “The lid would open and close, and lights started flashing. I’m guessing it was set in such a way that someone could find the toilet in the dark. The zinger was when my client dropped something in the bathroom and water started squirting up out of the toilet. I think she activated the bidet setting!”

Heads up: If a fancy toilet floats your boat, hey, more power to ya. But if you’ve got a bunch of bells and whistles, try to figure out how to deactivate them before you show your home.

6. Poop

Marie Bromberg, a licensed real estate salesperson for Corcoran in New York, had a harrowing bathroom moment at her very first listing.

“It was a lovely studio apartment that was so beautiful and well-priced that it was swarmed,” Bromberg recalls. “We had easily 20 people in less than 500 square feet at any given time.”

At one point, an elderly lady stepped into the bathroom and shut the door.

“She didn’t even ask! She just went in to do her business,” Bromberg says.

She was in there a long time, and once she exited, Bromberg realized there were two problems.

First: “The smell was awful, and now everyone at the open house could smell it because it’s a studio,” Bromberg says.

“And, some of it had missed the toilet.”

Before other visitors could complain, Bromberg hastily opened a window and turned on the exhaust fan. Then, she found some paper towels, closed the door, and cleaned the toilet.

Heads up: While the blame for this one can’t possibly fall on the seller, there are some things you can do to prevent poop-related problems that might arise during a showing: “Never have toilet paper at an open house, so as to discourage people from doing the deed,” Bromberg says.

The post 6 Things in Your Bathrooms That Are Freaking Out Potential Buyers appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.