The first house I ever bought with a partner was also the worst house I have ever bought with a partner. It was February 2018, and my partner, Brandon, and I had just formed our business, Red Ladder Property Solutions. We were both still working our jobby jobs, not yet pulling the trigger on our resignations. The plan was to get our business formed and marketing ramped up prior to quitting, getting some properties in the pipeline so that we could hit the ground running once we went full time.
*Spoiler alert – I did not do a good job on getting a lot of good pics on this one (and God knows Brandon never gets any good ones), so you will have to rely on my witty narrative to carry this post. What you see below for photos is the cream of the crap.
So Brandon calls me one day and tells me that he has a pretty good lead on a house in District 66 off of 84th and Blondo, a good hood of starter houses. Evidently, the owner was having some issues. The owner’s son told Brandon the house was vacant because the owner was now moved into a mental health facility. He described the house as having a lot of personal items and some trash left behind, and they were just hoping to sell it as is, with everything in it so they wouldn’t have to deal with it. At this point, I am really busy with my job and some remodeling projects already, so Brandon goes over to check out the house and meet with the son on his own because I don’t have much available time.
The house is a 3 bed, 2 bath raised ranch with a 1 car garage through the basement. It is on a nice, quiet street and is probably worth about $170,000 after it is all fixed up. I ask Brandon to describe the condition of the house, and he takes a long pause before answering. “Well, there is a lot of wood in there.” I’m like, “What do you mean a lot of wood? What kind of wood, like stacks of lumber?” I’m picturing stacks of 2×4’s that we could possibly sell or use on the project. Worst case scenario I figured we could pay someone to take the wood out, no big deal.
I can tell he is struggling with how to describe it to me. He says, “It’s not really stacks, it’s all like, wedged in there. I couldn’t even get into one of the bedrooms because it was so full, and the family wouldn’t let me go in the master bedroom.” I say, “What? Why not?” He tells me it’s because the previous owner may have tried to “hurt himself” in there. Wow. This is sounding like a sketchy house.
I ask him about the basement and foundation. He tells me that he can’t really get to the foundation because the basement is so full. So I say, “OK, what about when you come into the basement from the garage – what does it look like from there?” He tells me that he can’t get into the garage either because there is a car and so much stuff in there that he can’t get to the door. Geez, it is hard to know what we are dealing with when we can’t see a lot of the house.
I basically defer to Brandon on what to offer for the house since I have not seen it myself. I believe they wanted around $75,000. We end up offering $50K and end up settling on a $51,000 purchase price, with us closing in 2 weeks. Now the fun begins.
In anticipation of closing day, I call to get the utilities switched over to our business account. When I get ahold of MUD to get gas and water service turned on, the customer service agent is taking forever to get our account activated. I ask if there is a problem. She says, “I’m sorry sir, you will need to speak to our engineering department.” “What, why?” I reply. “Well, we show that there has not been gas service at the property since 2010, and no water service there since 2012. So, we will need to have engineering look at the connections before new service can be authorized for safety protocols.” I don’t know what to say. I am speechless. This has never happened to me in almost 15 years of buying dozens and dozens of properties (the engineering department part, not the being speechless part). How could the previous owner have been living in the house with no heat or water for 6+ years? I would soon find out how this was possible.
The day that we get possession of the property, I am going to meet Brandon there to do a walkthrough so that I could see what we bought, and we can put a gameplan together on what we are going to do with it. I get to the house first, so I roll up and take a look at the exterior. Brandon had put a lockbox on the back railing of the house, so I walk around the back and immediately fall right on my ass. Hard. The yard was a skating rink because the ground was frozen solid and we had gotten a bunch of rain on top of it, which was now a sheet of ice due to the fact that the gutters were falling off the house.
To add insult to injury, in my short walk from my truck to the back yard, I already had mentally spent about $20,000 on the exterior of the house. Siding = rotting wood and peeling paint. Cha-ching. Roof = completely shot and multiple layers. Cha-ching. Gutters = what gutters? Driveway = looks like cobblestone. Surprise, it’s just broken concrete. Windows = wood that looks like swiss cheese. Double cha-ching. You know that sense of dread you sometimes get in the pit of your stomach when you are anticipating something terrible? Yeah. Me too.
I get the back door open and immediately get hit with the double whammy aroma of fecal matter and rotting food. And something else that I can’t quite place at the moment. I am now on the phone with Brandon. “Dude. What. The. Hell! What did we just buy?!?” I can now finally get a visual on why he was having such a hard time describing the interior of the house.
The wood in the bedroom he was talking about? It was not the nicely stacked 2×4’s that my delusional mind had conjured up. Nope. This was random, jagged pieces of trashed wood, old busted up pallets, chunks of plywood and cracked up old door jambs. If you can picture the worst, sad, unusable collection of wood pieces you have ever seen, that’s what we had here. And it was jam packed haphazardly, completely filling the bedroom all the way to the freaking ceiling. I honestly do not know if you could wedge a playing card in there – that’s how full it was.
I am now in front of the Mystery Master Bedroom, the one we were not allowed in. I take one step into the room and I immediately smell the coppery scent of blood in the air – the smell I couldn’t place earlier. It takes me a minute to register exactly what I am looking at. The best way I can describe this room is that it would be no surprise to see this room as a crime scene set in the show Dexter. It looks like a kill room. There is black plastic sheeting all over the walls, floor and ceiling. There is a bed and dresser and other random stuff in the room, obviously it was actually being used as a bedroom. <shivers>
I flip on the light to the master bathroom, and discover the source of the copper smell. There is dried blood spray all over the wall, vanity and in the tub. Like, a lot of blood. Something bad happened here. By the way, the entire rest of the upstairs was also completely filthy, with pet hair and poop everywhere and personal belongings scattered and stacked throughout.
I attempt to go downstairs. Nope. Brandon was right, no way you can plow through all of the stuff. Well, we own it now. Time to figure out a plan on what to do with this gem.
The first step is to get the largest dumpster possible and get a cleanout crew lined up. I order a 40 yard dumpster. For reference, this means that it will hold 40 cubic yards of waste. They are 22′ long, 8′ wide and 8′ wide. They hold A LOT of junk.
Dumpster #1 is completely full in 2 hours and there is not even a dent made in the junk left in the house. By the time we have swapped out our 4th 40 yard dumpster, we can finally (sort of) see our way around in the basement. We are about to find out how it was possible to live without heat or running water for several years.
“A room full of buckets.” That’s how it was phrased to me. “What?” I say back. “It is a room in the basement completely full of sealed 5 gallon buckets and empty Culligan 5 gallon water jugs”. Ew. Needless to say, we left the buckets sealed. So that explains the no water thing and the lack of a functioning toilet. Several space heaters sitting in the kitchen explains the no gas thing. I guess.
So the final tally ends up being 7 dumpsters. That was a record for me, and still is. 280 cubic yards of grossness. Now the the house is all cleared out, we can see what type of damage and detritus we are dealing with.
While the cleanout was taking place, we had contacted a few investors that we know to see if they might have an interest in buying the house as-is. Nowadays, we normally we give the house a good cleaning before we start showing it, even to investors. But, we didn’t have cleaning as part of our normal process back then, so we just showed it as is. It quickly became apparent that the whole arterial red color scheme thing we had going in the bathroom was not a popular theme.
After several unsuccessful attempts to get someone over to clean up the blood, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Bleach, rags, rubber gloves and lots of scrubbing later, we now had a light pink hue on the walls. Better. Not great, but better. Nobody can ever accuse me of not getting my hands dirty.
After a couple of low offers, we were a little worried about how we were going to do on the house. But after listing it as an investor special, we had several showings and ended up accepting an offer of $75,000.
All told, we spent about 5 thousand bucks on the cleanout and dumpsters, a few hundred more on cleaning supplies and therapy sessions, and about 4 grand on commish and closing costs to end up with roughly a $13,000 profit within about 2 weeks of owning it. The best part was, the family of the former owner was thrilled that they were able to have someone make the selling process so easy and fast on such a gut-wrenching problem property.
Blood, sweat and tears indeed.