Investor War Stories: A Fishy Abandoned House Tale

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Some of the articles I have written lately have been on topics of a more serious nature so I thought I would write about an abandoned house that I discovered a few years ago that was so unbelievable…. Well it was unbelievable. I thought I would tell this true story to show the lighter side to the business.

Old HomesteadI was out searching for abandoned houses with my cousin, Dave Watkins, one hot summer day in July of 2000. I remember the temperature was over 100 and that meant that any abandoned house we found would be extremely hot inside. Inspecting the upstairs of a 2-story house, with no air conditioning, in the dead of a Texas summer, well that’s just not something they glorify on the infomercials. The house we happened upon is a perfect example of one of those properties you never hear about on TV.

We found a house that we determined was abandoned. When we got about 10 feet from the door, we had to step back because there was one of the most foul, unpleasant odors coming from the inside…And we could smell it from outside. All the windows and doors were closed and it still smelled something awful.

We had to take turns running in the house, while holding our breath, to open a window and then run back out to gasp for fresh air. We both ran in & out of the house for an hour or so and yet the stench was still present. Airing the house out was not working so after another 30 minutes, we decided to run to Home Depot and buy some respirators so we could get in and inspect the house without gagging.

We opened up every closet door, every cabinet door and looked just about anywhere we could think of where the smell could be coming from. The house was totally empty but we began to think that the previous occupants had maybe buried an animal nearby or maybe they had buried a dead body under the house. It was such a horrible smell that our curiosities had us determined to find the source of it.

After we had searched just about every inch of the house and still came up with nothing, we looked at the ceiling and then we looked over at each other, eye to eye and without saying a word we set out to find the access to the attic. Since I was the lighter of the two of us, he propped me up and I got up through the hole and into the attic. I reached back for Dave and pulled him up through the hole. It was HOT up there! I’m not sure what the temperature was but I am sure it was in excess of 125 degrees.

We slowly started to crawl across the ceiling joists with our spotlights. We got across the main part of the house and came up to a double wall that separated the garage from the rest of the house. The open void between the two walls was about three to four inches of open space. When I got directly over the void and looked down with my spotlight… I froze right there after seeing what the light was revealing. I slowly looked over at my cousin, who had also stopped dead in his tracks. He slowly looked up and over at me and then rolled his eyes back down into the wall void. We had found the source of one of the most God awful odors we had ever encountered.

It seems the previous occupants wanted to go out while leaving a statement. Something that would really get the attention of anyone that set foot in the house after they left.

sardine fish 1It got our attention! The occupants had gone through the considerable trouble of getting up in to the attic, crawling across the ceiling joists to get to the void in the wall. At that point, they had actually dumped thousands and thousands of…. FISH! Yes, FISH! Tons of them! None of them were really that big but most of them were the size of Sunfish. We couldn’t believe it. It must have taken them weeks to haul that much fish up into the attic to dump between the walls. That was the only way anyone could have got anything into that space.

We came down out of the attic and went to talk to the neighbors. They told us that the house had been vacant since March and it was July when we discovered the house. That was a good five months for all that fish to fester and bake in the hot Texas heat.

We later learned that the lender had pressed criminal charges against the previous owners because what they had actually done was intentionally destroy the property.
The fish had been in the house long enough for the smell to penetrate every part of it and it was eventually bulldozed because to get the smell out, all the drywall and the wood in the frame would have had to be removed and replaced. I guess the insurance adjuster figured it was a total loss.

Experiences like that, is why I love real estate. There are no two houses alike. And anytime I think I have seen it all…. I stumble upon a house like the “Fish House” and think to myself… “Wait ‘til everyone hears about this one!”

So the next time you happen upon a house where something seems “fishy” …. Grab your flashlight and go look in the attic…. And post what you find on the BiggerPockets Forum Board.

-Jim Watkins

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16 Comments

  1. Was dozing the house enough? Seems to me like you should have burned the place, but I suppose the local government would have been a bit upset of having a fish BBQ in the neighborhood.

  2. damn that’s a pretty clever way to ruin a house…cool story about finding the house and exploring it..funny enough I found an abandoned house around 96 and went throughout it with my brother…the house had lots of stuff still inside and we were young. We found broken glass and a dead bird in the sink, and a chalk outline of a body..I think it might have been fake. Their were tons of suits, and lots of valuables; we didn’t take anything and got scared and left..thankfully it didn’t smell as bad as your experience 😉

  3. That’s absolutely insane! I can’t believe that someone would do something like that! I don’t blame the lender for filing charges.

    BTW… The pic makes the house look like something right out of a horror movie. Too bad the house was intentionally destroyed, would’ve been really nice after being fixed up.

  4. These stories which are extreme, are true through the housing industry. If anything, being the lender i would have filed charges even earlier. In now way should they even have done that in the first place.

    Regards Andy

  5. Pingback: Trulia Blog » Carnival of Real Estate

  6. Several years back I went into a foreclosure where the owners had disconnected everything, the toilets, cabenets, everything. It was all left sitting next to where it should have been installed and you knew it was their way of saying $%&#@ you to the bank. This fish story goes way beyond that.

  7. This reminds me of a story I saw on TV about some real estate invstors that bought a big (newly built) California mansion that was in forclosure (site unseen) for a “steal of a price”…

    When they finally visited the property and were able to open it – they found dozens of CATS!

    The cats were owned by the previous owner who apparently lost her mind – leaving the cats to urinate and deficate ALL OVER EVERYTHING for months and months.

    The investors were physically sickened by the site and smell of their new investment property – and said that they would be contacting their lawyer…

  8. That was one of the best stories I have heard in awhile. You were pretty brave. The closest gross thing I have experienced was we were renovating an old Victorican and came in one day to the smell of feces. Apparently some homeless guy decided to make himself at home one night and went to the bathroom in the hole reserved for the new toilet plumbing lines. It was pretty gross.

  9. What a story! I can only imagine the smell…good lord. Funny that you were so determined you went to Home Depot for respirators. I believe I would’ve been afraid at what I might find at some point and yes, Sam, it sounds like burning would have been in order as well.

  10. That is a good one. I have been in some nasties, but not that bad. The worst house I have been in was half burnt down and the guy was still living in the other half. Needless to say, it was a horrible run-down shack with an actual tin-roof.

  11. My first home was a HUD home I bought in ’99. Just a little 2/1 I could afford as a first time homebuyer. I should mention first that I have horrible allergies and at the time was always completely congested and couldn’t hardly smell anything. The realtor I was working with wasn’t really keen on going in the house while I inspected it, but I didn’t think much of it. I did notice a bit of a smell and thought the house was just old (built in 1895). Being a thorough kind of guy who built forts as a kid I wanted to see all the aspects of the construction. Under the house in the crawl space was the rear-end half of a skunk, hence the smell.

    Since this was a listed HUD home in active bidding period. I have no idea if it was the previous owner or competitive bidders who placed the skunk in the crawl space. Thankfully the smell diminished and vanished within a week or two once the carcass was removed. Poor garbage men…

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