FEBRUARY 15, 2019

This Job Takes Backbone

As a 2nd year trainee, I have had limited experience in the field. Also, being limited to mostly non-complex jobs, I take what I can get. I was given an assignment in Brentwood (near OJ Simpson’s old home) and, even though my back was a little sore (an ongoing issue), I decided to go. Well, I get to the house which is a corner lot at the top of a steep incline, with the inclined earth side of the home having a very narrow dirt walk (about six inches wide), with a very steep drop beyond.

I measured the home the way I was taught. Rookies at this shop are NOT allowed to laser measure as a sort of “rite of passage.” So, as an inexperienced and overzealous rookie, I measured the “cliff” side of the home as well with my tape. To get to this side of the home there was an extremely low gate, about four feet high, with a lock that I did not have a key to (the home was empty). So, like a rookie I eagerly hopped the gate in order to get the measurement. That “hopping” of that low gate kicked my back pain into overdrive, so I foolishly decided to measure this side hastily. This side was about 60 feet long, and right on cue at about 30 feet, my back went out—completely.

Now, if you’ve witnessed someone’s back go out or if it has happened to you, then you may be able to relate. Imagine where your spine meets your waist turning into Jell-O, and every little movement feeling like the nerves in your back are being crushed. Also, when your back goes out, your immediate instinct is to sit or lie down to ease the pain. I had no room to sit or lie down, and every movement, even slight, hurt like heck.

If you happened to be passing by this corner and looked up, you would have seen me trapped in pain, clutching the side of my subject property like a cat, side stepping at a snail’s pace. It took about 15 minutes to shuffle 30 feet.

By the time I returned back to the low gate again, I was drenched in sweat. I had to use both hands to lift one leg over the gate and again both hands to lift my other leg over. I got in my car, called the agent to reschedule and as I drove off, I saw a construction crew two houses down on the sidewalk, staring as I passed. One of them could not control his laughter…and at this point I could not control my laughter either.

Two months at a chiropractor and I haven’t looked back. I still laugh about how this must have looked.

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FEBRUARY 4, 2019

Good Fellas Meet Goodfellas

The house was an ordinary dwelling in an older suburban neighborhood of Los Angeles. I was there to appraise it for a dissolution of marriage. It was a bit of a drive from my office and I was supposed to meet the lady who was getting divorced.

I knocked and knocked but no answer. I knocked some more and the door finally opened just as I turned my back to leave. There stood a woman with tears streaming down her face. I introduced myself and she began to talk, explaining that she had been in the bathroom with a gun in her mouth preparing to shoot herself. But my incessant knocking interrupted her. She was terrified and thought that she would be penniless and a vagrant on the streets because of the divorce. I calmed her down and explained that she was receiving seven houses as a result of the settlement, and that she would own them free and clear with no mortgages—she was set for life! I then proceeded to appraise the home. When I left, I told her that I would gladly trade places with her. She felt better.

A few days later, I got a call from a man that turned out to be her godfather. He could not thank me enough for saving the client’s life. We palled around, his wife and the client, for about six weeks. He sent a Rolls Royce to pick me up and the divorcee would be inside. We went to fashionable clubs and fine restaurants, and never a word was spoken about the appraisals.

One evening, while he was somewhat intoxicated, the godfather told me he was in the Mafia and wanted to set me up in a good appraisal business in Las Vegas. The next day I called him and turned down the offer, saying that I was just a simple American and knew nothing of these things. He called one more time but I did not return the call.

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JANUARY 28, 2019

This Job Smells Fishy. And Catty. And Doggy…

I was very new to the business, probably three months in. I showed up to a normal looking house in a normal development in San Dimas, CA. The only thing I noticed from the outside was a stale smell and all the windows had been covered from the inside with huge sheets of aluminum foil. When the owner opened the front door, the smell hit me in the face like a sack of potatoes. It was this stale/ammonia/pee/death/poop combo that I’ll never forget. As the owner opened the door, I saw probably ten sets of cat eyes staring at me very intently. I stepped into the living room with my t-shirt pinched against my nose (it was really bad). I took some photos of the living room and walked to the dining area. In the dining area I looked back at the front door and I noticed I had left perfect foot prints on the carpet, however, upon further inspection, the footprints were in cat hair. The cat hair was so thick it was like freshly fallen snow.

The backyard was tiny and there were eight dogs chained to fence posts and barking at me like maniacs. I was terrified I was going to be bitten or eaten, so I tried to finish outside as quickly as I could. When I went back inside I noticed that each bedroom had more and more animals, some in cages some out of the cages, and everything was either shredded or stained with pee. One of the 1/2 bathrooms was closed and supposedly had half a dozen cats inside, according to the owner. The smell was so intense I almost vomited a few times, but powered through. The kicker was, I asked, “Why do you have so many animals?” The owner replied, “all these animals have various diseases so I take them in from the local vet because I don’t want them put to sleep.” That’s right, the owner was a diseased animal hoarder. After leaving, I immediately called the lender/client and the local Animal Control. It was horrible to see all those animals sick and living in those conditions. I’ve never seen a house as bad as that one, but it’s one I’ll never forget.

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JANUARY 25, 2019

Green Thumb, Black Market

Back around 2005, I appraised a house in Orange County, CA. It was a two-story McMansion in an area with 1950s ranch homes. This home was two-stories plus a GIGANTIC attic. The house was over 3,000 SF plus the attic space, and just didn’t fit at all with the neighborhood. Like any home inspection, I do my routine measuring, photographing and make comments and observations. I ask if I can take a quick photo of the attic space and the owner looks at me, smiles and asks, “You cool?” I didn’t really know what he meant but said, “Yeah, I’m cool.” He leads me up the stairs to the attic and shows me inside. The entire attic is filled to the ceiling with pot plants in 5-gallon buckets. The plants were 5-8 feet tall and looked like small trees. It was the most pot I had ever seen in my life. He had a lighting system, drip/irrigation, air circulation and a generator running. This was an impressive and shocking operation he had going. I took my pictures and explained that they would be in the appraisal report. The owner didn’t seem to care at all so I’m guessing it was a legal operation? Who knows. I alerted the client and made a report to the local PD. I have no clue what came of it, as I never followed up with the client, owner, or the police.

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JANUARY 16, 2019

The Refrigerator Wasn’t in the Kitchen

Over 30 years ago, I appraised a house in South San Jose. When the owner opened the front door, I reeled back as if I had stuck my nose in an ammonia bottle. Inside were five Besenji dogs, and feces were everywhere. The dogs had chewed the corners off the walls and parts of the doors. The owner’s sheets looked like waxed paper. The owner’s son was cleaning while I was there and I saw him run over poop with the vacuum. The pool water looked like pea soup. Last year I was chatting with Dale, a fellow member of the church parking-lot team, and I asked him where he lived. It turned out to be that same house I had appraised, now 30 years later. The man had died and the house had gone into foreclosure, and Dale had purchased it at a very good price. We exchanged stories, it turns out the house had been under the same ownership for an additional 20 years after I appraised it. Dale was telling me that a recurring stain kept appearing on the family-room ceiling. He would prime and paint, and a few days later the stain would return. Dale thought a pipe was leaking, so he tore up the subfloor in the second-floor bathroom. Turns out the original owner’s dogs were using the floor as a toilet and their urine had soaked through the subfloor and all the way through a floor joist. When I asked Dale about the pea-soup pool, he said when he drained it, he found a refrigerator at the bottom.

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DECEMBER 20, 2018

Cue Banjo Music

I think my scariest job was in a very remote area that was accessible only by a one-lane dirt road. I felt like I was in “Deliverance” land and kept looking for someone to come out of the bushes in overalls and missing teeth. To top it off, the road ended up being blocked by a large tree before I could get to the site. I had to back out approximately four miles with a drop-off on one side and a hill on the other. 

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OCTOBER 30, 2018

Vacant Lot…Not So Vacant

The only time I’ve ever considered carrying a gun is when I did vacant land appraisals in Northwest Wisconsin. I was walking through 40 acres of woods when I spotted a dark blob about a hundred yards in front of me. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was a black bear. I didn’t linger long enough to see if it spotted me before I began sprinting back to my car. Luckily I wasn’t too far from the road. Pretty sure I left smoking rubber behind me as I peeled out. I’ve had a few friends chased by bears there, and I was not about to find out what that feels like.

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OCTOBER 30, 2018

The More, the Smellier

Awhile back, I did a walk-through for a rural home located in the mountains. When I walked into the property, I had to cover my mouth with my clipboard and pretend I was yawning to hide my gagging. The smell was unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before. Over the years, they’d taken in quite a few feral cats. And by a few I mean at least a dozen. To accommodate for the number of felines that came and went from the property, they’d built a litter-box the size of a horse trough. I measured it, it was exactly six feet long, and it looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned out in months. Cat feces peppered the floor throughout the entire house. I had to watch my step the entire time I was there. The owners behaved as if nothing was abnormal about their living situation. I left that place as fast as I could and retched behind my car.

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OCTOBER 30, 2018

Dog Days of Appraising

I’ve been bitten by dogs twice while appraising homes. One of them was a Labrador. It looked friendly until it trotted over and chomped on my leg. It filled my boot with blood and ruined my pants. The owner covered my trip to the ER, I think she was afraid I’d undervalue her house in retaliation. The other dog was so old, all he could do was hang on to my ankle while I dragged him around the property. The owner told me to kick him off, but he was so old, small and toothless I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

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OCTOBER 30, 2018

A Holy Valuation

I was doing an REO vacant row home in the city. The flooring was suspect and the whole place was a littered mess. Walking towards the rear door, I stepped on a large piece of wall paneling when suddenly it gave way and I fell through a hole in the floor. Luckily, I caught the floor with my arms and I was able to pull myself up. Someone was squatting in the place and deliberately made a trap by removing old flooring and using the paneling to hide it. Be careful what you walk on!

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