When your job involves selling (and showing) the private property of other humans, it’s fair to say that you experience some pretty weird things.
We gathered stories from real estate agents across the country who found (or did) something unexpected during their home sales experience. Here are their tales.
People (and parts) in strange places
Hair salons, dentures and squatters
Orland Park, Illinois, agent Danielle Moy got approved to sell a property that she was told was vacant. When she and a client stopped by to take a look and rang the doorbell, there was no answer, so they walked inside and opened some doors to find a miniature hair salon — complete with a client getting pretty. (They couldn’t hear the doorbell because of the hairdryer.)
New Jersey-based agent Briana Cahill was showing a vacant house to buyers who brought their daughters with them — six and four years old. “There was not one item in the house except for a small pink box on the kitchen counter, which of course caught the girls’ attention. Curious to see what was inside, they peeked over and, believe it or not, it was a pair of dentures! They were so freaked out that they haven’t joined their parents at a showing since.”
Andrea Gordon, a Realtor in the San Francisco Bay Area, went to water plants at a “pretty palatial house that was temporarily off the market for a holiday,” she remembered, when she heard the shower running. “There should have been no one there,” she added.
“This was during the economic downturn, and it turned out a Realtor — a guy — who knew the house would not be showing that weekend had let himself in and was taking a shower because he had been living out of his car,” Gordon explained. “He liked the bathroom and thought it would be great to take a steam shower! He was mortified, as was I. I gave him $100.”
Charity Ankrum based in Oakland, California, remembers “quite a few squatters in the ‘bad old days'” from 2008 to 2009. She remembers one client who seemed to have several. “In the first, we found someone sound asleep in the kitchen and noticed a power cord running through the kitchen. Another had red spray paint in the living room that said ‘GET OUT.’ The last (and scariest) one was on Adeline — there was no power on and when we went downstairs we could hear people breathing and hiding from us.
“My client bought me a huge Maglite, the kind security uses, and some pepper spray.” He ended up buying a duplex for $320,000 that’s now worth over $1 million, so Ankrum says “it was all worth it.”
New York broker Noel Berk went to show an exclusive luxury townhouse after a week of no showings. “I found a ‘neighborhood character’ had made his way in and set up house,” he recalled. “Laundry was hung on clothes lines and he was cooking in the fireplaces!”
Sellers (and tenants) causing strife
Sometimes it’s not a rogue agent or squatter but the seller himself (or herself) who’s taking advantage of the shower.
Bill Price, an agent in Salisbury, Maryland, made an appointment to show a house that he was told was vacant — the seller had moved out of state. He showed up early to familiarize himself with the property and heard music as he walked down a hallway — “but some people leave a radio on in vacant homes to make it seem like someone is still living there, so I continued down the hallway,” he said.
“When I entered the master bedroom, I realized that it was not a radio, but a woman singing in the shower in the master bathroom! I sheepishly backed out of the house and called the listing company.
“It turned out that the seller had returned to the house for the weekend to retrieve possessions but had failed to notify them. Thankfully, everything worked out fine. The seller learned to notify her listing agent when she was staying at the house, and that buyer bought the house!”
Julie Cuellas, an agent in the San Francisco Bay Area, had a frightening seller encounter that almost got out of hand. “I took my buyer — a former Marine — to see an occupied property,” she remembered, but the wife didn’t inform her husband that anyone was coming to see the property.
So they showed up and found a key in the door and loud music inside. After knocking loudly, ringing the doorbell and yelling “Realtor!,” Cuellas made her way inside with her client. “I was showing my client the living room when we heard a loud cry: ‘Stop right there!’ I turned to see a man armed with a rifle pointed in our direction.”
Worried the former Marine might jump the gun-wielder, Cuellas tried to calm the seller down, but faced resistance. “He insisted we were trespassing and yelled at us at the top of his voice,” Cuellas said. “I repeatedly stated that we had an appointment and that he should call his wife.”
When he finally took her advice — “with one hand holding the gun and the other the telephone” — she heard him ask his wife, “Why didn’t you tell me?!”
“Then he dropped the gun and told us we could look around the house … but he never apologized,” she concluded.
Sometimes, sellers stick around for the showing appointments in more … unusual ways.
“I had a seller who would hide under the house when the house was being shown to potential buyers,” said Oakland, California-based agent Stacey Merryman. “He wanted to hear what they said while walking through. I had to pre-warn agents that he might be listening when they showed the house.”
Robbinsville, New Jersey, agent Heather Tindall had another seller encounter when she was showing a short sale and called the listing agent to schedule the time. “She said the sellers were still living there so to be sure to knock first” — Tindall rang the doorbell twice and announced herself when she walked in. “I heard no response, so my buyers and I started touring.”
They realized they weren’t alone about 10 minutes into the showing when a door slammed upstairs and Tindall saw a boxer-clad man on the landing and a woman wearing very little scurrying to the bathroom. “It was clear that they had no idea we were there, as they were ‘pre-occupied,'” Tindall said. “I couldn’t get my buyers out fast enough!”
Oakland, California, agent Ana Forest remembers taking the buyers back to one house for a final walk-through the day before escrow closed.
“The place was empty, more or less swept, and upon checking each room, we opened the door to a bedroom. There was a tenant sleeping in a mound of clothes with his laptop set up, a little TV and a pizza box next to him.”
The tenant explained that he’d had a late night and didn’t want to drive all the way home after finishing work, so instead he decided to crash at his old pad. “Needless to say, we changed all the locks about three minutes after escrow closed,” she concluded.
Wrong place, wrong time
Another agent in the San Francisco Bay Area, Elijah Fletcher, was showing a condo and met the listing agent downstairs with his buyers. “She held the lobby door open for us and said to go up the stairs and that the unit was unlocked and open on the left.” Following her instructions, Fletcher opened the door that was cracked on the left to find “a shirtless man changing his son, legs up in the air, right in front of us!”
Like any good dad, he was unfazed. “He said, ‘Oh, the condo is one more down.’ I closed the door slowly and apologized for the inconvenience — and we couldn’t stop laughing.”
Ghosts in the hallways
It seems like if you don’t have a ghost or spooky story about a home you showed, then you haven’t been paying attention.
Long Branch, New Jersey-based agent Anna Garifine was showing a newer, contemporary style home and was told the owner would leave the door open and step out — it was a safe neighborhood.
So she and her client showed up and found the door locked; after ringing the bell a few times, nobody answered, so they turned to leave when they heard a noise. Garifine looked back “and the door was cracked open.”
After announcing herself and receiving no answer, they entered to start the viewing — still calling out “hello, is anyone there?” as Garifine remembers. “While upstairs, we heard a noise downstairs,” she said, so they called out again. “Heading back downstairs, a door in the hall that was locked is now open, revealing a closet. Totally creeped out my client — and I heard a noise in the garage; taking a peek, I saw the door of an old sauna in there close and decided it was time to get out of the house.”
Turns out, the owner’s daughter was home and hiding so nobody saw her — and after all that, the client still liked the house and ended up buying it.
Ankrum remembers showing a property to a University of California professor “who was an atheist — I don’t know how that came up, but it did,” she recalled. “As we walked through the vacant house, we could feel a presence following us from room to room.
“My very sensible client turned to me and said, ‘I know this sounds odd, but I really feel like we’re being followed by a ghost.’ I agreed and we both ran away from the house, fairly shaken.”
Merryman had a buyer who put an offer on a house, and “when we did our home inspection I noted that the house next door was vacant and had been for 30-plus years,” she recalled. “My client became convinced that it was haunted, so we cancelled the contract.”
Bellevue, Washington-based agent Teri Herrera has a story that she says her husband still doesn’t believe: She was showing a property when suddenly, she and her client heard piano music from downstairs, plus chattering, laughter and dancing — it sounded like a big party was taking place. Assuming that the sellers hadn’t gotten notice of the showing and they’d just moved a party indoors from outside, Herrera glanced out the window, but there was nothing in the backyard.
Walking down the stairs, she announced herself — and the music stopped. After opening the door at the bottom of the stairs, she peeked around the corner to find a piano — and absolutely no one there.
Freaked out, she and her client left the property immediately, and Herrera called the listing agent to discover that an elderly resident had died in the home not too long before her experience.
Columbus, Ohio, agent Joe Evans remembers showing a home at the New Albany Country Club “that was finished almost like a funeral home — so, odd to start with,” he remembered. He and his client, a commercial Realtor, entered the home via garage on a snowy day and heard footsteps upstairs while they were in the basement, so they called out “we are downstairs.”
“Both of us clearly heard someone,” Evans noted. “I go upstairs to see who it is. No one is there, but the front door is now open. No footprints in the snow — just an open front door.”
So he headed back downstairs, and as they were finishing the tour, they heard the footsteps again. So they both ventured back upstairs.
“Front door is open again. No footprints. We leave immediately!” He said the hair on the back of his neck was standing up by that point — and that he still gets the shivers driving past the property.
Jennifer Schaefer Holt, an agent in Vernon, Connecticut, was looking at an older home with a rich history when she and three clients walking through the house with her smelled “a strong scent of cologne.”
“We all turned and looked at each other and said, ‘Do you smell it?’ ‘Yes.’ None of the men were wearing the cologne we were smelling. Plus in the same house, there are areas where all of a sudden it would get very cold — and it was the middle of the summer.” Her clients ended up passing on the property “for other reasons,” she said.
Moy also found a surprise in a home’s basement — one that her buyer didn’t like at all. “There really wasn’t much in there,” she said. “Some furniture and a couple of odds and ends, but as you walked down to the basement, there were all of these animals that the seller had from hunting.”
Moy saw ducks, deer heads and more, and says her client “just freaked out.” Despite liking the rest of the home, the basement full of dead animals was a deal breaker.
“There were at least 15 to 20 different animals,” she added. “I talked to the listing agent about it, and she said ‘Yeah, you know, a couple of other people have mentioned it, but the seller just had no place to put them right now.'”
Cuellas remembers showing a bank-owned property. “I opened the door and proceeded to walk in when about a million cockroaches fell from above the doorway and onto my body.”
There was much screaming and jumping around — “my client was screaming, too, but no bugs dropped on her,” Cuellas said. “It was the most disgusting thing ever. It was rather like an Indiana Jones-type stunt, but it was real life real estate.”
Jason Steele, an agent in Collingwood, Ontario, was viewing a semi-detached home for a listing. “It was so filthy that the wood floors were dull and the carpets had a sheen,” he remembered.
After he left for his next property — where he was hosting an open house — he saw something weird on the inside leg of his pants. “It was a dark spot about two inches in diameter. I thought, ‘Wow, that place was real dirty — I managed to get a stain.’ Well, I looked closer — it was moving up my leg! It was fleas!”
After a frantic call to his in-laws to bring flea spray (he couldn’t leave the open house), he threw his pants in the middle of the yard and sprayed himself down. “I ended up putting up a ‘closed’ sign, drove home and jumped in the pool, where I sat for over an hour.”
He had his car fumigated, threw his clothes and shoes away — and declined to take that listing.
Gena Carter, a team director of operations in Austin, Texas, said everyone on her eight-person team loves dogs; she’s got two herself and also hosts a rotating foster dog. A couple of years ago, she arrived at a house to meet a client and found a pit bull there that had gotten loose from a neighbor and was “not seemingly friendly,” and her client was not a fan of that particular dog breed.
“Because of that fear, the dog reacted and my client ran into the house,” Carter said. It was up to her to become friends with the dog (which she did), and when she had the dog playing with her, her client could make it to his car without feeling threatened.
“Truth be told, I was scared at first because the dog came charging,” she confessed, “but luckily I’ve been able to help train these fosters I have on behavior because that’s usually the problem.”
Paula Sherman, an agent in Shalimar, Florida, had a different kind of experience with a dog. “I recently had a buyer with another agent showing one of my listings — they took their dog with them,” she explained. “The dog closed the door and locked the agent and family out of the house with the key left inside.
But they got creative about re-entry. “After frantically searching for a hidden key and not finding it — they sent someone through the dog door!”
Then there are the stories about animals that you wouldn’t normally expect to find in any home. (After all, dogs are pretty common pets.)
Grattan Donahoe, an agent in Temecula, California, was showing a home in California’s wine country. “I may have had one foot in the door when we heard shuffling coming from across the room, so we both took a step back and I yelled into the home, ‘Realtor!’ More shuffling.”
Donahoe could tell they’d found some kind of animal and was mostly hoping it wasn’t a coyote. “I slowly peeked my head around the corner to find a full grown barn owl sitting on the countertop.”
He and his buyer figured it had probably been there for several days. “We were able to find a towel in some cabinets in the garage and we gently caught the owl and walked it to the front door and let it fly off. It was an amazing feeling in the end.”
Debbie Biery, a broker in Bellingham, Washington, went into a home listed as vacant, and “when we stepped into the front door we heard some shuffling noises.”
(Moral of the story: Beware shuffling noises!)
“When I called out, no one answered, so we kept walking cautiously through and we when we turned the corner there was a horse in the kitchen,” she recalled. “A horse! He had walked in through the back door.”
Theft and glue
People with a vendetta against a seller or agent — or who just plain don’t have anything better to do — are also the sources of interesting stories.
Cuellas remembers meeting buyers and their home inspector at a home that they’d put under contract. “We entered the house and began the inspection when I noticed that the tea kettle would not budge from the stove,” she said. It was really stuck — she pulled and pulled (and pulled) but couldn’t get it to move at all.
“Then we noticed that none of the drawers would open. They had all been glued shut and the tea kettle had been glued to the stove. The furniture had all been glued down to the carpet. The staging had been glued down to the tables and the shelves so nothing moved.”
Cuellas told the listing agent, who had to get the carpet replaced, the doors fixed and the glue removed. “Seems there was some vindictive person who had a grudge against the listing agent as it appeared it may have happened before,” Cuellas said.
At another flipped property that was under contract, she recalls, “someone stole all of the staging. They also stole the stove and refrigerator.
“The agent wasn’t surprised, but the appraiser was,” she added.
Going above and beyond
Chris Bove, an agent in Austin, Texas, was selling a historic “100-year-old house with a 100-year-old owner and a 100-year-old dog — beautiful house, loved the owner,” he remembered.
Fifteen minutes after he left a listing appointment with the owner, she called him and said “We have a little problem,” and he replied, “Well, we’re smart; we can figure it out. What’s the problem?”
“And she said, ‘The house is on fire.’ I said ‘Oh my God, I’ll be right there. And she says, ‘Don’t rush; you can’t put it out.'”
When he got back to the house, a fireman directed him to the backyard, where she was sitting with a glass of lemonade. (The fire was caused by an electrical issue.)
Bove got the house listed after everything was repaired and sold it quickly, so the story has a happy ending.
Then there’s San Francisco Bay Area agent Kristen Stuecher, who locked herself out of a top-floor penthouse in a high-rise building at her first open house.
“She climbed to the roof and scaled down the side of the building in her dress and high heels to the patio, which had an open door,” said Climb Real Estate’s Chris Lim. “I knew that I didn’t just hire a future superstar (I was right) but also a superstar agent.”
Sometimes it’s a client — maybe not even yours — who tries to go “above and beyond” for some reason.
Ankrum remembers showing an owner-occupied property in Berkeley Hills, “and the elderly woman there was having tea,” she said. She and the buyers declined her offer of a cup, “but I complimented her tea set, which was really lovely — it looked like a Royal Albert set my grandmother had. She tried to give it to me immediately: ‘I’m dying soon anyway, dear.'”
Ankrum says she was “very touched” but told the woman she couldn’t take the tea set; then, “she took out some tape and wouldn’t let us leave until I wrote my name on the bottom of the tea set.”
Bove also helped a veteran buy a farmhouse with a 25-acre “ranchette” — “but there were two different transactions, one for the farm acre and the farm house and one for the additional 24 acres,” he recalls.
As a result, the Texas Veterans Land Board decreed that the 24-acre property required a road-access driveway to access the back portion of it. “They said, ‘We can’t approve the loan unless there’s a driveway put in. There’s going to be an appraiser out there in two days, and there needs to be a driveway in place.'”
So Bove’s buyer — who, thankfully, had some experience with this kind of thing — wrangled a grader and bulldozer. “He said, ‘Do you know how to drive a bulldozer?'” Bove remembers, “and I said, ‘No — do you?’ And he said, ‘I can show you.'”
They negotiated a two-day agricultural lease of the property from the owner and spent from 7 a.m. until about 2 a.m. bulldozing, grading and compacting a 225-foot-long driveway with a turnaround area for a truck. “We beat the appraiser by six hours.”