From towering garbage to high-level stench, agents told Inman their most traumatic tales from clutter-inclined clients following the discovery of a home filled with “millions” in old comic books.

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As a New Jersey real estate agent who specializes in foreclosure properties, Hugo Meza has encountered his fair share of hoarders, or, rather, homeowners predisposed to unimaginable clutter. 

The Montclair-based eXp Realty agent estimates he’s come across homes filled with collectibles, debris or, well, clutter once every two to three months since he launched his real estate career 20 years ago — but the one lodged in his memory was a three-bedroom property on Fairview Avenue in the town of Westwood. 

“The house was filled with everything — inside and outside,” Meza told Inman, cataloguing an assortment of garbage and a stench so strong that it was a wonder anyone lived inside the property. “The sheriff couldn’t even go in.” 

But Meza, unfortunately, isn’t alone. Real estate agents from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Zion, Illinois, regularly encounter modern-day hoarders, the likes of which would make the Collyer brothers proud. From homes beyond disrepair to hallways packed with debris and even bodily fluids, agents are often the first to get a whiff of these often-reclusive homeowners’ properties, frequently after the owners have passed.

And with each new case, a new hoarder emerges in the headlines, the latest a prolific comic book aficionado who over the years amassed a collection that urban explorer Devin Dark estimated to be worth “millions.”

In a YouTube video posted earlier this month, Dark, who hails from Chicago, tours the trash-riddled home, which he claims was owned by the unidentified proprietor of a comic book store who died in 2005.

In the video, overstuffed trash bags cover the floors and piles of Thor, Hulk and other Marvel superhero comics line many of the surfaces.

“At all times throughout the entire house, there were two feet of toys on the floor going right up to my knees,” Dark said. “I was shocked. It’s not like there are things that are junk.”

‘You could kind of smell it’

Back in New Jersey, Meza’s only option to deal with the Fairview Avenue hoarder home was to rely on a sheriff to serve an eviction notice to the occupant, but the officer was stopped dead in his tracks due to the stench.

In the end, the eviction was carried out from the front steps of the home, Meza told Inman. 

The smell was so extreme that it lingered after all the detritus had been cleared from the property, and a maid service was ultimately hired to deep clean the house, Meza said. 

Hugo Meza | Linkedin

“Even after we removed everything, even after the renovation was done, you kind of could still smell it,” he added.

Further complicating the situation, the previous occupant of the house kept ducks on the property, which garnered complaints from neighbors. After she moved out, she routinely returned to the property to feed the ducks, which continued living in the yard for months after the owner departed. 

To eradicate the smell, the bank that owned the foreclosed property invested in a full-gut renovation of the home, and the property sold after eight months on the market and multiple price cuts. 

Meza said he advises agents tasked with selling a hoarder house to spare no expense in deep cleaning a house or renovating if necessary. 

“Clean it as much as possible, the first impression makes a big difference,” he said. 

Defined by the Mayo Clinic as a psychological affliction that causes ongoing difficulty with throwing away or parting with possessions, hoarding has captured the imagination of the American public since the Collyers circulated in newspapers across the world after brothers Homer and Langley were found dead in their New York City home in 1947, the victims of their own teetering collections of books, medical devices and other detritus.

Homer died of starvation in March 1947 in his Harlem brownstone after amassing more than 140 tons of furniture, musical instruments and other items over a 40-year period. His brother’s body remained hidden until nearly three weeks later, but was eventually found by police, who theorized he may have been crushed by the clutter after he set off a booby trap on his way to bring food to Homer, who they believed was paralyzed prior to dying.

Hidden gems, diamonds in the rough

For some agents, however, taking on a hoarder home has even proved to be a rewarding project with a worthy payoff. 

Paul Reddam, a Compass agent in Austin, Texas, who flips homes with his wife on the side, once purchased a property directly from its occupant, who had been living there and hoarding for several years. 

Paul Reddam | Compass

Despite the piles of debris, Reddam said he found the house to be in relatively good shape. 

“Underneath all the books and the things he had stacked all over the place was pristine floors,” Reddam said. “A lot of the times [hoarder houses] are in better condition than others because there’s not going to be wear and tear in places where there are stacks of stuff.”

For agents working with a homeseller with hoarding tendencies, Reddam said it’s important they develop a strategy alongside their client to clear out the house and to be extremely communicative. 

“You need to have a plan for how to help the person get out of there,” he said. “You’re going to have to help with the move out.” 

As part of the deal Reddam and his wife devised with the seller, the home was cleared out amid a process that proved to be rewarding in the end. 

“He was super happy after he did it,” Reddam said. 

Email Ben Verde

Compass | eXp Realty
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