Storage Wars – How I bought a house filled with stuff.

By 2014 I had become a wily veteran of real estate investing at least that’s what I liked to pretend whenever I fantasized about collecting rent checks, renovating attractive properties, and using my vast resources to fund various goodwill projects.  In reality, at this time I owned 4 investment properties, one of which was constantly filled with annoying tenants who were always surprised that when one month ended another would begin.

Related: House 1, House 2, House 3, House 4

With this in mind, I called up my realtor (link to his information) and decided to have a look at a little 3 bedroom house on Ice Avenue in Lancaster, PA.  The street has an interesting history.  It takes its name from now defunct ice warehouses lining the block.  In the days before refrigeration, cut blocks of ice, which were gathered from the Susquehanna river during the winter months, were stored in these warehouses.  The warehouses and street name survive, but the ice has long since melted.  As you may have guessed, the houses have achieved senior citizen status.

At any rate, I entered the home and at once was appalled, confused, and delighted.  The home gave the appearance of a recent burglary attempt, the robbers searched high and low for their desired object, yet never found it on account of the copious amounts of dust everything was hiding under.  The only sign of life was detected by my nostrils as the resident cat was testing the throw rugs for their absorptive qualities.

Despite the apparent nasal charm, I knew other buyers would have trouble overlooking the poor decor choices, thus I immediately knew I would not be offering the full asking price of $56,000.  I look for houses that are ugly, vacant, and solid, this property was 3 for 3!  Within short order, I was signing papers and agreeing to a purchase price of $45,000.

The expected rent range was $800-$900 per month, and with less then $10,000 in expected repair costs I had acquired a potential cash cow.  Within days, my truck was parked on the curb, and I was hauling out everything that wasn’t nailed down, along with some things that were.  Oddly, no one had come to gather their possessions.

Furniture, bills and bank receipts, (organized using my pile method I noted proudly) children’s toys, a computer, throw rugs, more toys, and a smattering of odds and ends decorated each room, leaving a confused appearance.  Thinking I might get hungry, the previous owners were thoughtful enough to leave food in the refrigerator, at least I think it was once food, although on second thought it may have been the remains of a failed chemistry experiment.

Again my nostrils were delighted.

A few neighbors wondered over looking for plunder, I told them it was a cash or carry sale.  They choose to carry and out went the kitchen table and chairs.  I loaded my truck, knowing I would pay a minimum fee at the dump, and knowing my load wouldn’t be heavy enough to exceed that minimum I attained a load height just shy of being able to charge  admission for an observation deck.  This was my second trip of the weekend, and I wasn’t about to pay for a third, the $35 fees were killing my bottom line.

I hurried across town, arriving just 3 ½ hours past the closing time of the dump.  I stared at the gate for a few stunned minutes wondering how I’d missed this key detail, then for a brief moment, I considered just leaving an IOU with the junk by the gate.

Choosing instead to live dangerously, I drove home to the icy glare of my wife and neighbors.  Beleave it or not, there were a few items I deemed salvageable.  A nice little cast iron skillet, which I use to this day, a set of Mikasa Terra Stone dinnerware, a leather-bound backgammon set, electric space heater, an antique toaster oven, and a futon.

Incredibly, later that evening, I was contacted by the owner of the goods, after the house had sat in its semi abandoned state for months, and had been under agreement for weeks, and after I had called her the day before giving her one last chance to get her stuff, now she wanted it.  Our awkward conversation went something like this…

“Can I come by this evening to pick up my stuff?”

“Umm, its all gone.”

“What?  Gone where”

“Well, like I said in my message to you, starting yesterday, I was getting rid of everything.”

“I don’t understand, that was my stuff.”

“Ah, yeah, well, I threw it away.”

“Where, can I still get it, the toys, the computer?  I don’t believe this is happening.”

(Me, feeling a bit guilty but also now agitated as she had had months prior to gather her things)

“I took it to the county transfer station, its gone, its mixed with truckloads of garbage at this point.”  “I do still have the dinnerware, space heater, and the futon because it was to big for me to lift myself.”

And with that, I found myself nervously meeting this women on a Saturday evening to transfer a few remaining things.  She appeared in a 15 passenger van with a collection of other humans whose relations where impossible to decipher, kids her own or maybe strangers off the street, an older woman, and a man who was either the leader or a captive; he acted surprised that I would have trashed such treasures, but as we both new everything was junk.  I sensed he had just been repeating lines he was told to say.

I watched with detached amusement as they stuffed the futon over the tops of the seats, the kids heads disappeared as they were forced to lay down.  With a puff a smoke, and a loud crack, they disappeared into the early summer night, and I now thankfully had an empty house, which I could begin to repair.

Check in Thursday for Part II – The Repairs

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