Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Abandoned House People

In every city or town, there are some houses that appear abandoned for no apparent reason.  Don't bother trying to track down the owners.  Chances are, they won't sell!

We lived near an abandoned house for a decade.  And for a decade, we occasionally met the owner, who seemed like a normal person.  We would ask him about the house, and he would tell us it was very valuable, as "everyone kept asking me whether I'm going to sell it!"

The problem is, he confused interest with value, and as a result, would not put a realistic price on the house.  Abandoned car people are the same way.  A neighbor asks them if they are going to sell that old Camaro (with the hope that the rusting eyesore will go away).  The car owner mistakenly believes the neighbor is, in fact, coveting the Camaro, which validates his belief that it is a highly prized possession - and that he should keep it.

This is one of the self-reinforcing mechanisms of hoarders.  People ask them all the time when they are going to get rid of their junk, and the hoarder mistakenly believes that people are saying this because they want the junk.

I recently drove by an abandoned house here in Georgia.  Like the one near our home in Virginia, the house is in a nice neighborhood of occupied homes, and if in good shape, could be sold for a good sum of money.  But since the house has been unoccupied for many years, it has started to fall down around itself.  Eventually, vandals break in, and in short order, the house is ruined.

And the owners were on site, and you could tell they were the owners, simply by the cars they drove and what they were up to - wandering around the property, sometimes holding odd things from the home.  Abandoned home owners visit their properties, infrequently, to size up their wealth and also re-validate their home hoarding.  "It needs a little work" they say, and then get back in their car and forget about the place for another six months.

What the house hoarder fails to realize, of course, is that a building needs to be occupied regularly, otherwise it falls apart.  And house hoarders have all these valid "reasons" why they can't rent out their house and keep it in good shape.  And in many cases, one of the reasons is that the home is filled with hoarded possessions, and thus cannot be rented.

And once there is a tree growing through the roof, well, it can't be rented at all.  Leave the water and power off for a few years, and the house ceases to function as a home.

So what do you do if you have a house like this in your neighborhood?  Not much, other that wait for the owner to DIE.  Because it is only then that the house might end up being sold - by the children who will have a better idea of the real value of the house and have no interest in being house hoarders.

The house near us eventually sold when the owner died - and for far less than the owner thought it was worth.  The house needed a lot of work by that point, and was full of hoarded junk.  Disturbingly, the children thought that much of the hoarded materials were "valuable" - so perhaps hoarding runs in the genes.  It was very sad to see.

And these are just a couple of examples of hoarded houses I have seen over the years.  Where I grew up, there was a Lake House on our lake that was abandoned by the children of the owner - who could not agree to sell it, convinced it was worth a lot of money.  The house was eventually broken into, and became a hang-out for kids having keg parties - you know how that worked out.  Eventually, decades later, the land sold and was developed.  But one wonders why the owners would not at least rent out the property and earn some income and at least cover their property taxes.

People do irrational things, however, and this seems to be the norm, not the exception to the rule.  This is not to say that most of us are hoarders or people who abandon houses.  Rather, it appears this sort of behavior is part of the spectrum of human behaviors.  It is more common than we think.

And chances are, you know of an "abandoned house" near where you live, or perhaps remember one from the neighborhood where you grew up.