This is an ongoing series of posts on assisting seniors and their families during transition. Read Ann’s other posts here.
As REALTORS®, we are all aware that a clean, neat house is critical to getting the best possible price for a property. How the real estate is presented will determine the potential buyers’ initial response to the house. As sales agents, it is our fiduciary responsibility to get the property sold for the owners and to use our expertise to see that the transition goes as smoothly as possible.
When the real estate agent is called to do a market evaluation, the excitement may dwindle if the REALTOR® sees a messy and unkempt house cluttered with stuff. The interior could be completely filled with excess goods, or the debris may be contained in just a few specific rooms. The solution may be a matter of a quick clean up but many times these cluttered rooms can also be an example of the condition known as hoarding.
In my career as a REALTOR® for over 30 years, I have encountered the reality of dealing with hoarders on several occasions. The particulars vary in each situation, but all present a red flag that requires the assistance of qualified professionals. The parties involved are not always seniors, and the condition is not defined by socioeconomic levels. I have worked with hoarders ranging in age, and the particulars vary in each situation. One very attractive ex-ballerina that I worked with had a bedroom almost completely filled with unpaired designer shoes, all in a large heap.
When this problem is evident, the challenge is to correctly identify the problem, discuss it with the individual and family members and develop a strategy for getting help for those involved. Once these steps have been taken and a clean-up has been conducted, then the REALTOR® can pursue the objective of getting the house sold.
What is hoarding?
Hoarding is described as more than mere collecting or cluttering, it is a recognizable disorder where the acquiring of things interferes with daily living and functioning. The condition often stems from the desire to maintain control and has been linked to depression.
The psychiatric community identified hoarding as a form of obsessive-compulsive behavior. However, in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it is now listed as a distinct disorder within the chapter about obsessive-compulsive disorder. While some of the drug treatments and therapy techniques used for OCD have been tried with hoarders, it is now recognized that this problem requires a different treatment approach. The latest research has identified that these two conditions do not share the same brain imaging patterns.
Are there different kinds of hoarding?
An expert move coordinator, Mike Penn, Stable Solutions, presented the following to me. He is known throughout Palm Beach County, Florida for the competent way he handles these situations. As Mike says, hoarders believe that there stuff has value. He has expanded the hoarding categories based on his own experiences.
The first would be Random Hoarding. This is easily identified as a situation where various objects like old newspapers, jar tops, broken utensils and furniture are scattered throughout the property. Often the debris is so voluminous that paths have to be made through the trash to enable moving from room to room.
Another form of hoarding is Purposeful Hoarding. In these circumstances, an individual may save particular items for a “reason.” Often these items are perceived to have an intrinsic value, an intense emotional attachment to stuff or the sense that the items might be useful someday.
For example, a person may have numerous BOGO (buy one get one free items.) It is not unusual to come upon closets full of multiple sets of goods from laundry soap, to computer paper to dozens of unused coffee mugs. Also not uncommon is the collecting of QVC or internet purchases, which often sit unopened in piles.
Some hoarding can be more severe that other cases. Once, I was asked to evaluate a home where the long-term girlfriend of a man who had moved to assisted living, remained in the house with her 20+ birds and their unkempt cages. Clearly, the house was not sanitary and could not be listed in that condition.
Another example is a severe case of hoarding where the occupant collected German Cockroaches. These insects are born pregnant and multiply quickly. The woman believed that the roaches were her pets and she even took some of them with her in a box when she went out in her car. The mental health authorities were involved and eventually, a licensed team and exterminators cleaned out her home. The project took over three weeks and could not have been handled correctly without assistance from family members and social services.
What should a REALTOR® do if hoarding is evident?
A real estate agent is not capable of dealing with the situation by himself or herself, and they shouldn’t be expected to. An educated and nonjudgmental response to the situation is required. Numerous resources are available to assist, in not only the cleanup, but also to engage the appropriate professionals to become involved.
In the next blog, I will share some strategies for REALTORS® to use when dealing with hoarders and their families. Various professional recommendations will be presented. This information may be very useful for you as a REALTOR® and may help you to be the catalyst to save someone suffering from this disorder.
Dr. Ann Meyerson is an agent at William Raveis in Westport, Conn. and specializes in helping seniors and their families during real estate transitions. She has been featured as an industry expert on Channel 12 News and has hosted the Real Estate Forum on Channel 88. Ann shares her professional time between Connecticut and Florida where she is actively involved in Senior Transitions and is affiliated with Leading Real Estate Companies of the World®. You can learn more from Dr. Ann Meyerson on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, FourSquare and her blog.