House Hunting Horrors

Today’s post is all about the creative householder – the kind of person who may have heard rumours about building regulations but never paid them much heed. After all, house building is an art, not a science.

Next week I’ll post about some truly mind-boggling houses I saw in France but this week it’s Cornwall’s turn. Meet ‘The Bungalow that Jack Built.’

This is the story about a farmer who would never repair a building if there was room to build a new one alongside. I’d never seen anything like it. As we drove into the farmyard, the first thing we saw was a long row of wooden barns going gradually downhill – in all senses of the word. We counted six of them, each barn in a greater state of disrepair than its neighbour, until the one at the end was barely standing.

We stood outside the original barn, watching it decompose before our eyes. A pool of black water seeped out from under a rickety barn door.

“Don’t go in there,” the estate agent warned us. “There’s lice and … things.”

I didn’t like the sound of the word ‘things.’ Lice was bad enough but ‘things’ hinted at something far worse – probably the farmer’s demented son chained and slobbering in the corner.

We didn’t dare look inside.

We went into the barn next door instead. It was part flooded and stank of mouldy hay which was grey and piled up into the rafters. The hay must have been ten or twenty years old and just left to moulder. I looked at the disconcertingly black standing water and noticed it was seeping through from the original barn.

We were definitely not going in there!

And then, through a window in the far wall, I noticed a rusting ice-cream van standing in the middle of a small paddock. A small paddock next to a larger field with an assortment of abandoned cars, vans and ancient lorries. I looked at the estate agent. He shrugged his shoulders with a ‘please don’t ask’ look on his face.

I showed compassion.

Opposite the line of barns was the original house. It was a wreck: broken floorboards, doors hanging off their hinges, missing stair treads, ceilings shot through with holes. The owner had obviously given up on that as well and built the new bungalow next door. A bungalow which, amazingly, looked perfectly normal.

As we walked towards it, we wondered what the owner would look like. Would he wear clothes until they fell off his back and then buy new ones?

A short squat farmer in overalls opened the door. I didn’t ask if they were new.

He showed us around the house and … everything looked normal. Better than normal, it looked really good. All the rooms had walls where you’d expect them. The doors were on hinges. It was clean, spacious, well-decorated, well-built.

Then we came to the back room.

“I wouldn’t go in there,” said the farmer. Oh. My. God. My mind could envisage lice, ‘things,’ and more chained relatives than a single room could possibly contain. Was there still time to run for the door?

“We had a bit of a flood last week,” the farmer continued, “and we’ve had trouble with the electrics ever since.”

He pushed the door open. A pool of water lay on a new concrete floor, the ceiling tiles above were missing or broken. It looked like a cistern had exploded in the roof. And there, sitting in the pool of water, were two suspiciously bare electric wires, running from two large freezers in the corner.

We left quickly.

I could feel a new bungalow coming on.

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Ok, now it’s your turn. Tell me your house hunting horrors…


Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novel – Resonance (Baen) – can be downloaded for free here. More information about his other work can be found on his  BVC bookshelf .

Coming soon: Nous Sommes Anglais true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.

Recently released from Book View PressInternational Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a  glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth. Forget  Bruce Willis and his team of miners. Send for the kitties!

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House Hunting Horrors — 3 Comments

  1. ROFL! As a former real estate agent, I send you and that agent my deepest sympathies. The worst I ever had to deal with was fleas. What a place!

  2. We once walked into a house that was the worst pit I had ever seen. Filthy clothes lying on the floor. Dirty dishes on the couch (yes, the couch). A pie pan on the coffee table overflowing with cigarette ashes. A carpet the actually =crunched= when you walked on it. The kitchen floor was gritty. Half-empty boxes of food mingled with more dirty dishes on every available countertop space and on the stove.

    Our horrified realtor refused to move from the front door. I braved a look down the hall to the bedrooms, mostly out of morbid curiosity. More clothes piled on the floor, bare mattresses lying on the crunchy carpet, stains on the walls. And the bathroom! The bathroom stank, and mold crawled across the surfaces.

    We left, and our realtor called the realtor who was representing the place. She chewed him out–how =dared= he send her with clients to a pit like that?

    I still don’t understand how people can live that way.

  3. Chris, wow, that is some story.

    Many years ago when I was looking into co-housing, a real estate agent took us to see a place that sounded cool on paper. We walked into an apartment very much like the one Steven describes above and the agent said chirpily to me, “And this would be perfect for you!”

    It would have had to be sand blasted to be habitable — and that after all the bathroom fixtures were ripped out by a HazMat crew, which is as much as you want to know about the bathroom.

    The house I own now was previously owned by devoted do-it-yourselfers with a “What, me worry?” attitude. I’ve had it for a long time and am still finding little surprises, like the dryer vent with three elbow joints to the outside. (Now fixed.)

    Vonda