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Shocking moments for real estate agents

Mike O’Connell, a buyer specialist with Larson Group Real Estate in Crosslake, l1 / 2
Wanda Moon of Central Minnesota REO Properties in Brainerd visited a foreclosure2 / 2

Mold galore, unfinished remodeling projects, foreclosure homes that have been ransacked down to next to nothing to homes full of garbage. The list goes on and on.

And someone has to deal with the aftermath of a challenging housing market.

It’s been a tough world to live in these past few years as the recession has lurked around — causing people to lose jobs, businesses to close down and everyone watching their every dollar.

Before the recession, when the housing market was strong, real estate professionals flooded the field. Times were good, houses were selling and it was a good market for real estate.

Today, not so much. Real estate professionals are working their hardest to sell what they can and have seen pretty much everything. 

So what are the hazards of being a real estate professional in today’s market? A few agents shared stories of what they’ve seen in the market and not everything has been pretty. Stories shared were results of the foreclosure market to just plain odd incidents that can happen to anyone.

Wanda Moon of Central Minnesota REO Properties in Brainerd, handles foreclosures and has been in the business for nine years. She works within a 30-mile radius of Brainerd.

“The worst thing I’ve ever seen was when a family moved out of their house and we found a few dead cats,” said Moon. “I’ve gone into houses where there was dog poop all over. The thing that bothered me the most about that was that an adult chose to live like that, to have toys in one room and poop in another room. They thought that was normal.

“I’ve seen enough houses like that, more than I’d want to see.

“You feel sorry for them that they are being foreclosed on, but then I think it’s a good thing, hoping they’ll make a fresh start.”

Moon said a common occurence with homes that are being foreclosed is that the owners are not “happy campers and they take it out on the house. They’ll take everything from the water heater, the furnace, trim work, the kitchen sink. But how do you prove they did this, you don’t have any evidence. They can say someone stole the stuff.”

Moon said at one house the toilet was standing up by a board.

Moon said two other common stories with foreclosure homes are some that are full of mold and homeowners who started a remodeling project and never  finished it because the people ran out of money or they didn’t know how to do it. Moon has been in foreclosed homes that had holes in the wall or had framework up that didn’t make sense.

Moon also had an embarrassing thing happened to her. She was doing a broker price opinion at a home and she needed to take photographs of it. Moon knocked on the door and called out “Is anyone home?” No one answered it, so she let herself in and started taking the pictures she needed for the broker price opinion. 

To Moon’s surprise, there was someone in the home taking a shower when they came out of the bathroom with just a towel on. Moon said there was a misunderstanding and the owner did not give clear directions to the renter that she was coming.

“I just turned around and walked out,” said Moon. “It was pretty embarrassing.”

Jim Ruttger of Century 21 has seen his fair share of weird moments in his 34 years in real estate. Ruttger said in 2006 he had to do a broker price opinion on a foreclosed two-bedroom home in Crosby. He said all the windows were broken and it was full of garbage — 30 cubic yards of garbage — that had to be taken out of the house.

Ruttger said one cold day in February, an appraiser from Aitkin came to the house and he thought someone was cooking methamphetamine in the house. He said officers were called and went through the house.

“I was out on the street while the police went through the house when I heard all this commotion,” Ruttger said. “Officers came out with this guy who was buck naked, had bright lipstick on and was wearing a padded bra. And it was very cold out. They put him in the squad car and hauled him away. It turned out that he was staying in the back bedroom. There was so much garbage in there that I never knew he was in there. Neighbors didn’t even know that he was in there and I guess he was living there for some time. He used propane canisters to stay warm, it was pathetic. It’s scary to think how many people are found in houses that are being foreclosed on.”

Colleagues of Mike O’Connell of Larson Group Real Estate in Crosslake say that O’Connell could write a book about all the stuff that he has seen in his real estate career.

“I’ve had everything,” said O’Connell, including walking into rooms where people were sleeping. “When it comes to the foreclosure market you don’t know what you’re going to get.”

O’Connell, a buyer specialist, said his latest weird moment on the job was at a home on the Upper Whitefish Chain. He was showing a home to a potential buyer and they were unable to look at the property because there was an eagle and osprey fighting over a tree.

“We weren’t sure if they were going to attack us or not,” said O’Connell. “So we fled to avoid being on the next season of ‘When Animals Attack.’ It was loud and feathers everywhere.”

O’Connell said the first home he sold burned down a week later after a chimney fire. He said the owners only got to sleep in the house once before it burned down. To this day, the home still has not been rebuilt.

Another time O’Connell sold a wooded property that was in a family for decades in Backus. After the closing, the sellers said that the buyer may find some maps in the garage of where the grandfather buried money on the property.

“The grandfather didn’t believe in banks and buried all his money in the property,” said O’Connell. “The family wasn’t certain of where the money could be when they sold the estate.”

O’Connell also helped save one man’s marriage a few years ago. O’Connell was working with a husband who was going to buy a house and the wife didn’t know about it. O’Connell said he was going to write a clause in the purchase agreement that would be pending the wife’s review of approval. 

O’Connell said the husband told the wife about the house and the wife told him, “If you move forward with this I will divorce you.” O’Connell said the man thanked him for saving his life and marriage.

Another time, a retired couple in their 70s who did not have cell phones, were on their way up to a closing in the lakes area in separate vehicles and they got lost. O’Connell said he waited for five hours and the state troopers were called to find them.

O’Connell said another story that was not in the norm was when he was selling a lot by the Crow Wing River that was delayed as archaeologists were researching it to see if the property was a historical wagon wheel trail site. It turned out it wasn’t.

O’Connell said one time he was showing people land that was in the middle of nowhere, north of Milaca, and after the clients left he realized he locked his keys in his vehicle. He said his cell phone didn’t work due to limited reception, but he finally got his OnStar to work.

“If OnStar didn’t work I would have had to walk 15 miles in all swamp land,” said O’Connell.

O’Connell said he just goes with the flow on whatever happens when he is out on the field. He is prepared for anything. He said even though he’s had his fair share of unusual moments in his career, he said the good stories vastly outweigh all the bad luck stories. He said he has met a lot of good, interesting people in his career who have been good to him.

Mark Schmutzer of Positive Realty shared a scarier moment in his career in real estate. Schmutzer was working on a home in the redemption period and it was his responsibility to monitor the home, such as making sure the pipes don’t freeze up. Schmutzer went to the home, which looked deserted.

“It was a very nice home in rural Pine River and it had a detached four-stall garage with an office and a car was parked there,” said Schmutzer. “The home didn’t look good so I knocked on the service door of the garage and there was no answer. I knocked on it again and it was open, so I stuck my head in there and there was resistance. I pushed harder and a guy stuck his head out and scared the bejesus out of me. It was the scariest thing.”

JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at or 855-5851.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
(218) 855-5889