Treasure in the Attic



“Ladies and Gentleman, The Story you are about to see (read) is true,  the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” Intro to Dragnet, TV show 1951-1959


About 15 years ago Sarah asked me to sell her father’s home.  Sarah was residing in Texas where she     brought her father Charlie to live. He was a reluctant guest, up in years and struggling with dementia.  Sarah shared the location of a hidden key so I headed over to preview the property before establishing a list price.


I noted extensive wood rot in the eves of the 1950’s brick two story.  The house was tired with a patchy lawn interspersed with sandspurs and weathered lawn ornaments.   I located the key but it wasn’t necessary, the doors were unlocked.  The beer bottles and droppings made it apparent this was the hang out for teenagers and rodents.   The classic vacant home that draws the curiosity of neighbors, left in haste and covered in a film of dust.


Charlie lost his wife some years ago and he never recovered.  Together Charlie and Grace raised 4 children, the remnants of their life were scattered about like a quiet haunting.  In his loneliness Charlie’s obsession for hoarding had grown to the point there were only narrow pathways through the home.  I have always found real estate a privilege, working with families in such an intimate manor without judgment, the role of trusted advisor.   I could feel the family’s laughter and sorrow imprinted in the walls as I walked between the stacks of newspapers and records.   I imagined Elvis, “ Love Me Tender”  crackling on the Zenith stereo turntable.  There was an assortment of tube TV’s, hutches filled with china, and old toys, circa 1950- 60’s.  .


I tentatively made my way, bracing myself for the possibility of disturbing a homeless person or critter as I opened each bedroom door.  Halfway up the stair I heard a strange sound coming from above.   At the end of the hall was a door that leads into a large walk-in attic.   I stepped into the humid atmosphere where thin sunrays thick with dust particles bled through the holes in the soffit.  It smelled peculiar and unpleasant.  As my eyes adjusted I could see more furniture, board games and Christmas decorations entombed for future use.  I heard a squeak and sensed movement in my peripheral vision.  I turned slowly with that creepy feeling that I was not alone.  My breath swallowed as my mind flashed through every horror movie and hideous Stephen King creature I had recorded in my memory banks.  I slowly shined the screen light from my cell phone into the corners of the trusses and there I saw eyes, hundreds of eyes.   I slowly backed out of the room.


Wow! My first listing with bats, loads of bats.   It was the end of March and like most homeowners they were in a hurry to take advantage of the strong spring market.   I immediately started researching options to relocate these furry flying mammals.  The first thing I learned was that bats are protected both state wide and federally.  I also learned that the guano (bat poop) is extremely toxic. We have 13 resident species of bats in Florida and according to the experts, we have a huge colony of over 1000 Brazilian Free-tail and Evening bats roosting in my listing .To complicate matters the bats could not be evicted during maternity season, which runs form April 15th to August 15. With the 15th rapidly approaching I called “Fly By Night” a non profit ran by Laura Finn a UCF graduate dedicated to the preservation of this amazing animal since 1993. Check out the  live web cam


Coincidentally, while writing this story Officer Rick Brown of FWC came by our animal sanctuary for our yearly inspection and he mentioned that over 100 bats had recently been lost just south of downtown.  He wasn’t sure if someone had trimmed a tree the bats were roosting in, lightening had struck or maybe the bats were poisoned.  Please remember if you choose to use poison often-unintended birds and mammals are harmed.


I have always admired bats as they fly erratically through the dusk sky-consuming mosquitoes by the thousands using echolocation to forage and navigate.   Like bees, bats are a treasure, they play an important roll in pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds and their guano is a rich fertilizer.   Bats, Class Chiroptera have been around for 50 million years and hold a significant place in the animal kingdom as the second largest order of mammals with over 1000 species worldwide. That is 20% of the mammals on earth.   They live to an average of 30 years and have been known to take care of each other’s young.   While not aggressive, like any communal mammal they can carry disease. While the chance of disease in bats is rare, if they get sick and bite someone in self defense. If you find a downed bat you should call an expert.



Back to the story… After the bats found a new home I listed the property.   Everyone loves a handyman special so it didn’t take long to go under contract even with the disclosure that the attic contained toxic bat pooh.   Of course the building inspection was a disaster.  The buyer asked for a few items to be fixed including some of the wiring in the Kitchen.  When I emailed the report Sarah almost came through the phone.  “Do not allow anyone to fix anything and do not touch the dishwasher. “ I thought that was odd, the home has been vacant with kids and curiosity seekers in and out for years, and besides no one is going to ask the seller to fix a harvest gold dishwasher original to the house.  Of course, I followed her wishes.  The buyers had no choice but to accept the home ” as is” including the personal effects


About five days before closing, the sellers showed up at the house.   They had driven in their RV all the way from Texas.  I met Sarah and her husband Tom to grant access.  They went straight to the kitchen, removed the dishwasher and pulled out five bank bags.  They were filled with Silver Walking Liberty Ladies minted between 1917-1947. .  They were gorgeous old coins and highly collectible as any silver coin minted before 1965 is 90% silver.  Depending on the vintage a single Liberty Lady could be worth the silver face value or as much as $4000.   , I am sure those swollen bags held a small fortune.    Sarah and Tom camped in the driveway for a few days and went all through the house.  I thought maybe they were getting a few family keepsakes.  After closing we walked out to the RV and they looked at me wide eyed and said “We thought Charlie was loosing his mind but the silver coins were there.”   Charlie kept going on about something in the attic.  Sarah and Tom tore the attic apart to no avail.  They knew they were leaving a treasure behind, buried in the recesses of Charlie’s mind. .


I gave John, the buyer a 20 yard dumpster as a closing gift.    I also shared that he should carefully look through all of the personal effects, as there may be a bonus among the rubble.  I never heard whether he found unexpected riches but I didn’t suspect I would, some things are better left unsaid.