This article originally appeared on VICE Alps
Whether you're a vintage buff or just trying to get by on a student loan, you'd probably be fairly fucked if it wasn't for second hand shops. But, have you ever wondered how those shabby-chic kidney tables, 1980s shoulder-pad blazers and smoke-stained landscape paintings actually end up there?
Sure, a lot of them are donated by private citizens but just as many find themselves in charity shops after being taken from apartments by estate liquidators. It goes without saying that being a liquidator isn't always fun – it turns out there's a lot more to dead people's apartments than just vintage collectables. From time to time, you need to deal with some really nasty things, too.
I had a chat with a professional real estate liquidator (who wanted to remain anonymous) to try and and understand some of the problems they face on a daily basis. This is what he had to say:
Kicking in Doors
Our job is not to evict people so we never have to kick down doors or anything of the sort. Most of the time, the people who own the property or the relatives of whoever has died just let us in. The deal is that if we can use something in the apartment, we take it at no cost, whereas if something belongs in the dump, then we charge money to take it there. But that can be problematic.
One time, we were clearing out this apartment that belonged to some old guy. There was this desk, which there was no doubt belonged in the dump. Unfortunately, the customer didn't agree and didn't want to pay us to offload it. He was extremely rude about it, too.
His verbal abuse became so exhausting that we just packed up and left without the desk. As we were walking down the four flights of stairs, the man continued to berate us with all manner of vulgarities. At some point I'd had enough, so I went back up the stairs and banged as hard as I could on his door. Maybe I was banging a bit too hard because it flew off its hinges and smashed to the floor. Me and the old man stood confused, staring at each other. I'd say there was a good 60 seconds of awkward silence before he started swearing and threatening to get me fired. Luckily, my boss thought it was hilarious.
We deal with a lot of hoarders and their squalid apartments. These poor people are usually pretty lonely and have no one to take care of all the stuff they leave behind when they die, so it's up to people like me. I remember this one apartment that nobody wanted to deal with, except my company. It was a four room flat on the third floor of a housing block. Normally, my boss goes to the apartments first to see how much time and effort it'll take to clear and then sends us out to get it done. When he came back from this particular one, he told us, "Whatever you do, don't go into the bathroom."
The flat was in really, really bad shape. The entire floor was covered in a ten inch thick layer of trash. My boss had ordered a container to be delivered to the garden, which we could fill with all the filth. We started shovelling all the grime into bags and began throwing the bags off the balcony so we didn't need to run up and down the stairs.
There was a mountain of blankets and mattresses in the bedroom – it was difficult to tell where one mattress ended and the other began. As my colleague started separating them, we heard a bunch of scratching and squeaking. All of a sudden, about 40 mice ran out and scattered in every direction. To this day, we don't know whether or not this hoarder had brought them in himself or not.
Of course, I ignored my boss' instructions and decided to go into the bathroom. Luckily, I was fast enough to tear my dust mask off before vomiting everywhere. The hoarder hadn't flushed his toilet in years. There was a pile of shit emanating from the toilet that was about twice as high as the toilet seat itself. I slammed the door behind me and ran off shuddering. Trust me, my vomit was a drop in the ocean of bodily waste in that room.
This didn't happen to me, it happened to my boss. I believe him, too – my boss isn't the kind of guy who makes things up. The story also makes sense given how the chap looks. He's this kind of bodybuilder/gigolo guy who owns a flashy car that more-or-less embodies his personality.
One day, he went to look at an apartment where someone had just died. The wife and daughter of the deceased were there to show him around. When they got to the bedroom to check whether or not they could sell the bed, the wife asked, "Why don't all three of us hop in? It'll be easier to see if it's worth selling." According to my boss, both of them – mother and daughter – started groping him and trying to wrap themselves around him. He had to physically force his way out of the room to get away from them.
The Violent Farmer
Another time, an older lady who owned a house in the Swiss countryside called. Her house was situated on a piece of land that apparently belonged to a farmer, who supposedly held a grudge against her because he wanted the property for himself. She explained that he had threatened her and said that she wouldn't be alive for long if she ever went there again. Given that she wasn't there often and there was a farmer trying to kill her, she decided to liquidate the house and sell it.
My boss and I drove to Western Switzerland to check it out. Even though the woman seemed shaken, it was hard to tell if her story was entirely true.
As soon as we turned the corner onto the farm, we were lucky to meet the farmer and his tractor. He was driving full throttle towards us and seemed to have no interest in braking. It wasn't possible for us to make way for him – our car would have rolled down the hill. The farmer was coming right at us so I just stuck the car in reverse and started backing up as fast as I could. My boss jumped out of the passenger door and rolled down the hill because he was convinced we were going to die.
Luckily, the farmer stopped about a foot in front of us. He was fuming and cursing in French out of his tractor window. I hadn't a clue what he was saying so I just shouted back in English. In the end, he let us through.
After we assessed the house and collected what we could sell, we headed home. We were barely a quarter mile away before our car got stuck in the mud. We had to call the farmer for help.
He came but instead of helping us, he decided to stand a few feet away and laugh. I began cursing at him, hoping he wouldn't understand the subtleties, but, even with his bad English, he seemed to understand the word motherfucker. He didn't, however, seem to like it and went completely mental.
My boss tried to play the bigger man and reason with him in broken French, asking what we could do to get him to help us. He said that I needed to apologise. Of course I did – begrudgingly, but I did it.
My business owns a second hand store that's situated in an old industrial building that looks like a garage. Its facade isn't a proper wall – it's a big door made of aluminium and plexiglass panels. I was sorting things out in the shop and staring out of the plexiglass windows, when I saw a car coming. There's nothing particularly out of the ordinary about that since there's a parking lot right outside. But the car wasn't stopping, it just kept going. I didn't realise what was happening until I heard this monstrous crash. I only really got it when the car continued coming at me in slow motion.
It was like something from a movie; there was stuff everywhere. The car just ploughed all the stuff right up to my feet. I didn't move at all, I just stood there and watched it happen. When the car finally rumbled to a halt, an old man and his wife stumbled out. They were confused and very apologetic. Turns out, they had mixed up the gas pedal with the brakes.
Ever wondered what sort of things you see when you work in a five-star hotel?