This article originally appeared on VICE Alps.
Everyone likes secondhand shops. Whether you're broke and trying to furnish an apartment or just like weird, kitschy crap, it's easy to spend hours perusing the oddities in their dust-filled aisles. But have you ever wondered how those shabby-chic kidney tables, 1980s shoulder-pad blazers, and smoke-stained landscape paintings ended up there?
Sure, some of them are donated, but just as many are delivered by estate liquidators from dead or bankrupt people's homes. Unsurprisingly, being a liquidator isn't always fun. There's a lot more to dead people's apartments than vintage collectibles and cupboards filled with expired food. From time to time, you have to deal with some really horrendous shit, too.
I had a chat with a professional real estate liquidator (who wanted to remain anonymous) to try to understand some of the problems he and his colleagues face on a daily basis. This is what he had to say.
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 to clean up their earthly belongings. I remember this one apartment that nobody wanted to deal with, except the company I work for. It was a four-room flat on the third floor of a housing block. Normally, my boss visits each property first to see how much time and effort it'll take to clear and then sends us out to get the job done. When he came back from this particular apartment 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, for us to fill with all the filth. We got to shoveling all the grime into bags and throwing them off the balcony so we wouldn't have to run up and down the stairs.
There was a mountain of blankets and mattresses in the bedroom—so many that 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 this hoarder had brought them in himself or not.
Of course, I ignored my boss's 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 bowl 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 but a drop in the ocean of bodily waste in that room.
This one actually happened to my boss. I believe him, too—he is not the kind of guy who makes things up. The story also makes sense given how the guy 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. She said that her house was situated on a piece of land that weirdly also 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 out the place. 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 met the farmer and his tractor. He was driving full throttle toward us and obviously had no interest in braking. It wasn't possible for us to make way for him—our car would have rolled down the hill—so I just stuck it 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 just stood a few feet away and laughed. I began cursing at him in English, and while I'm sure a lot of the subtleties were lost on him, he understood the word "motherfucker" and didn't like it.
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 apologize. Begrudgingly, I told him I was sorry.
The company I work for owns a secondhand store, 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 aluminum and plexiglass panels. I was sorting things out in the shop and staring out of the plexiglass windows one day when I saw a car coming. I wasn't particularly frightened because there's a parking lot right outside, so cars drive toward the building all the time. But this one wasn't stopping. I didn't realize what was happening until I heard this monstrous crash, and I only fully comprehended the situation when I saw the car coming at me in slow motion.
It was like something from a movie: The store exploded. The car just plowed all the contents of the shop 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.