Haunted House Hunt

In the spring of 2000 we moved from suburban Chicago to the "wild west" of Colorado. We sold our tiny 1800-square-foot home before we had time to find another. Chris went house hunting in Colorado Springs with our two oldest daughters, who were 15 and 12. We had eight children, so the goal was to upgrade our living space. The house hunters found two homes that qualified. Chris called me with great excitement about the first one.

"It's perfect! It backs up to a horse farm. It's close to the schools. Lots of room. It's beautiful." He emailed pictures. I loved what I saw.

He placed a bid on the home and headed east. What he didn't know was that another family had placed a bid the same day. An identical bid. The homeowners chose the other family. We were devastated.

Chris and the girls returned to Illinois dejected. Chris decided to fly me out to look at the "other" house, a spacious 5500-square-foot home with five levels. Chris had some concerns and felt I needed to see it before bidding on it.

I remember getting off the interstate 50 minutes after arriving in Denver. We were meeting our realtor to do a walk-through. For some reason I felt apprehensive. We drove up to the house, in a new development with lots of homes under construction. I noticed boys riding their bikes on the mounds of dirt.

We walked through the front door and I felt "it" immediately. Disarray and clutter. The house felt "dirty." I felt uncomfortable. Assuming I was just reacting to the overbearing, gaudy decorating style, I continued the tour. We walked into each of the six bedrooms, the game room, the in-law suite. With each room I became increasingly uneasy. Instead of feeling just messy and dark, the house felt deeply oppressive.

As we drove away I looked at Chris and said, "I don't like it. I don't ever want to go back. I know I can't live there."

We spent two more days looking for the right home and didn't find it. We returned to Illinois unsure of our next step.

Our realtor emailed us, suggesting we reconsider the 5500-square-foot "oppressive" home. He sent pictures of each room. Chris encouraged me to imagine the home without the gaudy decorating and the clutter.

"The house is a shell. Imagine it without their furniture. Look at the floor plan. Think of the potential."

I hesitated. Then I saw the wisdom of it. It made a lot of sense. I agreed, the house did have potential. We made a deposit and moved eight weeks later.

We arrived the day before the closing with all of our things in a huge truck driven by a friend. At the walk-through, the home showed no signs of a move. It was as cluttered as I remembered. I left the walk-through and sobbed. Something felt "off."

We learned that the home was in bankruptcy. The family hadn't paid their mortgage. The builder's brother was in jail for murder. The builder wasn't regarded well in the community. Something was seriously wrong.

A friend agreed to keep us for a night to allow us to escape the confines of our tiny hotel room. We were living out of suitcases, far away from Illinois and the comfort of friends. We were unsure if we could take possession and if the court would allow the sale.

We agreed to wait until the family was out of the home and requested a clause requiring them to vacate completely by midnight the next day. When Chris and our realtor arrived at midnight, the garage was full of debris and unwanted items. We paid for a dumpster to haul it away. The house was filthy and the carpets stained, but we made the most of it and tried to make it our own.

Within months our health began to decline. A seizure disorder, an obstructed bowel, strep, mood disorders, and more symptoms kept us either at the emergency room or the doctor's office. In our prior 15 years of parenting we'd had one visit to the ER.

It was a rough first year. The following seven years were no better, with clear signs that something was indeed "off."

In retrospect I see the value of a mother's instinct. She is designed to create a nest for her family, and I knew this was not the one. It would take eight years for my instinct to conquer. We walked away from the home on October 4, 2008, finally escaping the toxic mold that lurked within its walls and was relentlessly poisoning our bodies.

Do I wish I had listened to my gut? Absolutely. Do I regret our decision? Definitely. Does this keep me from moving forward? No. I am grateful for the knowledge that has come from this experience.

In light of these lessons I have written an article Guidelines for Buying a Home. My hope is that our story will help another family avoid this scenario and help another mom listen to her "nesting" instinct.


  1. I felt like I needed to respond to your post because we just discovered that we also have been living in a house with toxic mold.

    I would love to hear more about your story and more details about what you guys did to "get out"!

    We are in the beginnings of this chaos and are seeking any advice.

  2. Melanie,
    Our story is published in brief on the blog...I can share more of the details if you'd like to email me directly
    Good for you for putting two and two together.

  3. Wow, Andrea - this is a powerful story. Even following your family's story for the past three years, reading how foreboding it was before you purchased it really is a sobering thought. I am so, so sorry things turned out the way they did for you and your family, but am so happy that you guys are on the mend.

    Last week in the rain, I was behind a truck load of fresh wood and other building materials, on their way to a building site. What a creepy feeling THAT was for me. And I had already noticed that all building supply stores in our area store wooden building materials in three sided buildings - aren't these supplies doomed from the start, just being exposed to the rain, snow, high humidity and changing temperatures? Your situation as well as my own has made me more aware of these things.

  4. I think after I've realized how I've gotten rushed into a decision it's made me want to be cautious and make future decisions in the timing I'm comfortable with. This is an insightful post about how we can be frustrated years later not only because of what happened but because we never felt right in the first place. Shows healing too Andrea.

  5. Andrea,

    I agree with Jennifer that this article shows your healing progress.

    Over the past month I have begun to reflect on all that happened to my husband and I. I've spent time journaling about my memories of living in our "haunted house." I've looked through the digital photos, now noticing just how "sick" we looked while we were living there, how "alive" we looked before we moved there, and how we are slowly looking more and more like ourselves. It is hard.

    It is hard to realize the loss that has occurred and to not know if you will ever get your life back. It is hard to press forward and fight to regain your life when you are still not "all there." It is hard to realize that others don't understand. And it is hard to remember something that you so desperately want to forget. Thank you for sharing your memories, open and honest as they are.

    May God grant you and your family healing.


  6. We've talked a lot about your story so I think the thing that stuck out the most to me was the family that lived there before you. Do you think they were just as sick? Do you know who they are? Could you contact them? I love how you worked the haunted house because that is exactly the way it felt when I lived at my dad's, where we were exposed.

    Just realized I'm signed in as Jeff but it's me Tonya :) If I sign out I lose what I just wrote.

  7. Tonya,
    This is an interesting story! The 2 young children of this family were "off" as I heard from the neighbors. This was evident from our brief encounter. The in-laws lived there and one of them had dementia. There was all sorts of chaos in the home...it was clear. I have the sense that domestic violence was an issue. I would use the word extreme to describe the instability of this family.

    The wife "stopped by" our home a year after we moved in and asked to see the inside. I was caught off guard. She was pleading to see it. (She had divorced from her husband) and as she walked through kept saying "this is how our home should have looked"...by then I had made it our own. (Two friends helped me decorate.)

    I feel quite sad when I think of this family. While there was more going on than just the home, it might have helped them to understand the link between their well-being and the home's toxicity.

  8. Andrea,
    Our story is similar. I flew into town and had four days to choose a house. The market was crazy--you had literally hours to put in an offer if you found a home you liked, and then 24 hours to finalize. I asked the realtor what the "best" neighborhoods were. We found a home there that had, like yours, the right floor plan, the right yard, the right area. But the home was a mess. Total chaos. Like you, we arrived to move in, and the family was still trying to vacate. And like you, found afterward that the family was known as a difficult family, with terrible issues. We also found out they had had 15 animals while they lived there--and left three cats behind in the move!

    The best advice I could ever give to someone buying a home is NEVER BUY FROM A SICK FAMILY. I love painting and decorating, and when we bought the home I was excited to get in there and "fix" what I thought were only cosmetic issues with the home. Oh, how much deeper the issues were! When we look to move next time, I feel my biggest indicator of "home health" will be the health of the family inside and how the home is maintained. I feel it tells the whole story.

    Thank you so much for sharing. I took me many years to come to terms with the fact that I chose the home that made us all so sick.


    Amanda in VA

  9. Hey Andrea! We are buying some land to build a house on and I am very concerned that we will make a mistake building and end up with another moldy house. We are currently looking at two building types, and I was wondering if you know about mold with either of the construction types we're considering. The first is a metal building home. The second is a strawbale home. I've heard strawbales can have mold, but also that the plaster (if properly mixed and applied) actually helps the walls breathe. Of course, we live in Arkansas so our climate is more humid than yours, but we do know one family here who built a strawbale house. Apparently they're also doable in Missouri. Do you know anything (good or bad) about mold concerns in either construction type?

  10. Julie,
    I don't know ...but will attempt to find out...I'll post anything I learn here.


  11. Well, I've asked a couple of people and both agree that both have the potential to grow mold. The plaster is a good bet from what I understand, maybe a bit more research on the interaction between the plaster and the straw. Is adobe an option?

  12. Speaking of the title "Haunted"....did you or any one in the house ever think it was haunted? Even just jokingly, did you find yourself seeing/hearing things, etc? We saw "ghosts" and our mind played tricks on us in every house that had a mold problem.

  13. My kids definitely found this to be true! I will have to ask them again to remind me.

  14. Dear Andrea,

    God bless you and your family. Thank you for sharing your journey and having the courage and conviction to educate others.

    We purchased a home in our dream neighborhood. After moving in we discovered it had mold in the a/c unit, ducts, and growing on the ceiling. The inspector did not find it, and our realtor advised us not to have a mold inspection. What a huge mistake.

    It was expensive to repair, then we moved after just 9 months because I could not feel safe in this house.

    I have become terrified and fearful of everything. This shook me to my core.

    Everytime my children cough, sneeze, or have running noses, I think is it because of mold exposure?

    Should we have thrown all our furnishings out? How can we afford to throw everything out? Do we really need to or am I just being overly parinoid?

    I am so fearful that we will have mold in the next house we purchase even though we will get a mold inspection.

    How did you ever get over your fears and move on? How did you put the fear behind you and get it out of your mind?

    Every place I go to I immediately look to the a/c vents for signs of mold, I sniff for musty smells, I am fearful of mold my children's school environment, in the college dorm they will be attending in two years. I just cannot shake this fear. Any suggestions that you have would be a blessing.