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.