"Write this down," I said to the Seller, as he was dutifully filling out his Seller questionnaires, "Oakland is home to many animals, including but not limited to: deer, wild turkey, opossum, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, rodents, hawks and many other birds and insects."
"That's ridiculous," he said. "I've never seen turkey in my yard and I'm not writing that down."
"Just do it." I said, "I guarantee you that the new owner (or their dog) is going to cross paths with some of these animals and you're going to want it in your seller disclosures before it comes back to haunt you. (Trust me on this one.)
No sooner had I insisted than I received a call from our project manager, Jill, explaining that the pest inspector was over at another listing we were preparing in Piedmont, and had quickly backed out of the crawl space upon spotting a sleeping skunk (Thankfully, the skunk hadn't spotted him first.)
"Can you call Piedmont Animal Control and get someone over right away?" Jill asked. (Yes, I can call, but getting a response right away - not likely.)
As I suspected, Piedmont Animal Control had a recorded message: "Due to Covid-19, all offices are closed, if this is an emergency . . ." (Hmmm, did this qualify as an emergency? I certainly thought so.) Instead, I turned to Google and plugged in "skunk removal." Thankfully, more than a few companies actually specialize in "rodent evictions," and within a few moments I was emphatically explaining our desperate situation to the patient dispatcher on the other end of the line.
"We can set a trap tonight but you'll need to go over in the morning and check to see if it's done the trick and then call us back," she said. "I'll need your credit card."
"Okay," I said reciting the account number, but we have stagers arriving tomorrow, so we'll need someone to collect the skunk first thing."
"We'll do our best," she said, clearly unfazed by my growing concerns.
At 7:00 am the next morning I tiptoed into the backyard and sure enough, there she was; a small black and white female trapped inside; no bigger than a medium-sized cat, but not quite adoption material given the pungent punch these Pepe Le Pews pack. (How's that for alliteration?)
By 4:00 pm, we were still waiting for a "technician" to arrive, and my pleas were becoming more insistent: "We have photographers showing up soon," I begged, "we really need the skunk outta here!"
In the meantime, the painters had come and gone, the cleaners had come and gone, the window washers had come and gone, and Bonnie and her staging crew had arrived and had magically transformed the home without disturbing the skunk at all. Despite the sidestep, I wondered if we were dealing with a ticking time bomb and at what point the scared little animal would let us all have it . . . and praying we wouldn't find out.
Another hour passed and then, remarkably, Fifi La Fume was finally removed with nary a scent in the air, and a second charge was added to my Visa. (The first only covered setting the trap, not picking it up.That's how they get you.) No matter, it was well worth the fee. With only two days to spare, disaster had been averted once again. (I'm thinking I deserve a cape.)
While this isn't the first time we've skirted disaster when it comes to a listing, it's the first time in 16 years that I've had to deal with a skunk. Rodents, on the other hand, are common occurrences, as are termites, beetles, pigeons, and other unwelcome pests (and you thought real estate was easy). Invariably, the Sellers say something along the lines of "but we have cats, there's no way we had rats in the attic." (WAY!) And while many Buyers are willing to live with fungus and dry rot in the background, their feelings aren't particularly benign when it comes to vermin that crawl through the walls and come in through the cracks without an invitation. (My own husband threatens to put our house on the market whenever he finds a spider in the shower.)
At the risk of stating the obvious, such wild visitors are impediments to a smooth sale, and as my previous broker was fond of saying "If I can smell, I can't sell it." This isn't just true of skunk mind you, but mold, must, pet urine, cooking odors, spices, incense, smoke, heavily-scented candles and those truly awful plug-ins. (They just add perfume to an already funky situation.)
When it comes to Real Estate, we want to present your home as clean, fresh and odor free, so open up the windows and let some air in; we'll take care of the rest.
Now if we could only get the neighbor's dog to stop pooping on the lawn. (Cape please.)
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Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.