There are eight million stories in the Naked City, and the story of the Naked House is one of them.
Realtors see everything when they show houses - from people blissfully snoozing in beds to pets behaving badly. Those particular incidents are so common that they rate just a mention in almost all experienced broker's catalog of stories. But others - well, they have to be heard to be believed.
For Isabel J. Robitaille, president and broker at Robitaille Real Estate in Williamsville, nothing in her 18 years in real estate was as memorable as the Naked House.
"We work with a lot of buyers," she says. "And buyers, especially those from out of town, will label houses by what they remember about them." On a long list of visited homes, each can be distinguished by its most memorable feature: "The house with the green shag carpeting," for example.
The Naked House was revealed in all its glory when Robitaille was showing a large home in East Amherst to a doctor and his wife.
"We were told to show up anywhere between 9 and 12, because the house would be absolutely empty, so just go ahead. What we didn't know is the homeowners had come home early, and maybe thought that we'd already been there. I was in the foyer with the buyers when I heard a person yelling from upstairs, "Who is it?' I introduced myself, hollering up the stairs, and she said, "You can't come upstairs!' and I said, "OK' and she said, "We just came back from tennis and we're just out of the shower and we're naked!'
"And I said, "OK, you want us to come back later?' and she said, "No, no, no, you can come up in a minute, it's just that we're naked!'
"She could have said anything other than "naked' and we would have gotten the picture. But I guess in her excitement, nervousness or whatever, she just kept saying it! From that day on, for those buyers, that was "the House with the Naked People' or "the Naked House.' "
And here's the kicker: The doctor and his wife bought the Naked House. "We must have seen 25 houses, but this was the house that we came back to. The sellers had a great sense of humor, and so did the buyers."
Skeleton in the closet
Kathy McManigle of Metro Real Estate Place, who has sold real estate for 12 years, had a shocking surprise when she was new in the business.
"I was a brand-new agent, and I did a lot of business in the Black Rock-Riverside area, which has a lot of very old homes, with cubbyholes everywhere," she says. "I still get goose bumps when I think about this."
McManigle was accompanying a home inspector and a couple of interested buyers through an older house when the home inspector began regaling them with spooky stories as they went through the house.
"We come to this one bedroom, it had a closet with another closet inside, and we opened it up and, I kid you not, out falls a skeleton! It was one of those medical skeletons. It must have been just leaning in the closet, because when we opened the door it just fell right out.
"We jumped! You wanna talk about panicked people? My heart - I think it took me three weeks to find it!
"And it actually ended up killing the deal," she says. "It scared these people so bad that they walked away, and I think if the home inspector hadn't told us all this, it wouldn't have been as bad."
"The House' in the house
McManigle was shocked to discover one day that she was showing a house to "The House" - Howard Ballard, a star offensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills in the late '80s and early '90s.
The 6-foot-6, 325-pound, big-enough-to-blot-out-the-sun Ballard was accompanied by his pal, Andre Reed, and a business associate who did the talking. In the Buffalo-Tonawanda area, where McManigle was specializing, "we don't have a lot of high-ticket properties, so you don't get a lot of buyers with a lot of money," says McManigle.
"When I saw these two large men, I thought, "These people look familiar,' " she says. Finally, their companion dropped the name: "Mr. Ballard is looking for a house for his sister."
"I said "WHO?' " McManigle recalls. "She pulled me aside and said, "Don't you know who that is?' and I said, "Feel free to go ahead and tell me.'
"He didn't buy the house, but it was a pleasure just getting to meet him. If I were in Orchard Park, it would be like an everyday occurrence, but in this area, you just don't get that."
Leaving his mark
Linda "O" Okonzak, a broker associate at Hunt Real Estate Corp., recalls the prospective buyer who really stepped in it at a home he and his wife were examining.
Okonzak brought the couple into the West Seneca home's back yard, where, unknown to them, workers had replaced part of the walkway with a fresh square of cement and left without posting any warning.
"So my buyer stepped in it. And the funny part about it is he ended up buying the house.
"When he stepped in it, I said, "Oh! Now you've got to buy it, it's like when you go shopping, if you break it, you've got to buy it.' We started laughing. They smoothed it out, but they did leave a little spot for him, so he remembers the first day he looked at the house."
Do not disturb
Most of the local real estate agents interviewed for this story say they have shown houses while people were in the bedrooms.
Robitaille says, "You do often find where people know that we're coming and they have kids that are going to college and they'll say, "Well, you can't go in there because they're sleeping and we can't get them up,' or "They worked a late shift and we can't get them up.' "
Even worse than college kids or shift workers snoozing away in a room, says McManigle, is using a key to show prospective buyers a rental property that's occupied by tenants who are home but don't answer the door.
"I've taken people in and found (the occupants) lying in bed. You knock on the door and nobody's answering, and you see all these shoes there, and finally you (use the key provided by the owner and) walk in - and they're in the bedroom. That happens more than you'd think."
Robitaille's entire office once toured a house where the owner was in bed. "She was a nurse. She called and said, "I'm sick as a dog, but you have to come today because I can't lose any time, I have to get this house marketed. I know it's not contagious, so you can come through the place - I'll be in bed and it'll be OK.'
"And we did," says Robitaille. "She was in bed, under the covers, and we sort of marched through, saying, "Hi, how you doing, sorry to disturb you!' "
When anyone mentions the word "pet" in the office, all eyes turn to associate broker Sally Ball, who has been in real estate for 25 years, the last six with Robitaille.
"And I don't even have a pet," she says. "But I keep having these weird experiences with them."
Weird experience No. 1: Ball asked a family with a large German shepherd to keep the dog leashed to a railing while she was in their Cheektowaga house. She took her boots off at the door and was sitting at the table, keeping a wary eye on the dog, when suddenly she screamed in pain: the family's baby had crawled under the table and bitten her big toe so hard that she left bruises.
experience No. 2: Ball was working for a single doctor who had moved from out of state to a city house that she later decided was in an unsafe neighborhood. Ball picked up a key from the woman at the hospital and went to the house, which she knew was vacant, to measure the rooms. As Ball was climbing the inside stairs, a deep, masculine voice boomed out: "Stop or I'll shoot!"
Quaking with fear, Ball scurried back down the steps, got into her car, and drove away. She called the hospital, had the doctor paged, and said, "There's somebody in your house!" The woman burst out laughing and said, "I'm so sorry! I should have told you."
"Her father had bought her some exotic bird and taught it to say this - "Stop or I'll shoot!' - whenever the bird heard somebody on the stairs," Ball says. Ball later met the bird, which she says was "large and messy" and did a perfect imitation of the doctor's father's voice.
Weird experience No. 3: Ball had an open house at the home of a Lancaster family who owned a Doberman pinscher. "I reminded them that they had to take the dog away with them during the open house, and they said no problem," she says. Ball was showing an older woman and her daughter around the yard, and when they got to the back door, a cat was crouched on the top step and refused to move.
"I tried to shoo it away, and finally I picked it up," says Ball. "Huge mistake. The cat turned on me and clawed me, and now I've got the cat's claws in my chest."
The claws hit "some blood vessel or vein or something," and after dropping the cat, Ball rushed into the kitchen, where she tried to stop the bleeding with paper towels. "My turquoise dress was black in the front," she says. The prospective buyers came in, and the older woman said, cooly, "When you're finished bleeding, I'd like to buy this house."
"I just said, "Here's my card, I'm going to the hospital, call me tomorrow,' and locked up the house," says Ball. Outside, she walked almost to the driveway before passing out on the lawn. Luckily, the homeowners arrived, and when she came to, they drove her to the hospital.
Still woozy, Ball sank into the rear seat while the man jumped into the driver's seat. After a moment, she looked beside her - directly into the face of the Doberman, who was sitting on the seat next to her.
"I remember thinking to myself, "I'm not going to bleed to death - I'm going to die of a heart attack before we get to the hospital!' " she says.
The next day, back at the office with six stitches in her chest, Ball got a call from the prospective buyer who had witnessed the cat attack. "All she said to me was, "Do you remember me from yesterday?' and when I said I did, she said, "Well, I'd still like to buy that house.'
"And she did, and she lived there the rest of her life," says Ball.