Idaho family abandons snake-infested house
Shortly after buying their dream home, Ben Sessions and his wife discovered it was infested with thousands of garter snakes. They abandoned the property, but the home briefly went back on the market more than a year later, and they fear it could attract another unsuspecting buyer.
REXBURG, Idaho — They slithered behind the walls at night and released foul-smelling musk into the drinking water. Ben Sessions once killed 42 in a single day.
Shortly after buying their dream home, Sessions and his wife discovered it was infested with thousands of garter snakes. Their growing family lived as if in a horror movie for three months. They abandoned the property, but the home briefly went back on the market more than a year later, and they fear it could attract another unsuspecting buyer.
The five-bedroom house is on nearly two pastoral acres in rural Idaho, about 125 miles southwest of Yellowstone National Park. Priced at less than $180,000, it seemed like a steal to the young couple.
But they soon learned they would be sharing the home with reptiles at least two feet long that had crawled into seemingly every crevice. At times, there were so many in the yard that the grass seemed to move.
If he rapped a stick against the roof overhang, he could hear dozens scatter, their scales sliding against the aluminum. Dozens of snakes popped out after he removed panels of siding. When he made his way through the crawl space to investigate further, he found snakes everywhere.
That's when he realized his family probably was living atop a garter snake den where the nonpoisonous reptiles gather in fall and winter.
Sessions quickly developed a daily snake-fighting routine. He would do a "morning sweep" through the house while his pregnant wife and two small boys slept to make sure none of the snakes had entered.
"I was terrified she was going to miscarry," he said of his wife.
When they bought the house, the couple signed a document that noted the snake infestation. They said their real-estate agent assured them that the snake story was invented by the previous owners to leave their mortgage behind.
They soon learned nearly everyone else in this college town knew the snakes were real. Among locals, the property is known simply as the "snake house," said Dustin Chambers, a neighbor.
"I felt bad," Chambers said. "By the time we knew someone had bought it, they were already moving in. It was too late."
Because of the paperwork they had signed, the couple had little recourse when they decided to flee the home. They filed for bankruptcy, and the bank foreclosed.
The couple left in December 2009, the day after their daughter was born.
"We're not going to pay for a house full of snakes," Sessions said.
"It was just so stressful," his wife, Amber, said. "It felt like we were living in Satan's lair. That's the only way to really explain it."
Now owned by JP Morgan Chase, it was listed at $114,900 in December, according to Zillow.com, a real-estate data firm. That price fell to $109,200 in January.
The Animal Planet network then featured the couple's story in its "Infested" series. The listing was removed, and it has stayed off the market while Chase decided what to do with it.
Darcy Donahoe-Wilmot, a Chase spokeswoman in Seattle, said the bank has contracted to have the snakes trapped and released from the house. Once the infestation is gone, the house will be up for sale again and a report will be issued to potential buyers.
"We can't list the house until its been taken care of," Donahoe-Wilmot said.
An estimate of how much it would cost to remove the snakes and how long the process would take was not available.
Sessions said he and his wife still have nightmares and have not recovered financially.
The home probably was built on top of a winter snake den or hibernaculum, where snakes gather in large numbers to hibernate, said Rob Cavallaro, a wildlife biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Since the family moved out, others have looked at the house. One day, as a real-estate agent showed the property, a farmer warned them, Chambers said.
"Now, if anybody sees anybody, they kind of will let them know," he said. "Just so that somebody else doesn't get caught in the same trap."
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