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Originally published Friday, July 27, 2012 at 8:00 PM

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What can go wrong in an open house? Everything, readers say

When homeowners leave their dwelling so complete strangers can take a look, all kinds of things can happen — and they do. Readers share their stories.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Right from the get-go, real-estate open houses are a recipe for weird and wild stories.

As sellers or buyers, at least half of Americans give an open-house tour a try at least once in their lives, according to the National Association of Realtors.

And for many, it works. Statistics from the NAR's 2011 Profile of Homebuyers & Sellers show that more than one in 10 homeowners found their current home through an open house; 45 percent of homebuyers attended open houses during their home search.

So what could go wrong when homeowners leave their dwelling — quirks and all — in the hands of a real-estate agent so complete strangers can peruse, scrutinize and snoop?

Plenty, according to our readers.

From kitty crises to wig rooms, here are some of the stories readers shared with us. The responses have been edited for space.

Funny bird, funny bird

"My Realtor husband and I hosted an open house for a client. After getting ready to receive guests, we heard the phone ring incessantly, tried to find it to answer but couldn't. Then we heard someone calling the cat, 'Here, kitty, kitty.' After we heard the toilet flushing loudly, we figured out that the owner's bored African grey parrot was putting us on."

— DeVonne Wells, Bremerton

A litter problem

"We were walking around the house, we kept stepping in wet spots on the carpet. Our agent finally got the nerve to get down at carpet level and smell one of the wet spots and it was urine. (We're assuming from a cat since there were litter boxes upstairs.)

"When we got upstairs, there was a huge white board on a home office wall with a house prep 'to-do' list and one of the items was 'clean out litter boxes.' "We passed on the house."

Sherry Clarke, Lake Tapps

A mess and a mouse in the house

"The appointment was for 10 a.m. We arrived and instead of the house being empty, the owners were there with their three kids and were still in bed.

"The house was a total mess, dishes in the sink, dirty in general. We offered to come back but they wanted to do it then. I could look past the clutter and mess, but I couldn't ignore the haphazard, unfinished projects.

"The clincher was when we walked downstairs and found a mouse trap with the dissected remains on the stairs."

Cyn Loy, Seattle

An open outhouse

"I was hosting an open house for a condo in Shoreline. A couple rushed in and the female ran into the bathroom. She was in there quite a while and rushed right out. She stank up the place so bad I had to shut it down."

Kristi Hansen, Shoreline

Bring a garbage truck, too

"The Craigslist ad said 'Bring your hammer ... ' but it was such an amazing price. ... In an amazing location ... so we thought we'd give it a look. We were not prepared for what we were about to see.

"It was the home of an elderly hoarder. Rows and rows of paraphernalia filled the rooms ... floor to ceiling. The lights didn't work. And to our horror, behind one of the rows of stacks lay the hoarder ... on her bed ... watching soaps, while kittens played around her. It was both horrifying and heartbreaking."

Heather Arment, Seattle

A shotgun shack

"Once (in Oklahoma) the couple my parents were considering buying the house from left a shotgun peeking out from under the master-bedroom king-size bed. That house also had converted the third bedroom into a closet/wig room. Weird."

Layla Anson, Snoqualmie

"Perusing the bookshelves (in a Redmond condo), I picked up a Dickens book that wasn't a real book at all. It was a fake book that contained a hollow center, apparently designed to store valuables. Inside were hundreds of dollars. I put it back, but couldn't help wondering if everyone who visited would be as honest. I guess not many people pick up a good Dickens novel."

Layla Anson, Snoqualmie

Tripped up?

"I was holding an open house in the Phantom Lake neighborhood in Bellevue. I had just greeted an older couple at the door when a neighbor stepped in front of them to ask about the landscaping. I gave a listing brochure to the couple as they headed downstairs to the daylight basement.

"A few minutes, later while chatting with the neighbor, I heard a loud crash of breaking glass and ran over to the window to see below in the backyard patio that the older man was lying on his back with his hand to his bleeding forehead.

"I quickly ran downstairs to see the wife tending to her husband. The sliding glass door had been shattered. I quickly called 911. ... When the ambulance arrived and was tending to the husband, the wife told me that her husband tripped on a corner of a rug and fell head first into the sliding glass door. Soon after, the man was rushed off to the hospital for stitches and I was told he was going to be fine. I closed up early and phoned the sellers telling them they should come home ...

"After I updated the seller on the event, I swung by the hospital to drop off some flowers. I was shocked when the wife came out to the waiting area to tell me that their attorney would be in touch.

"In the coming weeks, the sellers' insurance settled the matter, but the biggest shock came months later when I received a phone call from a fellow agent in town who heard about what happened. She said that something very similar happened to her and that we were most likely set up. That was 10 years ago and was the last time I hosted an open house."

Chris White, Bellevue

The body is not negotiable

"When I saw a house I was interested in, I called my girlfriend's Realtor and asked her to show it to us. While we were waiting for the agent, we (my girlfriend, her 5-year-old son and I) went around the outside of the house, just to check it out. ... The backyard smelled weird.

"There were big horseflies and it was really hot out, which didn't help the smell. We see this shed that was attached to the back side of the house under the porch.

"Sure enough, we (girlfriend's son and I) opened it and it was kind of dark, so at first we didn't see it — but there was a body about 4 feet away from us. It didn't move, so we kind of assumed it was a dead body. ... A few minutes later her real-estate agent showed up, and we went along with our business inside.

"The real-estate agent did make some calls to get the situation further investigated. We don't know the outcome, but I do know it was creepy. That's not what scared me away from buying the house though; it just wasn't the right fit."

Barry Shaw, Seattle

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