10,000' in 2010

The frightening moments encountered as a teenager in the 1960s on my hitchhiking trips to Scranton didn’t improve my ability to sense danger or to fear people. I hitchhiked into my late teenage years, and never changed my trust and benefit-of-the-doubt with those who crossed my path.

In June 2000, Eileen and I moved to Colorado where she continued her profession as a real estate appraiser and began her own company. At the time, I was working for an insurance dotcom company that offered limited vacation days and an even more limited paycheck. Eileen didn't have to work hard to convince me to take the courses, complete the 2500 hours of fieldwork and report writing, and test for certification. This enabled us to vacation together plus the income helped me to begin a nest egg toward retirement. The Residential Appraiser career brought me full circle from the house chalk-drawing-fun-Over-the-Lane days in Jermyn.

 

A Residential Appraiser reports to the lender on the condition of the property being appraised and uses recent sales to support a value conclusion. The work was challenging and many hours were spent in the car driving on more muddy-and-dirt than gravel-and-paved roads. Lunch packed (with snacks) and a thermos of coffee, we covered five counties in rural Colorado, and viewed a wide spectrum of dwelling places. Traveling to dozens of small mountain towns, I met the fascinating people who live in the hills and valleys.

 

A winter’s assignment in 2010 took me to a town in Lake County known for its 10,151-foot-elevation and two seasons: Winter and the Fourth of July. The former silver mining town of Leadville

produces hearty plants and under 3,000 very rugged people (a significant decrease from the silver mining days of 1880 when its population totaled 14,820). Realtors refer to the black hills throughout the county as 'part of the town's charm.' As appraisers, we call them what they are: culm hills.

Some historic names connected with the town include Margaret "Molly" Brown, who became known as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," lived in the town before moving to Denver and the Guggenheim family fortune started out in Leadville in mining and smelting.

A robust, bearded man wearing bib overalls and a flannel shirt opened the door. Because most lenders request an appraisal of the property they are evaluating, reports of an appraiser in actual physical danger were rare. Homeowners are typically happy to see the appraiser because they want a good value for their property. Most will offer something to drink, or eat while you are in their house. But, every now and then, an appraiser will get creeped out by a homeowner or a property (yes, I’ve been inside reportedly 'haunted' houses).

The Lake County Homeowner showed me around, pointing out areas he hoped to renovate once he obtained his bank loan. I asked about the foundation, “Is it mud sill?” which was typical for the area.

He answered, “Yes, ma'm, plus there’s a small cellar.”

“May I see it?” Lenders require appraisers to view and photograph basements and crawl spaces.

Mr. Homeowner kicked away a dirty carpet from the center of the kitchen floor and lifted a trap door. "There's a ladder, but no lights,” his toothless smile divided his mustache from his beard. 

Yeah, the bones from the last appraiser.

 

Jokes aside, a little voice in my head cautioned me. I had not yet fine tuned the ability to distinguish between good vibes and bad vibes. It was not always black and white. In this situation, any other sensible person may have said, ‘Never mind, it’s a crawl space, a photo from here will be good enough.’ Not me. I climbed into the darkness and muskiness.

My foot touched the dirt floor, and, for a split second, I froze. But, instead of slamming the trap door closed, Mr. Homeowner followed me with a flashlight, "I need to show you something." His broad shoulders squeezed through the opening. Hunched over, he led me to a deeper section of the cellar, all the while encouraging me to follow. “Okay, now look here.” He directed the light into a hole in the dirt wall.

Curiosity got the better of me. Leaning forward, I peered into the void, half expecting him to shove me into the dark space. Would serve me right. Gotta stop watching horror movies.

 

Would the Leadville police notify the Denver Crime Scene team to Lake County to search for me? I thought about his renovations to the kitchen. How would he conceal the trap door? Hmm, the bank would probably deny his loan if I went missing.

I snapped a few photos of the mud sill walls.

 

Mr. Homeowner’s flashlight revealed several dusty, web covered cartons of varying shaped bottles. "The old-timer who lived here…” the burly man smiled again, “…well, he made peach wine. It’s really good.” He lifted a bottle and guided me to the ladder.

 

Once he was in the kitchen he extended his hand to help me climb out of the cellar and find my footing and balance. I exhaled, relieved, and continued on with making notes about the property's condition and the homeowner's remodeling plans. Mr. Homeowner pointed to two ruts in the wood floor in front of the coal stove, and laughed, "The old fellow sat here in his rocker all winter, drinking his wine."

 

I took the peach wine home and proudly relayed the events of the day to my partner who rolled her eyes and shook her head. Overall, she was relieved that I lived to tell the tale.

 

We poured the extremely sour wine on the weeds in the driveway.

a true story--

you can't make this stuff up