YOU know your house is messy when a forensics team clad in hazmat suits has to come and shut down your street to clean it up over five days.
That's the situation that unfolded at a dilapidated terrace house in the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills this week. The unlivable home made national headlines after it sold for $1.6 million despite being left in a terrible state.
Selling agent Darren Pearce of BresicWhitney Darlinghurst said the property made him feel sick. But before the $70,000 clean up, it was much worse.
"It smelt like really, really bad mould and mildew and faeces from rats. A dirty, dirty smell," Jerry Cook, director at National Trauma and Crime Scene Cleaning said of the project. He and a team of six workers were contracted to clean up the home before potential buyers were shown the property.
The home has been a mystery for years. After it's former occupant - a hoarder - abandoned the property and left it filled to the sky with her collections, the home fell into disrepair before being inhabited by squatters and junkies.
It was filled with so much junk the front door could barely be pushed open.
"You virtually start at the front door and chip away," Cook said. "It was at the point where you open the door and climb up like a mountain and then start from there. It was six or seven foot high."
He recalled: "One floor of the bedroom had so much water damage that the whole floor and all the hoarded rubbish came crashing down and landed on the next floor on top of that hoarded rubbish."
So what kind of things did the previous occupant hoard? Everything.
"Books, clothes, tea sets - so many tea sets," Cook said.
Over the years, plastic bottles of urine had also been collected in the home. In one photo, a book sits on top of a pile of rubbish in one room. "The Last Two Million Years," reads the tarnished gold title embossed on the hard cover - sarcastically suggesting the amount of time it had been sitting in the dark, dank rooms on Waterloo St.
Still, it wasn't the worst thing Cook has seen on the job.
"Out of 10 it was probably a nine," he shrugs.
'BODILY FLUIDS DRIP THROUGH THE LIGHT FITTINGS'
For years, Beerwah-based Cook operated a regular carpet cleaning business. He had a steady clientele of hotels and banks. But about a decade ago, he got called to a job that changed everything.
"A person had been deceased in a property up in Cairns for six weeks and the bodily fluids went down to the unit downstairs through a light fitting," he said. "It was a nine day job for two people."
After that, more and more jobs just like it came up - and Cook turned his focus from carpets to crime scenes.
"We've had numerous of those where the body fluids have gone through the cracks of concrete slabs and gone to the unit downstairs," he said.
For Cook, the smell can be worse than the visual.
"It's not pleasant ... You know the stench from a dead carcass on the side of a road like a dead pig? Think of that but worse because you know it's a human," he said. "Because you know it's another person - that smell - it's not pleasant."
So do all dead bodies smell the same?
"Nope. I've had some that have a really weird smell if they were really sick," he said. "Where someone's had cancer or had bowel cancer and you can see signs in the property of them being sick ..."
The dilapidated hoarder's house on Waterloo St isn't a rare occurrence. There's lots more just like it.
"We do one job like it every week anywhere in Australia," Cook said.
"Some of them are a little bit different in what they hoard and why they hoard. We find a lot of hoarders hoard multiple items of things just in case they lose one. You find 10 to 40 of those items."
The items range from practical to odd.
"We had one that was a room full of teddy bears," he said. "Hundreds upon hundreds of teddy bears. We had to dispose of nearly all of those."
Another person hoarded actual rubbish.
"Any sort of rubbish," Cook said. "Empty bottles and newspapers and lolly rappers. They hadn't put a bin out for 11 years.
"We're talking scraps, milk bottles, tea bags. One had a bathtub full of tea bags. They ended up washing in the tub outside and not in the tub because of tea bags."
Usually, it's the family and relatives of the person who step in and instigate the clean up. Other times, it's the council.
On those occasions, Cook recalls pulling up and preparing to enter only to be faced with distressed, emotional and confused residents. Police cars roll in and things get even messier.
"We've had one where they've had to handcuff the lady," he said.
For Cook, those jobs are far worse than cleaning up after dead bodies.
"It's heartbreaking. I don't like doing those," Cook said.
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