Bats Bother Home Sellers, Take a Bite Out of Value

Some folks in Tifton, Ga., sure do have some batty neighbors that they just want to leave town. Brown bats, that is, the kind Count Dracula might invite over for a bite.

Hundreds and hundreds of the flying critters have taken up residence in one foreclosed home leaving a stench that wafts past the curb if you dare roll down your car window.

"The smell would knock you down to size, especially in this heat,"Realtor Norris Bishop told AOL Real Estate. "With it being 85 degrees right now, you would not even be able to go into the house."

And who'd really want to? The crew hired to clean up the place estimated that there's more than 10,000 bats inside, reported the Tifton Gazette. But Bishop, who had the listing on this otherwise vacant 4,341-square-foot historic home (pictured in our gallery) before he told the bank last month to take it off the market so they can get the vermin out, tells us he thinks that's an exaggeration. "It's probably only 800 or 900."

Don't think that the bats are just attracted to drafty old homes in the south. In-house sightings are on the rise as their natural habits are being eroded away by humans. As a result, there are a few things you may want to know about these tiny furry mammals with fangs before you rest your head on your pillow tonight.

Your Home Is Very Inviting

"In most urban or suburban areas there is no natural habitat left for bats," says Matthew Grady, president of BatGuys Wildlife Service, a humane bat excavation company that serves several states in the Northeast. "Because of this, generations of bats have grown up in houses. It is now bred into them to seek shelter in houses rather than caves."

See Photos of Bats During BatGuys Excavations
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Bats Bother Home Sellers, Take a Bite Out of Value

The bats mostly come out at night, but by day they are hanging from the rafters in the attic and sleeping under the stairwell and getting cozy in the fireplace chimney, leaving a trail of their guano behind so thick that, well, you might just want to scream, "Holy crap, Batman!"

"I don't know how anyone was able to live in this house with bats in it. They must have had it under control," says Bishop, who had the 4-bedroom, 2-bath house on the market in January for $54,450 before dropping the price three times, ending at $39,450, according to a Multiple

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Listings Service search. (Those low, low, prices weren't a bat special. You actually can find several decent-sized homes, sans bats, for under $50,000 in this small town that sits about 2 1/2 hours south of Atlanta and 90 minutes from the Florida border. See photos of this home in our gallery.)

The Tifton home actually is a quaint, adorable abode, with natural hardwood floors and a covered porch. But code enforcement officers have condemned it as unfit for habitation. Neighbors, who want the home torn down, told WALB-TV news the bats have been around for years and the last owner had them professionally cleared, but didn't properly seal the home that the bats got back in.

How do the bats get in?

Bats can squeeze through very small openings, as little as one inch in diameter (certain species can squeeze through a hole the diameter of a dime), and can gain access to a home through loose flashing on the roof, an open flue, or even through an air vent. Our own AOL Real Estate Managing Editor Laura Goldstein believes an air vent is how one made it into her apartment before finding its way to her bathroom, where it draped itself over her bathtub faucet.

"They sometimes fall down in the walls when they are sleeping, then get out any way they can," Goldstein said. Her stow-a-way was probably thirsty after not finding its way back out, she said.

For the foreclosure, that home needs a bit of work inside and out, and it is likely the bats got in as the home fell into disrepair, said Bishop. Keep your home in good condition, sealing up holes in advance, and you might not have to ever come face-to-face with a screeching bat.

Where there's one, there's a flock.

Bats don't typically roost alone. The first sign that there was a bat infestation at the foreclosure was when Bishop saw a couple of dead ones on the floor. But if there's one or two, there's likely thirteen or 40. Bats, the only flying mammal, tend to flock together in colonies. The mamas (without the papas) set up maternity colonies and each give birth to just one pup a year, usually between May and July. So expect their numbers to double during that time if they are in your home.

There are just so many in the Tifton foreclosure leaving their scent and feces, that whoever buys the house, if it ever goes back on the market, will probably have to spend "a considerable amount of money tearing everything out, gutting the place," says Bishop.

How to get rid of roosting bats

Well, don't think of picking up a Louisville Slugger to have the creature meet its namesake. Many bats are considered endangered or threatened and there are laws in most states protecting their right to live. The safest way is to give them an exit route with no return.

The exclusion method involves sealing up all but one of their entry points (noticeable by guano stains on the exterior of your home, or watching the exterior of your home for about an hour starting about 30 minutes before sunset.) Then create a one-way flap using nylon netting or other soft mesh available from a hardware store. Tack the top and sides, but not the bottom, and wallah, bats get out, but they don't get in.

Keep the netting up for three days or so to make sure all have exited, which they will do eventually to go in search of food. Except the pups probably can't fly if you're tackling this in the summer. Your window of opportunity will be more in the fall or early spring, as in the winter they hibernate. You don't want to seal the opening up at the wrong time, or you risk locking them inside your home, creating a very large casket.

See Photos of Tifton, Ga. Foreclosure That Has Large Bat Colony
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Bats Bother Home Sellers, Take a Bite Out of Value

He's cute. Can I keep him?

This blog shows a very cute hand-raised bat pup that was abandoned by its mum. Duruga, the orphaned bat, might make someone crave one as a pet, right alongside their ferret and piglet, but in the U.S. some bats can't be kept as pets since they are endangered or protected.

"They're not like the cute and cuddly panda bears (also endangered)," said Jason E. Wagner, a natural resources chief for the army at Fort Drum, N.Y., which does research on a wildlife health crisis that has killed more than one million hibernating bats in the Northeast.

Some bats could be kept as pets, but don't do it, says Christine Portfors, an associate professor at the school of biological sciences at Washington State University, Vancouver. "It's not a good idea because bats are wild animals and wild animals should not be kept as pets." They need their natural environment to mate in, she says. She suggests, in her video, visit a zoo or get a stuff animal instead.

But if a bat does find its way into your home, even briefly, know that "the bat's claim to fame is they eat a lot of insects," said Wagner. "So, if you have bedbugs, you just might not mind having a bat literally hanging around.

If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em?

As it turns out, 2011 is the "International Year of the Bat" to raise awareness of these mysterious creatures (such as for those species of bats that do like blood, they don't suck it, they lick it. And usually only after biting a farm animal, not a person). On that note we'd like to leave with one more tidbit about bats that you might not be aware of: They taste a lot like chicken when roasted or boiled. (See second video below).

See bats exiting a house from the roof line.

Not just victims of eroding habitat, bats are also tasty prey for some predators.

Sheree R. Curry
, who has owned three homes, one of which had a single bat intruder, is a three-time award-winning journalist who has covered real estate for six years. During her 20-year career, her articles have appeared regularly in the
Wall Street Journal, TV Week, and Fortune. She's been writing for AOL Real Estate since 2009 from a Minneapolis-area rental. She seeks a book publisher -- or at least a lender who'll give a reasonable mortgage rate to a self-employed mom.

Thinking about adding value with home improvements? Here are some AOL Real Estateguides to help you, whether you're selling or staying.
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