The Cost of Cleaning Out a Hoarder House


I recently came across a question posted on an anonymous ask-anything-you-want-and-random-people-in-cyberspace-will-post-replies website, asking why hoarding clean-out companies need to evaluate the house before providing her a quote. She stated that she was too embarrassed to have anyone in the home at this point, but was working up the courage to get help. No one offered an explanation; instead they offered moral support and stories of their own battles to begin decluttering. We get calls and email every day asking how much it would cost to clean out one property or another. We even get requests from people looking to start their own businesses on how much to charge! The truth is that we don’t quote by phone either. The cost of cleaning up a hoarded property is so complex; it requires an on-site inspection and thorough interview with the owner and occupants.

We must consider, for example:

  • Size of Property
  • Type of Materials
  • Availability of water, heat, electricity, bathroom
  • Amount to be Disposed of
  • Method(s) of Disposal
  • Maintenance & Compliance
  • Level of Client Involvement & Motivation
  • Protective Equipment
  • Time for completion
  • Supplies
  • Location
  • Etc. Etc. Etc.

Bringing in an organizer and clean-out team is not cheap. That said, the cost from one company to the next can vary significantly. While we are the only company in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts to specialize in working with compulsive hoarding, there are many “nationwide” or regional companies that will come here to do the work. Not only will they charge their regular costs, but the client will be expected to pay all costs associated with their travel and stay. If you live in an area where there are a few companies to choose from, be sure to get multiple proposals. In addition, make certain to read all the fine print on the estimate and any contracts before signing. Each company has there own method of working and understanding of what is and is not “included”.

I read an article recently about a California family who decided to clean out their deceased parents’ home on their own. They told the reporter that it had cost them $20,000 in materials and expenses. A company in Oregon reported charging $10,000 for what they call “throw-out” service, which is exactly what it sounds like- everything in the space was throw into dumpsters- period. In this case the $10,000 covered a one-bedroom apartment. A San Diego landlord contacted the health inspector when he discovered that a tenant was hoarding in one of his apartments. He was ordered to have it cleaned out at a cost of $9,000. In a September 2010 interview with AOL Small Business , Matt Paxton of Clutter Cleaners, often seen on A & E Hoarders, stated that his rates start at $1000 per day and go up depending on the level of squalor. More astounding, you can listen to a 2008 interview on Hoardhouse.com where a New York City company reveals that their rates are $400 per hour or $3200 per day plus the cost of expenses! If you search for organizers, they are typically $50-$150 per hour just to talk you through the work that you will do yourself.

In our experience, a 30 yard dumpster rental including 3 tons of standard debris will cost on average $600.00. Just last month, one of our clients was quoted by a regional company a price of $2000.00 per dumpster. Now, depending on where you are, the price does vary- hence the word, average. But, they were quoting the same location as us with a $1400.00 difference, per dumpster! Feel free to ask the clean out company to break down the costs in their proposal. If they seem to be high in areas such as this, ask them to remove the items and schedule the dumpsters yourself. You can also try to reduce expenses if they are marking up the costs of materials. Suggest that you buy any supplies needed as you go.

The following can also be areas of “extra” cost in many companies. Make certain that your expectations are aligned with the company you hire to do the job.

  • Written estimate or consultation fee
  • Sorting the contents (rather than just throwing it all away)
  • Recovering valuables
  • Disposal/Trash removal from premises (Hazmat, biohazard, pharmacological, etc.)
  • Management of donated items
  • Management of items to be sold
  • Cleaning of home and/or contents (most companies leave property “broom swept”)
  • Organization of items remaining in home
  • Coordination of maintenance (plumbing, extermination, electrical, painting, construction, etc.)
  • Consultation with family, social services, mental health workers, municipality, et al
  • Phone/email support
  • Written materials/ Recovery strategy
  • Mileage to and from job site/ other travel related expenses
  • Follow-up visits

There have been many cases where municipalities have paid for the clean-up costs. Typically, they use the services of a “throw out” company which ensures a 100% rate of recidivism. One town used 75% of its annual budget on a single hoarder house clean out, only to have it fill up again within months. In some cases, APS (Adult Protective Services) has stepped in to assist with clean-out and recovery funding. I have found, though, that in many communities APS is reluctant to become involved with compulsive hoarders; perhaps it is because they don’t want to incur any of the potential recovery associated costs. The community of Rancho Cucamonga, CA forced an elderly resident to take out a reverse mortgage to finance the declutter of his home. Tragically, the costs associated with the action exceeded the value of the property and he was forced to live the remainder of his life on the streets. He passed away on January 11, 2011.

Yes, the expenses associated with compulsive hoarding remediation are high, but those who are ethical and compassionate will not try to become millionaires off of these desperate people in desperate situations. There are costs to running every business, but sometimes businesses take advantage of the most vulnerable in our society. The shame, the guilt, the fear that those who are suffering with this disorder face every day should not be used against them in their recovery process. Accessibility to the resources needed for clean up help is the number one hindrance to getting help. If you or someone you know is suffering, please feel free to call, email or post for confidential, FREE advice.

About NJDespres

Hoarding and Acquiring Recovery Coach @ NJDespres Enterprise I write about my experiences at work. Try to educate people about the complex disorders of hoarding and compulsive acquiring. Provide recovery solutions for those who suffer and/or their loved ones. Offer organizing and household management tips applicable to everyone.
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17 Responses to The Cost of Cleaning Out a Hoarder House

  1. Pingback: Quora

  2. kristina mcnic says:

    It is the “norm” of our society these days to hunt for the weak and profit off them. I find it mean, greedy and even offensive. It’s a tragedy when a group gangs up on the one hurting instead of applying understanding and help.

    • NJDespres says:

      Kristina-
      Thanks for commenting. I agree. The media hype on hoarding has led to more and more people trying to capitalize on cashing in on this vunerable population, too. The mentally ill have been financially victimized for decades. Unfortunately, with additonal cuts to social service programs meant to protect them, there are less people looking out for their well-being. Our society still stigmatizes mental illness and most people have very little understanding of the complexities of mental disorders. The fear of the unknown tends to keep people away, isolating those who need help the most. It is my hope through forums such as this and other blogs, Facebook, social service agencies, mental health facilities, etc. that we can reach as many people as possible to educate them about responsible, ethical businesses and programs who can help them with their recovery.
      Thanks for visiting and please browse around the blog. You will certainly find other posts that evoke a similar reaction!
      Nicole

  3. jt says:

    Wow, this was really a good post! I don’t think I could have added anything more but actual names which I wouldn’t anyway… The cost for the cleanup is a chore to figure at any level dealing with hoarding and you have summed up this work just right. It’s glad to still see people who actually feel for families not of their own. Thank you.

    • NJDespres says:

      JT: Thanks for stopping by and for your comment. It is difficult because unless you have a lot of experience you don’t know what is underneath the piles. Many people are trying jump on the clean-out band wagon without the expertise and proper training. They don’t realize the hazmat, biohazard, and serious risks to themselves and their “employees” that lurk within a hoarded home. No matter how thoroughly you interview clients, they often forget what may be in the house. We have encountered homes with hypodermic needles randomly discarded in the piles of belongings and trash. There are also high costs associated with disposal of pharmaceuticals and other regulated items. In our area it costs $25 per mattress, for example, and we don’t know how many are in a home until we dig them out. It is irresponsible for a company to give a price by phone or email, and I doubt that those who do stick to them. Likewise, people searching for help should also insist on being provided with a written contract and certificate of insurance which includes proof of Worker’s Compensation coverage as the risk to those working in hoarded environments is high.
      Thanks again.
      Nicole

  4. Marlene Archer says:

    The post was very helpful. I am doing research for a dear friend of modest means. She is finally willing to submit to a clear out service and has just received a quote for more than $13,000 for an averaged sized 2 bedroom apartment in the Bronx, NY. I was recently in the apartment, for the 1st time in years, hoarders are very skilled at keeping you away from their shame and, while it is in real need of services, their is not floor to ceiling clutter or health hazards about the place. It is clear that these services are expensive and it would be helpful if there was some indication where someone with limited resources could get financial help to deal with this illness.

    • NJDespres says:

      Marlene-
      Thank you for your comments. Unfortunately, there are limited financial resources available for cleanouts. Sometimes one can find assistance from elderly affairs or church groups. In my humble opinion, since hoarding and acquiring are mental illnesses, I think that medical insurance should pay for recovery costs including clean out. Hopefully, with the new DSM diagnosis expected for hoarding and with doctors’ and researchers’ support for comprehensive recovery strategies this will be forthcoming.
      In the meantime, I suggest that your friend try to find a company willing to work on a payment plan or that she attempt to find property within the apartment that she may be able to liquidate to help alliviate the financial burden of the clean-up costs.
      Best to you both-
      Nicole

  5. Lola says:

    You’ve given great advice and described the associated problems well. When my sister had her mastectomy and moved into her daughter’s home to recover, her children and I persuaded her to let us clean up her house. She’d extracted a promise from me years before that I’d never allow her children to put her in a nursing home, and cleaning her house out was the only way I knew to fulfill that promise. (She didn’t want to move into my house, although I’d offered.)

    Our first look in 20 years was a shock — trash from floor to ceiling, only a narrow tunnel from front door to back. The cost was nearly $10K; half of that in trash haul away; the other half in repairs, such as to replace the floor which had turned to mush. When all was said and done, my sister’s homecoming was distressing and sad. She never forgave us for throwing away her treasures, even though we only tossed the garbage and destroyed items. I’d bought her new furniture, including organizational pieces so everything had its place. She cried and said she hated it and filled it right up with trash again. For the last eight years of her life, her every sentence began with a version of, “I used to have a {insert item} like that…” She died a few months ago, not quite estranged from me, but not liking me very much either.

  6. Amber Voss says:

    Companies in the Hoarding industry are not out to scam on prices, when working with hoarders and clutter homes there is a level of danger in most cases. You have to wear suits, respirators, goggles etc, as when we enter the home you may find dirty needles etc. The cost of insurance to have to clean out a house on this level is just as expensive so Companies are not preying on innocent victims they simply have to find the right quote to cover insurance, cost of the job , replacements if any needed on the job , employees and hotel and travel costs as most companies are not right next door to the dwellings. Our company tries to work out the lowest rate possible and we throw in a lot more detail as we scrub everything and make sure it is clean and livable after we are done, we vaccume , do laundry because who wants to pay that kind of money to have to do it by them selves. If you decide to use a company just go after a couple quotes and see what the differences are and what you will get for your money, I’ m sure their are scam companies out there for money, but most of what we charge we never come out with in the end, so the pricing is fair, it takes money to make money in these cases.

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Always-1st-Medical-Trauma-Cleanup/138719086213895

    • NJDespres says:

      Amber-
      Thanks for stopping in. I think you and I are in agreement about the costs of hoarding remediation and recovery. As stated in my post, the costs associated with the process and running such a business are high. We choose not to travel beyond our local area as the additional expenses to a client would be excessive. We also so do not do a simple “clean-out” unless the property is vacant because of the hoarders’ death or relocation, and he/she has no rights to the home and contents. That said, the recovery process is too long to lodge in the local area. I am confused though because your first sentence says that companies in the hoarding industry are not out to scam, but then in the last say that there are. As in any industry, there are bad apples out there. This article is simply an explanation to the masses of why companies like ours cannot quote by phone and why the costs are typically a lot higher than they expect. Further, once they make the decision to seek help, it is in their best interest to get a couple quotes,references, and a certificate of insurance from reputable, experienced companies. The social popularity of hoarding has prompted many unethical “hoarding clean-up” companies to pop-up that will and do take advantage of these desperate clients. I think I may have written a few other related blog posts, please feel free to browse around and comment!
      Thanks again!
      Nicole

  7. 7pPLe6z says:

    Appreciate it for helping out, superb data.

  8. Ginger Anderson says:

    I read and made a real decision to rid my home of things I will never get around to do. Things I had collected, tried to sell online, and one-of-a-kind items that I just had to have. I am getting to the age where these items are closing in on my time to relax and enjoy life. I am not a hoarder, but I could be. That is, minus the trash and garbage. Thank you for the website. It has taken a load off of my shoulders and given me a new focus.

    • NJDespres says:

      Wow! This really touched me! Sometimes we “bloggers” wonder if anyone is really reading and affected by what we post. Thank you for your comments. I apologize for the delayed response as we were without power for a week.
      Not all hoarders have trash and garbage bags. Lol Hoarding, in a nutshell, is excessively keeping stuff to the point that it interferes with your daily life and space. The hoarding cases featured in TV reality series are extreme and generally focus on squalid situations to for shock value and ratings. Sure, we have seen our share of them, too, but we also work with just as many people who keep their homes as clean as possible with piles of accumulated treasures stored in every available inch. I am so proud of you for recognizing that you had a problem and seeking out the information and tools necessary to take back your life. If you ever need a word of advice, an ear to vent to, or just a voice to talk to, please never hesitate to call, text, or email. Stop by our Facebook page and “like” us too to help spread our tips to a larger audience. We so appreciate it!
      Best to you always-
      Nicole

  9. T.Cox says:

    I find this post to be most helpful, I have cleaned up several hoarding projects and there is nothing pretty about this type of work. As stated there are different levels of hoarding, which obviously dictates pricing. What people need to realize is that when you take on a clean up project where hoarding is involved you are putting yourself and your staff at risk. I don’t try to get rich on any one project, however in being straight forward I charge a fairly hefty premium for cleaning up these projects. I don’t just send in a crew, I am part of the crew and these types of projects can only be described as NASTY, the bottom line is if someone doesn’t agree with your price let them use another company. Moral of the story is don’t get greedy but also remember Profit is not a bad word and when you clean up after years of hoarding there is nothing wrong with making a nice profit for your efforts.

  10. Olivia says:

    A friend of mine who I think a hoarder and I’ve put in 3 full weekends de cluttering her house. Oh my goodness it was tough work the crap we found. A dehydrated mole, it was so sad to see her living like that and now it’s so nice.
    It was hard work!

  11. Lorra says:

    Another issue that no one has discussed in these hoarded houses are the vermin and insect infestation that has developed in these homes. That is another hazard that cleaners have to contend with. The stench of having roach infested areas in the home; the spiders and their webs; mice urine and droppings; as well as any animals that the homeowner may have: case in point, in addition to the above-mentioned hazards the hoarder also have about three (and there had been more than that at one time) feral cats, I believe, two of which are males and they spray all over the house. It is a complete horror story.

    So sometimes there is more to deal with that just the cleanup issue. The odors of the above-mentioned issues and the danger of contamination because of those issues. That would certainly, I’m sure add to the cost of professional cleaner coming in.

    We are trying to think of ways to help without a costly burden on family members who cannot afford to pay exorbitant amounts of money to have the house done professionally.

    • NJDespres says:

      Lorra-
      I tried to cover that in “protective equipment” and “supplies.” Hopefully, anyone working in these environments is trained and knowledgeable about the risks of such things as hantavirus when exposed to mice feces. Cat urine must be treated with unique chemicals or ozone scrubbing equipment in order to eradicate it from porous surfaces and can be quite costly. One of the highest costs to those of us in the field is the worker’s compensation premiums due to the unique risks associated with our line of work. Hopefully, with the new DSM we will see insurance coverage in the future.
      Thanks for your comments. :o)
      Nicole

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