This Florida crime scene cleanup business has a steady real estate pipeline in a tight housing market: extremely messy homes

A photo of a blue house with a red "For sale by owner" sign in the front yard.
Courtesy company
  • Spaulding Decon is known online for cleaning up crime scenes and hoarder houses.

  • It has another business division: buying and flipping infested homes for sizeable profits.

  • Even in a searing hot market, Spaulding has no trouble finding homes to clean and flip.

Content warning: story contains images of hoarding, neglect, and dead animals.

Laura Spaulding is the owner of Spaulding Decon, a business that does big cleanups, like crime scenes, hoarding houses, and meth labs.

A photo of three Spaulding Decon employees in white suits and masks.
Spaulding Decon employees.Courtesy company

She came up with the idea for the business in 2005, when she was working as a police officer and met a family saddled with the grim duty of crime scene cleanup.

A photo of Laura Spaulding in a white suit working on a house cleanup.
House cleanup.Courtesy company

In 2019, Spaulding Decon's cleanup operation made $4.5 million in revenue, according to Inc. Magazine.

Two home cleanup technicians at a site. One person is counting money with gloved hands.
Two cleanup technicians.Courtesy company

Revenue grew to about $10 million last year, and the company now has 56 franchises.

Fiona Mills
Fiona Mills works with Spaulding Decon, a company that tackles everything from homicide and suicide cleaning to mold remediation.Courtesy of Fiona Mills

In 2016, Spaulding launched a real estate operation, which brought in about $500,000 last year, she said.

A photo of a brown house with patchy green grass in front of it. It looks somewhat broken down.
A Spaulding house "before."Courtesy company

She buys messy, run-down properties at low prices from sellers who don't want to deal with cleaning up the house and putting it on the market.

A photo of a dark and dirty closet, with hangers, clothes, and furniture askew.
A Spaulding house before renovation.Courtesy company

As the housing market has gotten more competitive in recent years, Spaulding's real estate pipeline of extremely messy homes has remained untouched.

A dark, dirty garage crowded with items, such as shelves and old appliances.
A garage, before cleanup.Courtesy company

People call her looking for help cleaning up homes, some of which she buys — if the owners want to sell.

A low-lit and dirty garage area with assorted items, from pillows to a washing machine.
A Spaulding house before renovation.Courtesy company

There is a "constant flow of houses coming in from people that cannot sell them on the market. They won't pass inspection and require a cash offer," she said.

A room piled high with assorted items, such as boxes, toilet paper, spices, and cat food.
A Spaulding house before getting cleared out.Courtesy company

"Investors typically spend thousands and thousands of dollars trying to find [houses]" she said. "And I don't even spend a dollar."

Two people clearing out trash and old flooring in a garage. One has a trash bag and the other has a shovel. Both are wearing light-colored pants and navy collared shirts.
Spaulding technicians.Courtesy company

"I won't ever do a deal unless it's a win-win situation," she said.

A picture of a dirty bathroom with the floor covered in rat poop.
Rat poop bathroom.Courtesy company

Spaulding said one home she renovated in 2021 was infested with almost 900 rats.

Dead rats lying on a white tile floor, one with its head in a black rat trap. The floor has rat poop on it.
Rats of the former rat house.Courtesy company

“The guy in there was just treating them like pets. He was leaving out dog food,” she said. It also was full of junk.

Shredded papers from rats' nests.
Shredded papers from the rats' nests.Courtesy company

The rats would crawl through the house using tunnels they had chewed in the walls.

A blue wall with four chewed holes in it above a kitchen cabinet, used as tunnels for rats.
The rats' tunnels.Courtesy company

The owner was mentally ill, she said, and his family sold her the house for $92,000, property records show.

A bedroom with brown, dirty sheets and a shelf stacked high with dirty papers.
The bedroom of the former owner of the rat house.Courtesy company

Spaulding and her team stripped the place down to the studs.

A picture of a house down to its studs with pink material on the floor.
The studs of the "Rat House"Courtesy company

The renovation cost $55,000, and they turned it around in five weeks, Spaulding said.

A house with its floor being gutted.
The "Rat House" mid-renovation.Courtesy company

The finished house sold in just two days $287,000, records show.

A newly renovated kitchen with dark brown and white wooden floors, a white kitchen island and cabinets, and a new silver fridge.
The "Rat House" kitchen, post-renovation.Courtesy company

Spaulding said she earned about $122,000 in profit on the house.

A gray stucco house with palm trees in the front, a white garage door, and a driveway.
The "Rat House" no more.Courtesy company

Spaulding also worked on a house in Tampa, Florida, near the Busch Gardens theme park.

A slightly caved in ceiling in a small room packed with junk
The "Busch Gardens" house crammed with stuff.Courtesy company

"You can literally see the roller coasters from the front yard," she said.

A photo of two people against a purple sky, while on some sort of rollercoaster ride.
A friendly race between mom and son into the evening sky at Tampa's Busch Gardens.2008, Tampa Florida.Thomas Damgaard Sabo, Damgaard Photography / Getty Images

The woman who had lived there had called Spaulding for help with hoarding clean-up years earlier, but the woman didn't go through with it, Spaulding said.

A run-down white house.
The Busch Gardens house exterior pre-renovation.Courtesy company

Spaulding Decon will recommend a therapist and ongoing organizers for customers struggling with hoarding, she added.

A room filled with hoarded items, such as file storage boxes.
A room in Busch Gardens filled with stuff.Courtesy company

After the woman died, her son called Spaulding, who bought the house for $30,000, records show.

A man standing on a roof with a power tool.
Working on Busch GardensCourtesy company

“I had $7,000 just in landscaping because the trees had grown through the house,” she said.

A house overgrown by foliage.
Busch Gardens and its overgrown foliage.Courtesy company

They threw away all of the owner’s old stuff.

A room with cabinets piled high with assorted boxes, bins, and trash.
Busch Gardens bins and boxes.Courtesy company

“We filled up four or five dumpsters, just in this tiny house. This house is less than 1,100 square feet,” Spaulding said.

A pile of black trash bags near two large dumpsters.
Busch Gardens trash.Courtesy company

The project took about three months, and Spaulding kept the house to rent as an Airbnb.

A bright kitchen with brown floors, white cabinets, and white furniture.
Busch Gardens' post-renovation kitchen.Courtesy company

When possible, she said she prefers to rent the homes out herself, either to long-term tenants or through Airbnb.

A living room with a wide window, a TV on a TV stand, and a brown upholstered chair.
The Busch Gardens living room, in the now-Airbnb.Courtesy company

The Busch Gardens house now makes about $3,000 to $5,000 a month in revenue from Airbnb, she said.

A blue brick house with a white garage door and a front yard with green grass.
The Busch Gardens exterior post-renovation.Courtesy company

A third house Spaulding worked on last year was in Valrico, Florida.

A house being renovated from the exterior.
"The Lakehouse" mid-renovation.Courtesy company

Spaulding named it "The Lakehouse" for the picturesque Valrico Lake accessible via the backyard.

A boat in the foreground with a swampy lake in the background
The lake from the backyard of the house in Valrico, and the neighbor's boat.Courtesy company

Spaulding said the 92-year-old former owner couldn't keep up with their hoarding problem and called for help. "Why don't I just buy this from you?" Spaulding asked.

A room full of stuff, like dog absorbent pads and furniture and trash.
"The Lakehouse" filled with stuff.Courtesy company

The house had no running water, Spaulding added. "I don't know where she was bathing."

A room lit by a single lamp and filled with a pile of assorted, messy items.
At "The Lakehouse," before Spaulding cleaned it out.Courtesy company

"I mean, look at the walls," Spaulding said. "Absolute disaster."

A stripped down room near a window with the walls bare.
A room in Busch GardensCourtesy company

"Nothing was salvageable," Spaulding said. "She literally walked out with the clothes on her back" and a check.

A garage piled high with trash.
"The Lakehouse" garage pre-cleanup.Courtesy Company

The team even had to coat the garage floor with epoxy to cover the smell of dog urine...

A garage with stripped down floors and a pile of trash.
The garage mid-cleanup.Courtesy company

... but the finished garage was completely transformed.

A clean and empty gray garage.
The post-epoxy garage.Courtesy company

An investment firm bought the renovated Lakehouse for $356,000, records show.

A kitchen with white and brown floors and a sliding door window to the outside.
The post-renovation "Lakehouse" kitchen.Courtesy company

Records show Spaulding paid $120,000 for the house, and she said she spent another $120,000 on renovations, earning a profit of about $116,000.

A blue house with a white garage door and green front yard.
"The Lakehouse" exterior post-renovation.Courtesy company

Spaulding says she earned about a 54% profit margin on the rat-infested house.

A photo of a gray-walled kitchen with a white countertop.
"Rat House" kitchen post-renovation.Courtesy company

By comparison, custom builder gross profit margins were around 18%, according to a 2014 survey from the National Association of Home Builders.

maine housing market
A house for sale in Maine.Gordon Chibroski/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

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