TOMS TREASURES INTERNET MAGAZINE
Getting Permission , and Hunting Private Homes
You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression
by Peter A. O'Brien
Ok, you've hunted all the parks, public schools, medians and abandoned "locations" in your area and everything is hunted out. Now what do you do? Take a road trip, move to some exotic place that is always featured in one of the monthly treasure magazines or just go up to a stranger's door in your town and ASK PERMISSION to hunt it! Most Th'ers would prefer to do the first two options because the third scares the dickens out of them.
Let me give you some tips that will open up more sites than you can possibly hunt in 10 lifetimes. All it takes is some common sense mixed with a good dose of courtesy and a smidgen of salesmanship.
Most of us do our hunting on weekends and can't wait to hit the road at first light and hunt until dark, in order to get as much time swinging the coil in as possible. While this is an admirable trait, it is best saved for road trips or areas where you don't have to ask a homeowner for permission. Put yourselves in their position, they too have been at the grind all week and Saturday or Sunday morning may be their day to sleep in. Guess how receptive they are going to be to someone pounding on the door or ringing the bell a half dozen times at 7AM or 8AM. Plan your first stop to arrive at the neighborhood about 9:45. Most folks are up and about by then and haven't gone off for the day.
Before you leave home, take an inventory of your appearance. Don't wear beat up, ripped, torn or filthy old clothes that you save for digging in the dirt. Avoid the Johnny Cash look, try to wear bright colors, like clean faded jeans, chambray shirts, polo shirts with a collar, or jumpsuits if that is your style. Remember you are going to be meeting strangers, they have absolutely no idea how nice you really are in spite of your appearance. If you're a man, shave. Always comb your hair and use deodorant. An unkempt appearance won't open many doors.
Avoid T shirts as your outer garment unless spotlessly clean and devoid of any slogans, cute sayings or political statements. You have very few seconds to make that first impression, your T-shirt will speak louder and first to a stranger. Especially taboo are shirts that infer violence or make risque statements. They may be fun to wear at a gathering of like minded people but they are certain to stereotype you before you even say hello. Gents, avoid the torn tank top or bare chested look, if you want to show off your pectorals go to the beach. Ladies avoid short shorts, tube tops , tank tops or the unfettered look. If you want to be ogled join the guys at the beach. If you are like me and have a large belly and small hips, wear a belt and/or suspenders to hold up your jeans, the only moon the owner wants to see is in the sky!
Know the neighborhood you are about to search. Take time to do some research, drive through it without a detector and make a list of the places that really look good to you. That way when you come back you are not a car full of strangers prowling the neighborhood. Look hard at the neighborhood and yard size. It isn't a problem if you hunt by yourself, but if you bring partners along with you, you need to have a good feel for how many hunters a yard will support. The average yard will comfortably allow two hunters to move around without crosstalk and overcrowding. If the yard is over an acre, 3 hunters can search the place without making the owner feel like he is being scoured clean. It is hard for most of us to tell a hunting partner he or she can't come along with us on occasion but the alternative is to have you and six of your closest friends arriving at a 75 by 100 city lot!!
If there are two or more of you hunting, send only one to the door, don't have your buddies lounging around on the lawn with their equipment while you get the OK. The others should stay in the car until you walk back and tell them it is a go or no go. Decide who is going to do the asking in advance. Don't argue about who is going to the door for 5 minutes while sitting in front of the house. Chances are the homeowner saw you drive up and is becoming increasingly tense while strangers actively chat and argue prior to coming to the door.
Now that you are on the way to the front door, mentally rehearse your "spiel". If you wear a hat and sunglasses, remove them. Don't wear your recovery tools or carry your detector at this time. Be sure to let the homeowner see your face clearly, you want to convey openness from the outset. You want to make positive eye contact. If you wear sunglasses put them on after you have permission. If you are a smoker, don't have one lit as you approach or during the permission getting process. Don't take that last drag and toss the butt into their yard or bushes just as they open the door. Using their yard for an ashtray isn't going to win many points. If you chew, do it between homes, don't spit or keep a wad in the jaw while in their yards, using your dig holes as spittoons or ashtrays does nothing for public relations. If you like to drink beer or other alcoholic beverages during the day, don't ask or hunt that day. No one in their right mind is going to grant a stranger smelling of booze or beer permission to dig up their yard and hang around the house. After you knock on the door or ring the bell take at least two paces back from the door or step down one step, you don't want to tower over the folks that come to the door or get in their faces.
When talking to the homeowner KEEP IT SIMPLE and SMILE until it hurts. Don't make promises you'll have a hard time keeping or honoring after the hunt. Don't oversell your skills or yourself. Speak in a friendly, confident tone of voice, identify yourself at the outset, tell them where you are from and that you have an unusual but fun hobby. Don't brag about great finds you have made in the area, or the value of some of the items you may find. The homeowner is trying to process you and whether or not you are safe to have around the house. They really couldn't care less about your hobby, it is YOUR hobby not theirs, don't confuse them. Too much detail at the outset may provide them that one piece of information that enables them to say NO. Offer to look for any item they may have lost while you are poking around and tell them you will return it if found. Briefly explain how you go about recovering targets, emphasize that you will leave no trace of your presence nor cause any damage to their lawn. If you can't dig a neat hole, practice until you can before ever going to the first home. You only have to ruin one yard to ruin the neighborhood.
Assuming you have done everything right so far and have obtained permission, ask the homeowner if your vehicle is blocking the driveway or parked in their "spot". It is better to have this minor detail settled rather than have owner feel trapped inside because you are blocking them in while you hunt.
OK, you have permission, your partner is whispering "hot diggity dog" under his breath as you break out the tools. Remember you are still being watched by the owner and you can bet, by the neighbors as well. Don't strap on your trenching shovel that you use in farm fields, do carry a cloth or vinyl square about a foot square to place soil on as you dig your holes, it shows concern and it makes it a lot easier to get all the dirt back in without a big brown stain on the grass. If you use a survival knife or some other lethal looking digging tool, don't start sharpening it up or tossing it into nearby trees or the lawn while killing time. Sure we all have some potential life threatening tools if used by a lunatic but we don't want to convey that image to the still nervous owner, keep it out of site in its scabbard or holder until you need to use it.
Once you start hunting, wear earphones. Loud beeping will become a water torture to the owner and imply a multitude of valuable targets whether or not they are. While you have your earphones on, remember you can't hear voices well nor can your partner so remove them if you want to talk to each other. Don't scream across the yard to each other or curse or holler what have you found. At best it is rude and at the worst it may get you tossed out. Have some prearranged hand signals with your partner if you find something neat, a tap on the top of the head might mean silver or relics. If you want to discuss a find stroll over to your partner and casually talk about it, save your bragging and joy until you are in the car and leaving the property. Carrying on over a find is a sure way to lose it to the homeowner or point out to him and the neighbors that there is "real treasure" here and that they better keep it to themselves. By the way, itgoes without saying - remove trash you find as well as treasure when you search a yard.
Sex and the single treasure hunter. There is no place for it. You do not want to make the homeowner feel the slightest bit ill at ease. Don't leer at the gorgeous young thing that came to the door, smiled and said go ahead search the place. She might be the answer to your dreams, but you are here to treasure hunt and at this point that is the only thing you have permission to do. Flirting, posing, preening, and all the other ritual mating behaviors are not cool at this time. If you need to see the owner on a social basis, get the name as you leave and call a few days later, don't associate it with TH'ing. Should you see the homeowner at a later date and you don't hit it off, you don't want the owner spreading the word that you are con artist who uses Th'ing as an excuse to gain access to people in their homes.
Don't let a non productive yard reflect on your attitude as you depart. It is not the owner's fault that there was nothing there or that you failed to find your intended targets. Thank them for their hospitality as profusely as you would had you found $10 face value in old silver. Let them know that it is a treasure HUNTING hobby, and not necessarily a treasure FINDING hobby, and that is what makes it fun. You'll come across as polite and grateful and may even get a tip from the owner to another yard where they know that there might be something.
Smoking is a topic that must be handled with forethought. If you are chain smoker, you are better off taking a few breaks and going back to the vehicle rather than storming around the lawn like a locomotive, puffing and stabbing out butts on the lawn, your shoe etc. Most people won't confront a smoker, but if it upsets them, they will mentally disapprove of you and your habits and deny you return access in the worst situation.
You must always assume that you are being watched from the home at all times. What you are doing is interesting and people are curious. Don't become paranoid about this, just act accordingly. Don't make yourself at home in their yard, you are a guest. Don't flop down and nap on the lawn, have a picnic lunch on their patio furniture, or sunbathe while your partner continues to hunt. Don't assume that just because they said yes that you can stay 8 to 12 hours. Don't expect that you can use their water hose to wash up or wash your tools and finds. Don't even think of entering their house to use the bathroom facilities. Go to the nearest fast food joint or gas station if nature calls. You are still just a stranger poking around the yard. Be a benign one.
Keep an eye out for signs that you are overstaying your welcome. It is much better to under-stay on the first visit, especially if you are finding good items than overstay. If the family is getting ready to use their yard for a cookout or just getting ready to go out, don't assume you can continue to hunt if they leave or if you stay out of the way. Be sensitive to their needs. The homeowner should never have to ask you to leave. If he has to resort to that, you'll probably never be granted a return visit. You can bet that they will tell everyone in the neighborhood how you and friends imposed on their hospitality. It is much better to hunt for two or three hours than eight hours if you have any thought of coming back. It shows respect for their time and hospitality.
Absolutely never argue with the homeowner on any point. You can't win. Even if you know the history of a place better than they do, let them labor on with their beliefs. If you find something of historical significance, you might offer to do some research on it and drop them a note later, updating their beliefs. To challenge their belief that the Battle of Waterloo took place in their town of Iowa, rather than France only points out their poor education on the matter and makes them feel put upon by a "know it all". The same goes with criticizing their kid's behavior or of the pets that growled at you. You can not convince them that their darlings are uncontrolled. This is the time for diplomacy and all your interpersonal skills. Use them wisely and you'll be welcome. Win a discussion in your mind and say good bye to that neighborhood.
In case you feel any bad vibes coming from the owners, turn off your machine and tell the owners that your batteries failed. Ask them politely if you can come back at another time (when there is less stress in the air or when the kiddies are in school or the pet pitbull is in the house). By the way, the dead battery technique also works well with the grabber homeowners. You know the type. They follow you around and take everything as soon as you pop it out of the ground. Rather than tell them how you really feel, just leave. The neighbors probably know what creeps they are. To confront the grabber only allows him to build the case that you were "stealing" all the good stuff from the yard and had to be watched completely.
Special rules regarding very old folks granting permission. Use extra judgment. Are they saying yes because they genuinely want you to be there or because they are terrified and want to get you away from the door? Do you consider them competent to grant permission? If you get any vibes that makes you believe the "yes" you got isn't all that genuine or heartfelt, back off. There is nothing more frustrating than having an adult relative of the old folks drive up and begin browbeating you for taking advantage of the seniors and possibly calling the police. Even if the relatives don't appear, hunting in an old person's yard may send the message to the neighbors that you are nothing more than an unscrupulous opportunist
Remember at all times to keep your approach and request informal, positive and friendly. Don't overkill with permission slips where none is warranted. The last thing a homeowner wants to be confronted with is a decision requiring a team of lawyers. The only times I would ever contemplate using a permission slip would in the case of absentee owners or if I knew for a fact that there were items of great value on the property. Neither of these situations fall within the realm of casual weekend treasure hunting and should be dealt with separately.
When asking permission, I always tell the home owner that I will show them anything I find before leaving. The key word is SHOW. Notice I didn't imply "sharing". I don't know what I am going to find and I certainly don't want to give it away before all my efforts are even begun.. You control what you show. The items are in your apron or pouch so common sense and a bit off salesmanship is crucial at this point. A Barber dime may be just another coin to them, but to you it may be of great significance. Same with large cents, wheaties and memorials. If you tell the home owner you found a hand full of pennies and offer them to pick a few, odds are they will wave you off. If, on the other hand, you point out the large cent telling them it is fairly rare and may be of some value, what do you think they will do? If you already have multiple finds of the items you uncover this is a great time to press a few of your finds into the owners hands. They will love you for it and your generosity. You don't have tell them you already have 750 3-ring minie balls or two mason jars full of merc dimes at home. If you find personal jewelry or keepsakes, by all means return it to them, it is the right thing to do for it means more to them than to you. If you find something you are not sure of or know to be extremely valuable then the rules change. The last thing you want the owner to do is accuse you of theft. Taking without permission is plain and simple THEFT. Tell the owner you don't know what the item is or is worth. Tell them you'll do some research and get back to them. Do just that. You'll survive a lot better at a later date if you come clean from the start. Half or a percentage of something is a lot better than 100% of nothing. Serious legal problems will certainly arise if you appear clutching the rare item in a press story that the owner recognizes came from his yard. This is the time for contracts and legalese.
Lastly, treat the homeowners and their property with respect. After all they have guarded your potential finds for you. You are a guest and should behave as such. Treasure hunting on someone's property without permission is trespassing. Removing an item without permission is theft. There is no such thing as abandoned or unowned property. Check with the local tax assessor if in doubt. There are an awful lot of great finds yet to be made in private yards. How you search them impacts all of us. Once you find the owner, get permission and enjoy some of the best hunting you'll ever do, you'll make many friends in the process!
Copyright © 1997 by Peter A. O'Brien
All rights reserved.
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