machete leans against the wall inside the front door.
Jeff Brooks lifts it first, upon stepping inside, and eyes the rafters exposed after crews removed the ceiling drywall. He scans the living room, looking past his children's toys, and surveys the floors and the steps to the basement — nothing.
Jeff, with his machete, leads two lawyers to the basement.
"Let him go first," says his wife, Jody Brooks, from the doorway.
Because their Annapolis-area home, the couple says, is infested with snakes.
Black rat snakes wintered in the walls and tunneled through the insulation. Snake paths ran from the basement to the roof.
Jeff and Jody Brooks bought the house on the Broadneck Peninsula in December. They filed a lawsuit two weeks ago seeking $2 million and claiming the real estate agent hid her knowledge of the snakes.
The smallest were hatchlings, several inches. The largest was 7 feet, they say, and found last month in the basement, directly below a pink-and-lime bedroom where their infant daughter slept.
This modest rancher in the St. Margarets neighborhood of Beechwood on the Burley was supposed to be their 20-year home: an office downstairs for Jody, separate bedrooms for the children, Thomas and Lilly, and a backyard to romp around, all within a bicycle ride of Jody's parents' home.
It was a way-into-the-neighborhood house for a family starting out.
The couple closed in December for $410,000.
They lasted until April. They were driven out, they say, by snakes.
The Brookses are seeking more than four times the price of the house in their lawsuit against real estate agent Barbara Van Horn, of Annapolis; Champion Realty Inc.; and former homeowner Joan Broseker, of Severna Park.
Broseker is Van Horn's mother."Van Horn refused to keep a lockbox on the premises while acting as the listing agent and would personally unlock the home and turn on the lights and, upon information and belief, check for snake activity before anyone entered," according to the lawsuit filed May 19 in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County.
Van Horn, contacted at her Annapolis home Wednesday, declined to comment.
Her attorney, Barbara Palmer, of the Annapolis law firm Blumenthal, Delavan Powers & Palmer, also represents Champion Realty in the case.
"Champion Realty has a policy against making public comments about matters involved in ongoing litigation," Palmer wrote in an email.
They have about a month to submit to the courts a response to the lawsuit.
The Brookses, however, aren't the first family driven away from 631 Truxton Road.
Another family called it "the snake house."