Treasure Hunting 101: How to Find Hidden Money in Your House
You might think a treasure hunt means diving in the ocean to find sunken ships or exploring ancient ruins in faraway countries looking for hidden chambers full of gold and jewels.
But fortunately, you can also become a treasure hunter in and around your own house, starting with nothing or perhaps a small investment in a metal detector.
Most of us don’t believe there’s anything valuable hidden in the house, but after you hear these 12 stories, don’t be surprised if you start knocking down a wall or two.
Best Places to Look for Hidden Money
Before launching into tales of ancient treasure unearthed in ordinary places, it’s worth discussing where homeowners typically hide valuables. If you’ve recently taken possession of a home, check the following hiding spots to see if someone left their stash of cash behind.
- Taped to the back of a drawer
- In the air return
- Taped behind a clock, picture or large painting
- In an old or counterfeit food container
- Tucked into a drop ceiling
Another common hiding place if you’re willing to brave the gross factor is in a plastic bag secured inside the toilet tank.
12 Places to Find Hidden Treasure at Home
You never know what valuable items — and even cash — may be hiding in your home.
Inside the Walls
It isn’t easy to look in your walls, but there can be valuable things there. For example, a hidden mural made in 1979 by famous pop artist Keith Haring was revealed behind some paint and AC equipment during the remodel of a loft in Tribeca. Keep that in mind the next time you think about expanding your bedroom.
If you’re careful, you might be able to peek inside some walls. Turn the power off, remove the plastic covers from switches and electrical outlets, and shine a light in wherever there is an opening that you can see through.
Death is perhaps the biggest reason that there are thousands of hidden treasures to be found.
If a crawl space can be accessed from inside (or an opening in the basement), it’s more likely to have been used as a hiding place because of the privacy. And it isn’t just buried items that might be there. In a crawl space I found a chest in the corner with coins and currency from Vietnam, along with documents and other things. I knew the previous owner so I returned these finds, but if he had died in the meantime I might have considered them fair game.
You can use a metal detector to look for buried objects or you can just look for clues, like a dip in the ground or a patch of dirt that looks different. Dig gently; there shouldn’t be wiring buried there, but water lines and drain pipes are common.
Stories of hidden valuables in an attic are almost cliche, but that’s because these discoveries are so common. I once demolished an old house and found a glass piggy bank full of pennies under the insulation in the attic. In 2020, a recently purchased home in northeastern New York with an attic apartment that hadn’t been occupied in 30 years yielded a treasure trove of priceless historical artifacts.
If you plan to poke around under fiberglass insulation, you should wear protective gear (disposable clothes, a face mask and safety glasses). Some attics will have things stored in boxes and trunks. These are especially promising if some of them were there before you moved in. Check online for help determining if your finds have value.
Behind the Washing Machine
Many washing machines have water lines and drain lines that come through the wall about halfway up. Sometimes these openings are not sealed, which is why I was able to stash a pouch full of cash there in a house I owned years ago.
I hung it on a string anchored inside the hole so it would be down inside the wall by the floor. I’m not trying to be morbid, but I should remind you again that people sometimes die without revealing all of their hiding places. Take a peek if you have an opening into the wall for your washing machine drain line.
If your home was inherited or for other reasons came with things already in it, search through those closets. In 2012, Michael Rorrer found comic books worth more than $3 million while cleaning out a closet in the home of his deceased great-aunt in Martinsville, Virginia. He found 375 classic old comics, including the first issue of Batman.
Even if you thought the closet shelves were empty when you moved in, sometimes there are things at the back that can’t be easily seen. And poke around for secret hiding places.
Hidden treasure in your closet can take many forms, including all the extra cash to be made from selling secondhand clothes.
In 2016, a Reddit user chronicled his epic journey of discovering $23,000 in cash during a basement renovation. Many of the boxes eventually unearthed in the ceiling of the Cleveland cellar had been hidden since the 1950s.
Apart from being a natural collection point for all sorts of forgotten items, basements also have many hiding places. Look around and think about where you would put something if you wanted to hide it really well. If the basement wall is made of concrete blocks and the top row is accessible, there could be things hidden inside the blocks there. Use a mirror and flashlight to take a look.
While taking the carpet out of an old house my parents had bought, I discovered that newspapers lined the entire floor. An old-timer told me this was once a common form of cheap carpet padding. What didn’t occur to me at the time was that those newspapers were old enough to have some value to collectors. I just browsed the old headlines and threw them all away.
Money is sometimes hidden under carpeting. This is most common in places where a corner can be pulled up without loosening the whole carpet. Check for unattached corners in the backs of closets and under stairs, and take a peek.
While you might not find hidden money under the old carpet, you can still dig up serious savings on home renovations this year.
A Scottish man restoring an antique Victorian desk in his loft discovered medals from the Crimean War hidden in a secret compartment. The medals were estimated to be worth 2,000 pounds (or about $2,300).
Some pieces of furniture have secret compartments, particularly antique desks. Look underneath to see if there is enclosed space that doesn’t seem to be accessed from the usual drawers. There may also be drawers that don’t open all the way but appear to do so because of a false back. If you find coins or bills or even old postcards, you can use online resources to determine if they’re worth anything.
No money in those drawers? Use our guide to making thousands every month turning old furniture into secondhand treasure.
As you pull apart your home in the name of treasure hunting, you might find some valuable old books. You can sell them on eBay. But don’t discard the worthless ones too quickly. My mother told me about an uncle who stashed currency in books. After he died his family discovered thousands of dollars while leafing through the pages. Apparently hiding money in books was common for those who lived through bank failures during the Great Depression.
More recently, a book donated to a Pennsylvania library turned up a serious haul of hidden cash. The money, which was a mix of U.S. and foreign currency, was stuffed between the unassuming pages of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”
When we were children we used to throw pennies into a hole in the kitchen floor. We never did know why there was a quarter-sized hole through the linoleum and wood. We also never retrieved any of the coins. They might be there today, almost 40 years later.
Speaking of coins under the floor, in 2022 a stash of 17th- and 18th-century gold coins worth nearly $300,000 was found squirreled away under the floorboards of an English house.
Unless you’re renovating you probably don’t want to tear open your floors. But you might find a loose board that can be removed, and you might find access from the floor below. In the case of our kitchen hole it would probably have been as simple as popping open a ceiling tile in the basement. That brings us to our next potential treasure location…
Speaking of burning through money on home renovations, have we got a hot story for you. While battling a blaze in 2020, Brooklyn firefighters found it was literally raining money from the home’s ceiling. Estimates indicate as much as a million dollars almost went up in smoke.
Again, you can’t tear open a ceiling just for the small chance that there’s something valuable in there, but you can look for clues. Maybe part of the ceiling has already been removed and can be removed safely again. A drop ceiling might have tiles that are easily lifted, so you can take a look. An attic can provide access to a ceiling as well.
Last but definitely not least, the backyard can be a good place to start digging for treasure. A Staten Island couple discovered a safe full of cash when they went to dig holes for new trees. Inside was $52,000 in valuables that were stolen from their neighbors almost a decade ago.
But before you start digging trenches in your yard, make sure you contact 811. That’s the national hotline to call before you dig so you don’t get caught unearthing important (or dangerous) stuff like gas lines or other utilities.
Other Ways to Find Money at Home
Even if your house doesn’t contain treasure hidden in its walls, there is plenty of value to be unearthed in every room. From selling stuff in closets and storage to mining the cupboards for forgotten gift cards, there’s a guaranteed payoff somewhere in your house.
If all of your hard work scouring the house for valuables doesn’t get you anything, at least you can round up the lost change in the couch and recliner for a minor treasure hunting success.
Kaz Weida is a senior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Steve Gillman is a former contributor.