Bourgeois Deviant

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Fear and Loathing in Real Estate: Addendum

It seems that the streak continues. As you may recall, the Deviants have had one extraordinary stroke of luck in the sale of their abode in Brooklyn and since then, nothing but darkness has followed. This is to inform you that little has changed.

Weeks ago, the Realtor contacts us as usual with listings that fit our profile of desirable and affordable homes. A house that we had seen before was on the market again and listed at a reduced price. Remembering the house and the asking price as too high, the new listing price drew us like moths to a flame. You know what happens to those moths.

Checking the house out again, and with realistic and sharply focused lenses given our past experiences, we found flaws but thought it was still worth the updated asking price. A bid was entered and in short order accepted. It is important to note that we met the owner of the home briefly and asked about the re-listing of the house as it had been on the market months earlier and in contract. Her response was the previous buyers’ “finances had fallen through.” Those were her words exactly.

The same day our bid was accepted, the Realtor informed our attorney and that evening, counsel calls us with urgency in her voice. We return the call and quickly learn that not only did she handle the prior deal on the house, and that it was acrimonious. The first buyers walked away from the deal because they thought the seller was, to put it very politely, very unreasonable.

And it gets better. Not only was the seller unreasonable, she was seemingly delusional. With permissions granted from her former clients, our attorney disclosed to us that the prior home inspection revealed a host of problems, not the least of which was a non-decommissioned buried oil tank.

For those of you not in the know, this can be a nasty problem. Older homes with buried oil tanks run the risk of soil contamination. Properly decommissioning it is merely a stopgap measure. In order to assure no contamination, it needs to be removed altogether. If contamination is found, the owner of the property is responsible for the clean up. This can cost the owner up to $50,000. It is always in a buyer’s interest to have the seller remove the oil tank before the property changes hands.

In this first deal, the seller flatly denied there was a buried oil tank. She denied it until the home inspector escorted she and the buyers to the location of the tank and showed it to her. The specifics of what happened beyond that are subject to attorney client privilege. However, the result was that the deal fell through not because of finances, but because of the sheer obstinacy of the seller. This means the seller lied to us.

When considering placing a bid on a home, it is the right of the prospective buyer to request a full disclosure statement from the seller. This document lists the history of the house and any issues that may exist such as a leaky roof or a cracked foundation. We had obtained this from the owner and noted the oil tank had been checked off as being an issue. We soon found out that there were several big issues not listed about the house.

The reason our attorney had urgency in her voice was not only her concern about the sanity of the seller, but about the structural issues with the house. She informed of us the results of the first home inspection. The roof needed immediate replacement as there were several leaks, the furnace was shot and needed immediate replacement, the heating pipes were insulated with asbestos, there were asbestos floor tiles in the basement, parts of the house had bad electrical wiring, and there was isolated termite damage.

None of these issues were mentioned in the full disclosure form. On this form there is specific language that covers all the issues listed above. It is an impossibility the seller was ignorant of any of this as she had been given a copy of the first home inspector’s report as was her due according to the laws of the state of New Jersey. She blatantly lied a second time.

Perhaps foolishly, we decided that the house was still worth it and all would get sorted out after our home inspection. When a bid is accepted on a house, in the Garden State you enter a period called Attorney Review. It simply means that the contract is being drawn up. In the mean-time, a letter is sent from the buyer’s lawyer to the seller’s lawyer stating that there is an agreement to sell at the agreed upon price subject to a home inspection. It requires the signature of the sellers’ attorney and is returned to the buyers’ counsel. At that point, the interested parties are effectively in contract, the house is taken off the market and no further bids may be entered. It didn’t happen this way.

Our lawyer knew that the seller’s attorney was away from his office until Friday. We had entered our bid earlier in the week. On that Friday, buyers’ counsel made attempts to contact seller’s counsel with no success. The weekend passed, Monday came and went and we were informed that during that time, client and counsel were simply unable to meet or discuss the agreement. We smelled fish.

Tuesday arrived and we were informed by the Realtor that another offer was coming in on the house. Some time thereafter, our attorney received a letter from the seller’s counsel stating that fact and that his client needed time to consider it. The feeling of thin ice was palpable, especially as the offer was $10K above ours.

Under the law, anyone selling their home can sell to whomever they want to. In most cases, it is customary and polite for a seller in the aforementioned situation to offer the party whose bid was originally accepted a chance to match the new offer or counter it in some fashion. It is this custom that gave us some hope. Then, through the Realtor, we found out that the seller disliked our attorney because of the bad experience she had with the first deal falling through.

It won’t surprise you to know that we did not get the house. No opportunity to match or counter the other offer was offered.

Lies, irrational whimsy and rudeness caused us to lose our fifth house. The seller, in her choice, not only gave up on good, financially solid buyers willing to close within the time frame she requested, she gambled that these other buyers would not turn up the same problems we were privy to. Experience has informed us that this is a sucker’s bet. But, it is her right under the law to do so and there is nothing we could have done to stop her short of submitting another offer that let her off the hook and put us at either a financial or contractual disadvantage. All the same, it feels like the Deviants have been ripped off on the highway.

Finally, as of this writing, a day prior Mrs. Deviant was contacted by the Realtor with a message from the seller. The Realtor told us that the seller wanted us to know that she thought we were lovely people. She emphasized her decision was solely based on money and the fact that we wanted so many things fixed with the house before the deal went through. We have taken this as rather backhanded.

That she felt compelled to get us this message reinforces how dubious this ordeal has been. Firstly, she met us for all of a minute. Admittedly the Deviants do make a good first impression, but given whom we are talking about, it is clearly a hollow platitude that comes across as pathetic as its source. Secondly, money is not a viable reason for the choice she made. That the other bid exceeded ours is a fact beside the point. If we were so lovely, then why did she not offer a chance to match or counter offer? The home inspection had not been conducted. She did not know with any certainty that we had access to the information from the prior deal, merely that we had retained the same lawyer. All we had requested was for the buried oil tank to be removed. No other requests were made. The statement she made was inaccurate and for the third time, knowingly false.

Why it is that the Deviants seem to have such bad luck and/or attract mentally warped sellers in their real estate dealings is a complete mystery. You can only hope that the streak ends, and soon. We’ll keep you posted.

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