Monday, July 19, 2010

The Saga, Pt. 6 (The Finale...We Hope)

I bet you thought there was never going to be an end to this story, right? Trust me, us too.
Anyway, our court date was set for June 12th, and from our perspective it couldn't come fast enough. Our very own moment with Madison's 'Judge Judy', aww, how precious. Check one more thing off the bucket list. Ahem...
Well, remember how tenant-friendly our county is. Turns out the first "court date" is actually a mandatory mediation hearing where a non-judicial mediator meets with both parties to see if they can come to a legally-binding settlement without appearing in court. This was fairly discouraging to us, since you can't get an eviction without attending the hearing, but we would be out of town for the first court date available following the mediation.
We also discovered the weekend prior to the hearing that the state maintains an online database of all the small claims court cases filed and you can search by case number OR name. While this information would have been incredibly helpful several months before, our morbid curiosity was at least satisfied a bit to learn what kind of character we were dealing with. Turns out that between Bill and Sandy, not one or two, but six small claims cases had been opened since 2006 listing them as defendants, either separately or jointly. Furthermore, three of the cases were eviction cases, all since the very end of 2006. Ours would be their fourth, they'd lost all previous cases. At this point we began to assume that our friendly neighborhood squatters wouldn't even show for the mediation, I mean, why bother? For us that would have been a potentially best case scenario, we thought, as a no-show meant an instant writ of eviction.
But June 12th dawned gray and drizzly, much like my mood and who should be waiting for us upon walking into the courthouse waiting room than Bill? Jolly as you please he pleasantly inquired how we were as if we were perhaps bumping into a long-lost acquaintance at a restaurant or grocery store, certainly not as if he were the devious crook who'd given us the runaround on our rent for two months, been squatting for over a month, and was now over $3000.00 in the hole for rental payments, utilities, and court costs incurred. Some people will never cease to surprise me.
We did learn a lot about ourselves and the situation in the hour that followed. Like, for instance, that the non-payment had never been about the money, but rather that he'd never received the utility statements that he'd requested. Or that he was sure we could all agree that we'd done things we regretted in the situation. (Well yes, but none of them in the sense of my unfair treatment of you, Bill, trust me I would be much less of a Mr. Nice-Guy to any scumbag who tried the same tricks in the future and much quicker to bring down the hammer) We also learned that Sandy really thought an ideal and fair solution would be for them to stay until the end of the summer at least. And that we were really devious people who couldn't be trusted to keep our word, so he definitely couldn't pay us until he was completely ready to move out, as there was no telling what we might do to him or the property in the meantime. I started to wonder what alternate universe this guy lives on more and more as the meeting progressed, but the session ended eventually ended with him agreeing to pay in two cash lump sums, one the following week and one the week after, and to be moved out by June 30th. He assured us he would comply lest we use the "ultimate weapon" (eviction) on him, which he would NEVER let happen to Diva and Jr. (Umm, apparently he doesn't know about the small claims record database, either, huh? You mean you wouldn't let it happen a 4th time?) At this point I didn't trust the guy as far as I could throw him, and he probably tops the scales close to 400lbs. so you all can figure how far that would be, so I figured it was yet another game and we'd never see a cent of the money.
Well, some people never cease to amaze me, and on the day appointed for the first lump sum, guess who showed up at the appointed meeting time and place and paid it all, down to the cent, a sum slightly over $1700.00 in cash. The largest bill was a $20. That did bring James and myself a good chuckle (should have taken a suitcase like the movies) and a bit of relief that maybe he'd had enough of his games.
Alas, if that were the case the surprises really would have been over, so true to his more typical nature, he blew off the next payment date and June 30th came and went with him "really working on getting out." The reason for the delay? Well, it's the first of the month, so I couldn't get a truck. Oh yeah, because you haven't known for three weeks (or three months, depending on how you look at it) that this day was coming?
Why you might ask didn't we rush down and get our writ of eviction. Well, turns out in Wisconsin you have to handle all your evictee's possessions with kid gloves. For example, if you move their stuff out you have to hire bonded movers to move it and you can't place it on the curb, but rather must pay to have it stored in a insured storage unit. No selling the property to pay off owed debts either. Also, the process comes with more court fees and a up to 10 day waiting period, so since he was actually making progress toward moving out (there were now boxes and a truck) we decided to go with it for a few more days. Finally on July 1st, James was able to get another $500 cash from him and one key (apparently Sandy had taken the other to work with her--who does that on a day you're vacating a property?) along with his signature and assurances that he'd be completely moved out by 6pm that night. Also, he informed James, they were visiting family in Iowa that weekend and he hadn't had time to get to the ATM since he was so busy moving, so the rest of the money would have to be paid on Tuesday. So, imagine our surprise when upon arriving home from our own long weekend visiting family over the 4th, we found one of their vehicles in our driveway. The explanation? Well, Sandy had become ill over the weekend, so they didn't actually go to Iowa, or finish moving out, but it would be done shortly. And the money? Well, he was waiting on a check to clear, and you know since the banks weren't open Monday in observance of the holiday it would just have to wait until Tuesday afternoon.
To his credit all of their stuff (well, all that they felt like moving...apparently the couch and grill were too large and hassle-some) was out on Monday morning and the other key was left as well, however we got the run-around all day on Tuesday again regarding when he'd actually have the rest of the money. Talk about a case of Deja Vu.
And the house, well considering all that could have gone wrong it's in decent shape. They apparently broke the dryer at some point (I'm assuming during the squatter days, since it would have been our responsibility to fix otherwise) but neglected to tell us. Two closet doors are maimed beyond repair, and they broke the door to the master bedroom. Perhaps my favorite casualty however is Diva's room. I'm fairly certain at some point in our lives this whole situation with the paint will be funny, though I can't say we're there yet. Remember how it all started with sweet nursery colors, transformed to purple/pink/leopard and how we were assured it would return to neutral boring-ness quickly. Remember when that happened, yep that's right, March 16th. Bill's one comment upon moving out was that he hadn't quite been able to complete the painting job (yes, you assume correctly, the one that was supposed to be done by 3/18) in the rush to move out and that he'd run out of paint. He could finish it for us of course, it would just take another day or two. We told him no thanks, we'd complete it, he could just reimburse us. Well, he wasn't joking when he said he wasn't done. In fact, the room looked as if someone had been raptured mid-job. Cardboard, rollers, and a paint tray were scattered around. The coats that were on the wall were providing the poorest coverage and the paint job was the sloppiest I've ever seen. Some pieces were nearly covered, though not smoothly, others had barely any paint on them at all. And oh my, I didn't know you could spill that much paint on the floor and trim if you tried. Basically, the oak trim throughout the room is a lost cause, it'll need to either be completely sanded and re-varnished, or painted white to salvage it. Oh my! And all because a 14-year-old couldn't live with baby blue and yellow for two months. However, my pity for Diva is less than great, as apparently no one has taught the near-woman that when you decide to deface something with a Sharpie, unless you're a mid-east terrorist type, you probably shouldn't write your real name, even if you do put lots of little hearts around it. My two-year-old knows not to write on walls with markers and that she's not even supposed to use a Sharpie anywhere without!
Anyway, to wrap up this long saga as best as possible, we're now back to pursuing the rest of the cash from Bill through legal means. We're quite doubtful we'll ever see it again, but as my mom pointed out, I paid a LOT more in college to learn significantly fewer life lessons than this experience has taught us, so all is not lost. We're six months older, but significantly wiser, (albeit more cynical and jaded) and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?
We've definitely concluded that at this stage in our life we don't have what it takes to make it as landlords!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Saga, Pt 5.

On April 26th, Bill told James he'd gotten all his tax issues sorted out and now had the money to pay us our April rent, not seemingly concerned that he was not almost a month late.
The original plan was for them to meet at a local coffee-house around noon. When James checked around 11am to verify that the meeting was still on, Bill requested that the meeting be pushed back until 1pm. Due to the kids naptimes and James' work schedules, 1pm was not going to work for either of us, but he agreed to 12:45, only to cancel a few minutes before. Again.
However, he told James, if he'd just come by the house at his convenience anytime after 3pm he'd be there and have the money waiting for him so he could quickly be on his way. James dropped by after work to find no one home, but a note waiting for him on the door. Inside was a check and a note. This should be good, right? Not so much. The note told James that he didn't have the cash after all, but he didn't want to leave him with nothing, so he wrote him a check. A post-dated check. For $1400.00 For the 30th of April. From an account with neither name verification, nor a number. Opened in Bill's name using our address. From an account, we learned upon presenting it to the bank it was written against, which had been open for approximately 6 hours at the time it was left for James and which contained the grand sum of $100. Um, yeah...
In addition to the non-payment, we had another significant problem brewing. When our agent was at the property for a showing that same week he gave us a disturbing heads up. Anyone recall the move-out date we'd hesitantly and over-generously agreed to? May 1st, right? So you'd think by the last week in April there would be some sign of packing/organizing/preparing to move. Surprisingly, from anything our Realtor could tell there were none. Unsure what to do since about it, we just hoped they were last-minute procrastinators who would magically pack and move as planned in the next week. Though, after the chain of events from the previous month, we were less than optimistic.
About this time, though most of our correspondence had been with Bill, we decided to contact Sandy again and see if she was any more helpful in getting the payment problem resolved. When we got her on the phone she was "shocked" to learn that Bill had not paid the rent. She told us she'd given him the money to do so a couple of weeks prior, and he'd informed her it was taken care of. She apologized profusely and promised that none of their future payments would be late. Future payments, this was a red flag, how was someone who was aware that they were due to move out in just days even mentioning future payments? She told us she was currently at work, couldn't provide us with an email because Bill was constantly snooping in hers and she was in the process of creating another (really? how long does getting a yahoo or google mail account take?I'm pretty sure I could create one, or five, while writing this post.) but would call us as soon as she was finished and get it straightened out. We weren't sure what to believe about all this, until Bill called James in a huff less than an hour later. How could we have gone behind his back to complain to his wife, that was so low, he said he'd get us the money, etc. So, it's a bit hard to believe she's really the clueless, in-the-dark wife if she called him immediately, especially since we didn't hear a word from her again. Ever.
Unsurprisingly, when April 30th dawned, there was no where near the amount to cover the check that was written earlier in the week, and by this point we were honestly just hoping they'd get out on May 1st and we could move on, even if it was without the rent money due us. All we really wanted to do was sell the house. So we emailed asking what time he'd like to drop off the keys since his lease expired at midnight.
His reply? Well, they'd run into some more delays with the house and the little run in with the taxmen had delayed their purchase yet again and they'd let us know when they got that resolved. Let us know, huh? Whose house is this anyway? I've asked myself that alot over the past couple of months. And the money? Oh yeah, he actually doesn't have it, he should have been more open and forthcoming about that. You think? He assured us that we're very important to him though, and he would get us the money as soon as he could.
At this point what I really wanted to know is why he thought that information would be re-assuring. Oh yeah, I'm not actually moving out of your house as promised, and no I don't have your month-late rent, but you're very important to me, I'll let you know when it's available. Does this really placate ANYONE living?
We also informed him that due to his non-payment of utilities for the previous month and a half, he had three days during which he could either provide us with the remaining information we'd need to set up utilities in his name on his behalf, or he could call and change them himself, but we would have them turned off on our end as of the 3rd. (Something we should have done at least a month previously.) Turns out, he must have thought we wouldn't really follow through and didn't leave himself enough time, and apparently didn't have the credit/correct information to use the electric company's online form which may or may not have resulted in a brief interruption of his electric service. Oops! Not.
At this point (about a month too late, again with the hindsight thing...) we started formal eviction proceedings. Only to find that Wisconsin is one of the most tenant friendly states in the country, and oh yeah, our county is even more tenant-biased than the state at large. Our first (and only) step if we wanted them out without the option to pay-and-stay was a 14-day notice of contract violation. No problem, at this point they were not only in violation of the contract, they actually had no valid contract and were squatting. Check! 14 days passed with not only no attempt on Bill and Sandy's part at resolution, but no return contact whatsoever. We spent much of the time collecting data, checking out our options, learning much more about the eviction process than we ever wanted to know, mailing more registered mail than ever before in our lifetimes combined, and trying to be ready to go when the waiting period passed. We called and received a court date for June 12th (thanks to Memorial Day we were one business day short of the required waiting period for a date the previous week) and then got to learn all about process servers, court filing fees, and other legal processes of which most law-abiding citizens are completely unawares. I would have been happy to stay with that group for the foreseeable future, but it was enlightening. Thankfully my wonderful husband has much more patience than I do and was a champ about dutifully filling out forms, following up on forms, and patiently waiting for our day in court. So, though we wanted them out in April, we now were forced to come to grips with the fact it would be at least mid-June before we again had access to the property. And our peak summer selling season was quickly rolling past with us unable to show. :(
To Be Continued...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Saga, Pt. 4

Where were we, oh yes, the meeting with Bill and Sandy.
After arriving at the appointed time and waiting for a few minutes, Bill showed up alone. Turns out Sandy wanted to be there, but couldn't, an excuse that would be repeated often in the future...we're still not sure what Sandy's involvement in what went down after this point was, but needless to say we're pretty sure they could use a marriage-family counselor, though that was the least of our worries.
Anyway, Bill arrived with another addition to his story. The scoop, he said, was that they were planning on a cash purchase of their new home and that they were being "yanked around" by the seller. It seems that his wife didn't want to relocate so she was dragging her feet on moving out and they were now being told it would be the first of May at the soonest before they could get into their new property. Couldn't we please just give them an additional couple of weeks, at least, so they could stay in one location. They'd be extra cooperative with showings, and all we needed to do was say the word and they'd work with us however we needed, even if the showings were last minute, or inconvenient, they were our people.
The furniture and possessions in the property that were in somewhat-worse-than-good condition? Purchases off Craigslist so he could avoid unpacking his storage unit until he got into his big, beautiful house.
His wife? Neurotic, please don't contact her in the future, she doesn't deal well with changes.
And the room color? Well he guessed if he thought really hard about it he did remember us saying neutral, but Diva was just so excited about having her own room again, and she just loved those colors so much, and he's pretty sure if we just gave it a chance we'd see how stylish she'd made it. Um, yeah. Stylish for a 14-year-old, maybe. Buyer appropriate, not a chance. When we reiterated that we did in fact mean neutral, and only neutral he told us he'd get right on that. Couldn't do it the following day as he had evening meetings, but the day after for sure he'd get that fixed right up. He also informed us that he's quite a handy painter and it would be no problem. We dropped the paint off the next morning and assumed it had been taken care of.
Following our meeting with Bill and subsequent conversations with our agent, we reluctantly agreed to the May 1st move-out date, on the condition that showings were being accommodated and the property was in good condition, a situation our Realtor was comfortable with and we felt we could tolerate. We were somewhat concerned that we'd be missing our peak window for a sale this summer with the tax-credit expiring on the 30th of April, but we were trying to do the right thing and not be selfish. What help a crystal ball would have been...
While they did in fact allow showings over the next couple of weeks without too much hassle, we now get to the crux of the problem. As you probably recall, Bill had paid for February and March in cash at lease signing. He'd also provided an advance on the utilities which ran out about mid-March. During our meeting we mentioned that the cash for utilities had been expended and we'd be needing more and he assured us it was no problem, just let him know and he'd get it right to us. So, on April 1st we were anticipating receiving a check for April's rent and the amount we'd let him know was due on utilities. April 1 came and went, no check. On April 5th, the date the late payment went into effect, James called to give him a reminder that payment had not been received and to make sure the money was on its way. Bill was very apologetic and informed us that he'd been out of town the previous week, but he'd get a check out to us right away. By the beginning of the following week, we'd still received no payment, so we checked in with him again. He told us that he'd mailed it the day he and James had last talked (6 days prior) so the post office must have lost it. He'd put a stop payment on his check and get us a new one right away. ANOTHER five days passed. When we had still not received any payment, James and I were starting to get highly frustrated, though Bill didn't seem to pick up on it. As happily as you please he told us that when he talked to Sandy, he found out she hadn't sent the check until two days later, so if we'd just wait another three days he was sure we'd have it. (Keep in mind the postal service had the difficult task of delivering this check approximately 1.7 miles, perhaps as much as 3 if you figure the triangle between his house, the post office, and our house.) Annoyed, but just wanting our money, we waited the requested time and then contacted him again. His excuse? The post office must have lost it again! Really? In a same-town delivery over the course of two weeks the post office has lost not one, but two letters containing your rent check? What bad luck!
He informed us he was just too frustrated with sending the mail and was done dealing in checks, he'd just pay us cash the following day. We agreed that cash would be fine and he and James set up a time the next day to meet. About 15 minutes before that meeting was supposed to happen he emailed to say that he had something "really important" that he'd forgotten about and he'd have to cancel and wait until the following day. This process went on for the next ten days, each day he'd forget about a meeting, or have to leave a the last minute, or once he "had to make a last minute trip to Milwaukee overnight" though interestingly when we dropped by the property on our way out of town at 8:30 the following morning he was present, but he just didn't have the money on him, though he would later that afternoon. All this time, he didn't seem to find anything unusual about his behavior, or understand why our patience might be limited. And again, newbie mistakes, we didn't start investigating our options nearly soon enough.
His next tactic was an interesting one, and one I would never have thought to make up, so perhaps it was true, perhaps he's just a great storyteller. The basics: he directs a non-profit and told James that he'd played "creative" games with our great nations friendly revenue collection service and "gotten busted." According to his story, they'd put a freeze on his account so he couldn't get any money out, but his assets were supposed to be unfrozen "tomorrow" and he'd get us the money right away. During this time he also had a couple of scandalously high utility bills arrive, but when pressed for the money to pay those he made similar excuses and asked for copies of the statements. And so the plot thickens.
To Be Continued...

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Saga, Pt. 3

February was a quiet month. The house was occupied, the money for rent in the bank account, and while we would have loved to have sold it, we thought this renting thing wasn't so bad. We'd mostly just relaxed on the house front for the time being and turned our focus to other things, like our kids, our current home, and well, ahem...expanding our family!
At the end of February, in accordance with our rental documents and our discussions with Bill and Sandy before they moved in, we contacted them to arrange a time to meet with our Realtor at the property to discuss re-listing and home condition, etc. Surprisingly, although it was the final week of Feb. and we'd made it quite clear that our plan was to actively have the property listed on March 1st, we got a lot of hassle from Bill about the need to get into the house. Odd, he'd seemed so accommodating when he moved in. He even went to far to say that he'd paid "extra" in February so he didn't have to deal with showings and did we really need 2 hours to meet with our agents? In all actuality, he was receiving a discount in March to account for the property being listed and needing to work with our Realtor to allow the property to be showed. But, after a couple of fairly snippy emails, he conceded that it did make sense we needed to get in ahead of the list date and we scheduled our meetings as planned. He told us he'd have it in great condition and there would be no issues.
Imagine our surprise then, upon entering the property to find that not only were things not overly clean, but nothing was put away, piles of stuff were lying around, and in general, while nothing appeared to be damaged, it was definitely not being kept in showing condition. All this would have been disappointing and discouraging, but the real issues began upon walking into Diva's bedroom. What colors would come to mind for you if I were to tell you it would be fine to paint a room in a "neutral" color? Maybe taupe, or khaki, cream, white, possibly even a pale shade of yellow or green (though even these could be a stretch)? What about electric pink and bright purple?? Yeah, that's what I thought. Nonetheless, the walls were indeed painted in teeny-bopper shades or pink and purple, with an accessory choice of faux-leopard. Hmmm...not quite what we had in mind, and curiously, probably no more appealing to an incoming prospective buyer than the nursery shades that preceded it. Needless to say, the agents were less than impressed as well and we realized that showing the place with them in the house would be difficult, if not impossible, and we began to wonder what else that had been so clearly defined upfront would be blatantly disregarded. Well, it wouldn't take us long to find out.
The next couple of weeks were spent getting the necessary paperwork in order for the re-list, finalizing our decision on an agent, and in general prepping to put the house back up for sale. During this process we got a call from the tenants saying the toilet was leaking. Wanting to be good landlords, we called our plumber immediately and he was able to come out that afternoon and repair the leak. Or so we thought. We received a call back later that night letting us know the toilet was "gushing" water and we needed to do something else. When I called the plumber back he said if the seal hadn't fixed the issue, he was pretty sure it was because they'd let the leak go for awhile and the subfloor was now water damaged. We'd need to find someone who could repair/replace the subfloor and replace the toilet. Again, imagining that this was a pretty sizeable and urgent problem we were able to find a repair-person to do the work the next day. We called as soon as arrangements had been made (mid-afternoon) and let them know the repairman would be coming the next morning to fix the problem, but got no answer on either of their phone numbers. So, we left voicemail, sent an email, and tried calling again later that evening, all with no response. Having heard nothing, we left the plans in place, only to be woken at 7am to a call from Sandy, who was not a happy camper. How could we have made plans to get this taken care of so soon, it was a in-service day so her kids would be home (with Bill) and had invited friends over all day and why did we need to have it taken care of right now, etc. Again, trying to be considerate, we called the repairman to see if the time could be moved. He was able to push the time back an hour, but was already on his way and it couldn't be re-scheduled entirely (and to be clear, we didn't want it to be delayed, if a toilet is gushing into a sub-floor, I'd like it replaced as soon as possible, I don't want to rip out the whole house) so we called to notify them. This time we made contact with Bill, and he again tried to talk us out of the repair until later. After letting him know that we would be out of town the following week so the repair needed to happen now, he changed his story. Now, instead of "gushing" the water was just dripping and "not that bad." He informed me that he'd only said "gushing" because he was "pi**ed off" and it had been a long day. He also told me they'd called back the previous evening (at midnight) to let us know the timing was bad, but surprise, surprise...there were no voicemails, missed calls, or incoming calls from them all night, or from anyone at that time of night. So yeah, nice try. As it turns out, it was leaking significantly into the sub-floor and it's a good thing we got it taken care of right away, but our view of the tenant-landlord relations took a significant hit at that point in time.
The next week the property went live on the MLS and we had a couple of showings with mixed reviews on the show-readiness of the property. At this point being unimpressed with their ability to communicate, and wanting to make sure all our bases were covered we decided to proceed with making sure their details for an April 1st move-out were still in place. According to the terms of the contract, the initial 2-month rental agreement terminated on April 1, but unless we gave a month's notice, they were able to stay on a month-to-month agreement after that. We didn't really expect to exercise much of that clause, given their April 1 closing date, but again wanting to keep our bases covered, notified them on March 14th that we were just trying to verify their move-out date and that even if there had been a delay for some reason we didn't wish to renew for another month as we needed to focus on a sale. We quickly received a reply that their details had changed and they would now be unable to close until the 1st of May. Would we please re-consider and let them stay until May 1 so that they didn't have to do temporary housing again. We agreed to meet and talk things through the following evening. And that's where the real fun to this story begins.
To Be Continued...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Saga, Pt 2.

Late in January James got a call from our insurance agent. The conversation went something like this:
Agent: I see you have two homeowners policies with us...
James: Yes
Agent: Are these both primary dwellings?
James: No, we live in [current address] and we are in the process of selling [old house address].
Agent: Well, we don't cover unoccupied properties.
James: Oh, according to our policy documents as long as the property continues to be maintained (heated, utilities connected) and cared for coverage is still valid.
Agent: Well, yes, but not when they're so close in proximity to each other. (As an aside, it turns out people don't usually buy a vacation property less than two miles from their primary residence in the middle of a city in Wisconsin, imagine that...) Unless you can prove that you maintain residency at the property at least 1/3 of the time we'll have to discontinue your coverage. You have until the end of the month to either prove that you live their, sell, or find renters (so the switch to a rental policy could happen).
Well, that threw us into a bit of a panic. We tossed around crazy ideas (maybe we could piece together enough furniture to partially furnish the other house and have all or part of us live there a couple of days a week), improbable ideas (maybe we had a brother or friend who could come out and live there temporarily until we could establish rental coverage), and variations on both before deciding the most practical option would be to seek out short-term renters from the public at large. So, we put an ad on a popular classified's website and decided to see what would happen. It seemed like the best, if not the only, decision at the time and we were hopeful that it would be a solution not only to our insurance conundrum, but also to the large sucking sound coming from our bank account due to paying two mortgages every month.
Within a day of posting the ad we had a response. We set up a time to meet and didn't really know what to expect. The next day we met a couple, we'll call them "Bill" and "Sandy" and their two teenagers "Jr." and "Diva" and showed them around the property. Their story, as presented to us, was that they had just sold a property, much more quickly than expected, and were unable to close on their new home until April 1. The new home, we were told, was in a very prominent neighborhood (we'll just call it "Eagle's Airport") on Madison's West Side and would be their dream home, he even rattled off an address. Perhaps warning bells should have gone off at this point, as they didn't look like the type of people who would currently, or probably ever, be able to afford this neighborhood. But, looks can be deceiving and who am I to judge how people spend their money, so I didn't give it too much thought. Furthermore, they were quite eager to move-in as, their story goes, they were living in an extended stay hotel and had finally decided it just wouldn't work for them for 3 months.
Being the newbie landlords that we were, we wrote up a contract (which to our credit was actually decent) from online resources and arranged to meet the next day to receive the security deposit and the first months rent and hand over the keys. We didn't do the background checks and references that we should have and there made our first big mistake. The following day we met Bill at the property and he produced, in cash, all of the security deposit, and not one, but two months of rent money. Perfect,we thought, now we don't even have to mess with collection, late payments, etc. we have it in advance! His only two requests seemed workable. Since it was such a short-term lease, he said, could we just leave the utilities in our names and he could pay us for them as they came in. He'd give us an advance to cover the first month or so, and then he'd get us the rest as we needed it. That would save him and us the hassle of having to change everything again in April when they moved out and into their new place. Also, could he paint Diva's room a neutral shade instead of the nursery scheme that was currently there. Diva, at the ripe old age of 14, just couldn't bear two months in a baby-room, he was never going to hear the end of it. Big mistakes #2 and #3, we said yes to both. Newbie mistake again on the utilities, just didn't comprehend how wrong it could all go with the paint.
We met on a Friday, and by Sunday they were fully in occupancy. We contacted our insurance agent, got the policy changed to a rental policy, and thought the sailing would be smooth. And for the first month or so it was.
To Be Continued...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Saga, Pt. 1

Ok, so I don't really know where to start. At this point, I'm mostly categorizing this all for my future ability to remember. So, bear with me if it's scattered and all over the place...
Backing up, as most of you remember, we moved last June and put our house on the market a couple of weeks later. If doing it over, I would have made sure the house was on the market in March, even if it seemed impossible to keep show-ready with small kids underfoot, but hindsight is always 20/20, right? Anyway, it was listed in mid-June and showings began in earnest. We did some basic cleaning, pruning, minor cosmetic updates, but largely we left it as it was. We knew the roof would need to be replaced at some point in the not-too-distant future, but we were hopeful we could just negotiate some credit to a buyer at closing and not have to mess with the details ourselves. We had A LOT of showings and began waiting for someone to put an offer in...well, the offer never came.
We live in a town known well throughout the area for having great schools, this is a bonus, but it makes the housing market a bit more summer-sales heavy that it might otherwise be, so we knew it was really important to get something figured out by August.
August came and went with lots of interest, but no offers, so we lowered the price and, combined with the tax credit, showings continued in earnest throughout the fall. We really thought we had a buyer in mid-October (someone looked at it 3 or 4 times, but ultimately decided to go with another property) and it seemed our two-house-owning days were numbered. Unfortunately, we're still numbering them...
We've now entered into the winter phase, which as all of you from the mid-west (are there any readers NOT from the mid-west) know means lots and lots of COLD with some snow/ice/etc. thrown in for good measure. The biggest "flaw" in our house is that the previous owners decided to convert their garage space into a family room. This actually is great for the living space in the house, over doubling the non-kitchen/bedroom living areas in the house. However, the lot our house is on, while very deep (hello, HUGE backyard), is also quite narrow. Given that the home is ranch style, there is not room to get around the existing structure to put another garage in the back. So, we're pretty much stuck garage-less unless we want to convert the other area BACK into a garage. Anyway, this is a more obvious downside in the winter when it's cold and you're actively thinking about shoveling and scraping off your car every morning. So, showings crawled to a halt, our listing expired and we were in the process of trying to figure out what our next steps were.
We started seriously considering renting the property on a short-term basis, and even had a meeting with a potential renter set up. We went over to the house to meet with the person who was interesting in renting, but after waiting a few minutes and having him not show up we got a call. He apologized for not having called sooner, but let us know he'd found another place. During the conversation I noticed that the windows on the house were all fogged up--weird, since I'd been in the house earlier that day making sure all was in order. We decided to follow up on it and I'm quite glad we did. When we walked in the house all seemed to be normal on first glance except for the humidity level. But when we turned on the light in the stairway leading to the basement is became obvious what the problem was. The basement was COVERED in water...not just a bit on the floor, but several inches covering everything! We walked downstairs and the scent made it clear is was sewage water from the storm sewer and it was rising quickly!
The next several hours were spent on the phone to the city and working with their after-hours guy to figure out what was going on. Turns out the storm sewer had become blocked just past our house and we were the first lucky recipients of the back-up. However, the blessing in it was that we were there so quickly. From the rate the water was rising (over and inch per hour) we figure we must have arrived within the first 3-4 hours of the backup (this was at 7pm) and it was resolved by 9pm. Had we not had the no-show rental prospect, we wouldn't have been back in the house until the following day at the earliest, possibly not for a couple of days. I don't even want to think about what type of mess that would have been. Also, we were very fortunate that the city acknowledged its ultimate responsibility in the matter and fully took care of the clean up costs, since sewer back-ups are excluded under normal homeowners insurance coverage. However, we spent most of the rest of January working with water-damage restoration specialists and contractors to put the basement back together. And then we got the call...
To be Continued...