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A Cautionary Tale for Real Estate Buyers and Agents

Industry Observer with WideOpen Networks 250784

Sunrise from the deckMy view of the real estate world comes both from having been an active agent until December 2011 and from being the current seller of a home.  My wife and I also bought a new vacation home in the summer of 2006.

A little over a year and a half ago we decided to put the home where we raised our children on the market.  It is a home that we have taken great pride in owning for the last twenty three years since we moved in as the first owners in 1989.  Before a "for sale" sign went up in the yard, we made sure the home was in move-in condition.

I took some pride in the fact that our Realtor® told us that our home was one of the few that he would personally move into in a heartbeat.  Since he lived on our street for a while, I took him at his word.

We have been lucky to have a reasonable number of showings since the house has been on the market.  We even made the short list for three sets of buyers before we finally got an offer on the home.  With some back and forth negotiating, we finally came to terms that both parties could tolerate.

The big challenge was that our buyer wanted a closing on our home a little more than three weeks after the closing on their own home.  It was a big stretch for my wife and I, but with the help of our grown children who were willing to take some vacation time, we thought we could handle it.

However, we had to move forward at full speed for a couple of weeks before we could be absolutely certain that our deal was going to happen.  We decided to clean out things that needed cleaning out anyway, but to delay moving or selling any furniture until our deal was certain.

Of course we also had to get through some inspections and an appraisal.  Over the years I have attended a number of inspections with my own clients.  Often I felt that I was needed and ended up staying for the whole inspection.  Most of the inspections that I witnessed took under three hours.

Our home is a large home, and I felt the inspection might take a few minutes longer, but I was confident that only minor issues would show since we have been very good at maintaining our home.  Also I can normally fix many of the small things that go wrong in a home.  I generally tackle any issues as soon as they are discovered.

On top of that we did a major remodeling in 2001.  At that time we replaced the roof, did a granite kitchen, new appliances, a new deck and a new sun-room along with an additional main-floor bedroom with its own cooling and heating systems.

We were a little surprised when our inspection took five and one half hours.  However, all of the inspector-identified issues were minor.  The radon test did not require any action, and after some discussion with our real estate agent, we agreed to fix all of the issues including a set of cloudy dual pane windows where the seals had broken.  One other issue was a buzzing ground fault circuit breaker.  We actually got an electrician out the next day to fix that issue.

However there were a few additions to the inspection addendum from the potential purchasers that were unusual to say the least. 

One request was that we have a contractor verify that the 12X12 ceramic tile installed in the bathroom we added during the remodeling was actually waterproof.  Another request was for a contractor to verify that a couple of moisture stains at the corner of a window were not moisture problems.  This was after their inspector had checked them and found no moisture.

The most bizarre issue was that our purchaser was convinced that our outside gas line was plastic. The natural gas line runs under a covered deck to my outside grill and eventually back into the house to the new gas stove in our remodeled kitchen. The gas line is CSS (corrugated stainless steel) coated with plastic. It is not hard to determine that it is metal because of the fittings.  We offered to have the line inspected and to bring it up to current code if necessary just to try to make our buyer comfortable.  Our buyer also didn't like the way our gas fireplaces lighted.

I went down to the shop which sold and installed our gas logs and talked to their service people who recommended that I replace the sand.  I bought the special and expensive sand needed for natural gas logs and replaced the old sand.  As far as I could tell that fixed the problem, but we went ahead with an appointment to have a gas log technician check both sets of logs as soon as possible.

We did have the gas line inspected and were told that it met current code not only in Roanoke County, but in all of Virginia.

Because of the short time-line, we moved quickly to address the remaining issues and within two days of receiving the request for corrections, we had managed to resolve almost everything including a contractor who indeed agreed that our tiles were waterproof. The only exception was the actual installation of the new windows.

Unfortunately none of this seemed to matter with our buyers.  The wife had decided that she would not feel safe living in our home. Perhaps it was the imagined plastic gas line.  We heard she worried that our basement radon reading might someday change and that she might eventually have to replace some additional windows.

It wasn't long before we got a request for a release of earnest money back to the buyers.  My wife and I only had to think ten seconds before telling our agent that we would not sign any release where the full earnest money did not come back to us.

Twenty four hours later, we got a request that we split the earnest money with them. I responded that they had twenty four hours to agree to pay us all the earnest money or they would be hearing from our lawyer.  Shortly after that we got the release signed with the money coming back to us.

Of course we would have preferred to see the sale go through, but we certainly did not want to go to court to enforce the contract. However upon hearing that the lady of the couple did not want to live in our house, my wife sagely observed that living in our house was not in the contract, the buyers had only agreed to purchase the house.  They didn't have to live in it.

Still we have tried to figure out what went wrong.  These buyers had a long term attraction to our home.  The first time we heard from them was 8:30 AM on the day before Thanksgiving.  They wanted to see the house at 11:00 AM.  When we received the call my wife was just getting ready to go into full Thanksgiving cooking mode since our family was expected to arrive just after noon that day.  With a good deal of restraint, she managed to shift gears, and we got the house in shape for a showing that day.  

We didn't hear anything further from the buyers until 8:30 AM on the morning after Christmas day.  They wanted to see our house at 9 AM.  We were just sitting down to a family breakfast so I told the real estate agent that if they wanted to see the house, it would have to be in the afternoon.  We did hear back that they liked the house, but that was it.

Then once again on the day after New Year's day, they called early in the morning for another morning showing.  We put them off for a couple of hours and my wife gave up on putting away our Christmas decorations as we got ready for the showing.  My wife joked that they had seen the house decorated for Thanksgiving and Christmas along with one time when there were no seasonal decorations except those waiting on the pool table to be boxed and stored.

Shortly after the third showing we got on the road, and a few days later we got a low-ball offer from our buyers late one night.  We countered that same evening and heard nothing back from them.  Our agent determined that they were back out looking at houses the next week.

We figured they were gone, but in another week or so they came back with a higher offer.  Once again I countered in a matter of hours.  Again I heard nothing for several days.  Finally they made another higher offer, and I made a final counter to which they agreed. From the first showing until when we had a signed contract took nearly ten weeks.  It took another three weeks and five days for the deal to fall apart.

It is hard to even speculate what happened to our buyers.  I can only guess that the inspector by trying to earn his money had somehow awakened a fear in our buyer of gas logs when he noted that they needed inspecting.  However, even that doesn't seem to explain someone wanting proof that ceramic tile is waterproof.

It is a shame that real estate transactions have become so adversarial.  I want someone to buy our home who will love it as much as we have.  I have no interest in our home being in anything but top condition while we continue to live in it.  It will be in that same great condition when it is sold. I am too old to change how I care for our home.

I have fantasized about buyers offering us a reasonable price and asking for me to give them a tour of the house and explain how everything works and what maintenance we do on a regular basis.  This transition to new owners would be instead of yet another inspection where the inspector has to struggle to find something wrong with the home.

My wife's favorite part of the last inspection was the inspector declaring that our roof was the original roof.  When he came to pick up the radon test box, she took the opportunity to educate him that a number of homes in our subdivision do have the original shake roofs complete with lichens, but that our fifty-year shingle roof was installed in 2001 which he could have determined if he looked at the extra bundles of shingles in my shop.

This is a buyers market as any agent or seller will tell you.  However, that does not mean that buyers can completely run rough shod over sellers especially when a contract has been signed.

I actually prefer North Carolina's option period for a fee as opposed to Virginia's inspection and negotiation.  However, I cannot move my Virginia house to North Carolina so when the next offer comes I will actually be looking for better qualified buyers and even a little more earnest money.

Signing a contract to buy a home should not be done lightly especially if it is already obvious that the home is in great shape and priced agressively.  We all have buyer's remorse sometimes, but it can be an expensive proposition when you lose all your earnest money.

I might need some time on the water to help me forget this transaction. Some beach walks in our Coastal Paradise will renew my soul.  North Carolina's coast can make you forget lots of stuff including the horrendous traffic that tied me in knots as we were trying to clean up from our almost move.

Beyond that I would like to get back a few cans of paint that I regularly used for touch up.  My wife and son took all our paint and chemicals to a hazardous waste disposal the Saturday before our sale fell apart.  Oh well, the sunrise is still beautiful from our deck so I can't complain too much.


Comments (2)

Fred Griffin Florida Real Estate
Fred Griffin Real Estate - Tallahassee, FL
Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker

There is a Home Inspector in Florida whose nickname is "The Deal Killer".   When Buyers bring him into the transaction, we warn our Sellers that the Deal is as good as dead.   The Deal Killer inspires fear into the Buyer, over something that maybe might possibly happen.  Most of the Buyers walk.   BTW, his Inspections take an entire day.





Mar 03, 2012 11:44 AM
Sharon Alters
Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty - 904-673-2308 - Fleming Island, FL
Realtor - Homes for Sale Fleming Island FL

David, what a tale! And the timing of the buyers looking at the house - just terrible and almost rude. It does sound as though the inspector had a lot to do with them not buying the house. Too bad for them, sounds like you ahve a great house.


Mar 03, 2012 01:03 PM