July 27, 2011

First, no additional work has been done on the house this week. I am out of paint, so that will have to wait until I get paid next week.  Instead, this post will deal with a house I almost had, one that still has me shaking my head in disbelief at corporate stupidity.

In mid-2004, emerging from the collapse of my father’s business and my own bankruptcy, I had to forge a new path. I had invested $30,000 against my house to pay for equipment for the business, not knowing just how bad the business was doing. My dad, notoriously private in matters of money, could not bring himself to tell me before accepting the money. Adding insult to injury, years later, after he promised me he would leave more than enough in the will to cover what I lost, he passed away while leaving the whole estate to my stepmother. I never saw a dime.

Well, all that by way of explaining this situation. I fought hard to rebuild my credit from 2002 to 2004. And I succeeded. It wasn’t stellar, mind you, but still well into the 600′s. Not too shabby for having a bankruptcy, foreclosure and an auto repossession two years prior. I sucked it up and moved on.  I lived in a cheap apartment and lived frugally for two years.

In March of 2004 I took a patient suffering from dementia and other maladies from the hospital back to her residence in Wendell in my ambulance. At two a.m. we arrived at her house and her family greeted us as we came in. I noticed the “For Sale” sign mounted in the front yard and inquired after the patient was placed in the bed. The man eagerly  handed me the MLS printout. Very reasonable, $67,500.  I calculated and realized I could make that payment.  So, I started talking to my real estate agent. She helped me locate a really good mortgage company who helped me get the ball rolling.  They determined I could probably buy the house.

But Allie, my agent, wasn’t sold just yet. She insisted on a broadening the search a little. So I set aside a day and she and I went from house to house looking at lots of different homes from modern to falling apart.  None met my criteria. We had one last house on the list, in Zebulon, just three miles down the road. As I pulled up, I just sat, stunned.

An absolutely charming house, with a nice barn (not a storage building or a backyard garage, but a real honest-to-goodness barn) out back, loads of nice plants and just beautifully maintained. Outside, anyway. Inside, it was a disaster. Paint hung in strips and tatters from everywhere, like so much incomplete confetti. Boxes and debris of mostly office-type stuff was everywhere. Still, I noticed a walk-up staircase and found two more bedrooms up there. Four bedrooms total, three fireplaces, and a nice, full bath. Full back porch, glass-enclosed. Roomy living room with nice, even floors. Beautiful entrance hall which led to a dining room. The kitchen was old, but adequate.

The entire house just screamed, “Potential!!!”  It was solid and well-built. About the only problem I could find was the messed up paint.  I have experience with paint, and I knew immediately why all the paint was peeling in the rooms. Someone attempted to paint latex paint over oil-based paint. Can’t be done without first priming it with an all-surface primer.  But that was not a big deal. Paint is paint. Easy to rectify and redo. The floors were in nice shape. Other than paint and fixing a weak spot on the small front porch, this house would be ready to move into in no time.

Without further ado, I put an offer to purchase in writing, for $7,000 less than the asking price. Since I had financing provisionally secured, and did not have to wait on a house to sell in the meantime, I figured it would sail right through.  A cash offer, in other words.

I could not have been more wrong.

Had the house been owned by an individual, it most certainly would have. I was surprised from the seller’s Realtor that the house was owned by the corporate giant Glaxo-Smith-Kline.

GSK has a significant office and manufacturing base in Zebulon, and this property was on the back side of their campus. They had no use for it, and wanted to sell it.  No big deal, I thought. The guy warned me it might take a few weeks.

But he called me back in just a few days to tell me my offer was acceptable to them. I was ecstatic. I called my financial guy at Charter Funding, Bill Borter, and informed him. He said, great, fax me the accepted offer and we’ll get started.

I called Allie and asked her to secure that for me.  But it still wasn’t there a week later. I called the GSK Realtor directly myself, finally, to ask what the hold-up was. It was now September, 2004.  He explained they were just checking some “things” first. No big deal, but to be patient.

For two months, I went back and forth with them. No formally accepted offer. I was the only bidder. But they had some issues to deal with. Finally they told me what one of the issues was.

The house has an oil furnace. I love oil furnaces, they heat better than any other fuel and are far more efficient (more BTU’s per unit of fuel than any other type of fuel out there).  ”So, it has an oil furnace?” I said. “What’s the problem?”

“Well, the tank leaked,” the Realtor explained.

I shrugged.  ”It happens.  No big deal. I’ll just have to order a new tank or new fittings, wherever the leak is.”

“Well, it’s a bit of a liability problem for them, you see.”

No, I didn’t really see. They had already stated the house’s old well could not be used and the house would have to be connected to city water.  That seemed a waste to me, but I acquiesced to the requirement. But if these guys are chemists, they should know one thing clearly, oil and water do not mix.  Oil is lighter than water, and will be absorbed and eventually broken up by the dirt and soil. It’s carbon-based, you see. There’s not too much danger of huge contamination, and most likely none in the water table. And even if it did get in, it doesn’t mix. As the guy described it, it was a drip, anyway, not the whole tank rupturing.  But, all right. So I agreed with all of that. City water, replace the oil tank. Don’t get me wrong, a huge spill of hundreds or thousands or millions of gallons of oil IS a huge natural disaster. A couple of dozen gallons from a heating oil tank, not so much. To wit: the grass and plants beneath the tank were growing healthily.

So, I waited again. Weeks went by.  No word. I left messages which were unanswered. This was getting strange. Finally, I got a call. There was a problem.

As it turned out, the property lines were off. In short, instead of the property line 10-12 feet from the house, as it seemed to be, the actual line ran right next to the house, and the driveway wasn’t technically part of the property, nor was the barn.  Now this was a problem.  But it was only twelve feet, right? Negotiate with the neighboring property owners and get it fixed, right?

Wrong. As soon as they found out GSK owned the property and there was a property line dispute, they went nuts, demanding almost $20,000 for that tiny strip of land. The entire lot wasn’t worth much more than that alone. The negotiations slowed to a crawl while I waited, fuming.

At that time was now early December. And Bill Borter called, with bad news. Unless I could secure the signed offer to purchase, my funding would not be available after the first of the year. Investors for mortgage companies have only so much they can allocate, and they can’t make money waiting. This investor wasn’t willing to wait any longer. I called back to tell GSK to get a move on, time was running out. No return call.

A week before the end of the year, GSK suddenly got busy. We think we have the property line worked out.  Do you mind if we go ahead and fill in the old well? Do you require this or that prior to closing?  Wow, I’m thinking this might actually happen.

But the week after Christmas, still no word. I made a call to the Realtor and spoke at length to him. He informed me it now looked like April when all the paperwork related to the property line would be resolved. GSK finally paid $16,000 to settle the dispute. My price would not go up, he assured me.  I then had to put my foot down. “I don’t care if you take the rest of 2005 to settle it,” I said, “But I need that signed Offer to Purchase contract right away. You have until December 31, after that I withdraw my offer.”

In the meantime, I went back to the house the old lady lived in, the first one I looked at that night I brought her home. She had since been moved to a nursing home. The house was empty. Allie and I toured it again. I was less impressed this time around, but still, I found it adequate and inexpensive, well within my budget. I signed an offer to purchase, knowing it was now a long shot I would see the paperwork from GSK on the one I really wanted.

On January 2, 2005, I called the Realtor representing GSK and formally withdrew my offer to purchase. My financial guy was already at work, ready to move. I hated it, I really did. The Zebulon house was much nicer, had more room, and was on an infinitely prettier lot. But the circumstances could not be avoided. And I could not wait. I had already checked around, and I could not find another mortgage company to work with me, so I was stuck with what I had. But Charter didn’t try to dump a junk mortgage on me. It was a thirty-year, fixed rate, 6.2% loan only a little bit above national average, a fair reflection of my credit and the times.

On February 2, 2oo5, I walked into the house for the first time, my very own. One cannot imagine my excitement of that day for me. The past three years, nightmare years, all evaporated in an instant. I had done it, all by myself. And that’s a good feeling. I owned my own house!

So, what happened to the house? The GSK house? I had not been by there in some time, and two years ago I got to thinking about selling mine and buying that one, if it was available. So I drove by to take a look.

I was flabbergasted. GSK had torn the house down, even the beautiful, picturesque barn. Gone completely. Saddened at the sight, I put the car in reverse and drove away. I have not been back, though in my mind, I find myself still thinking about how nice it would have been, and about all the things I had planned to do to fix it up.