When it came to real estate transactions, Trevor and I had always been lucky.
Our first house was a little “granny” house on a corner lot in an old neighbourhood.
The family we bought it from were SO NICE… they invited us over and served us tea on the porch. They bequeathed to us a daybed and a handy step stool and free cable for two years. Just before we moved in, they held a BBQ for us in their backyard so we could meet all of our new neighbours. They even left their contact information and never, ever got upset, even when we had to call very late at night one time to ask, “Can you tell us where the water shut-off is again?”
Buying our second house was a very similar experience.
The woman who owned it had raised her family there and was ready to retire. She was an impeccable record-keeper and left us a tidy accordion file full of alphabetized instruction manuals, warranties, and general paperwork for every service or appliance in the home. She left blueprints and architectural drawings for additions on the home from the 1980s. She gave us a contact sheet for all our neighours, and also one for tradespeople she’d hired for work or repairs. She and I remain Facebook friends to this day.
I guess you could say, we were spoiled.
Tett House was going to be the third home we had purchased.
Third time’s a charm, right? It turns out that’s only true if the people you’re dealing with aren’t total jerks.
When our family decided to put an offer in on Tett House, we were all excited and terrified. The owners of the house at the time weren’t officially working with a realtor, although they had been formerly. The negotiation process started off the way it normally does, with insurance and maintenance inquiries, a home inspection that turned up a few surprises, etc. It seemed like the whole thing would unfold like your average real estate transaction. Until the legal title search.
(To keep things as uncomplicated as possible, henceforth, the former owners of Tett House will be referred to as the “Jerks,” or, alternately, “Total Jerks.”)
The Total Jerk owners of Tett House claimed that a certain picturesque, but unusable boathouse on Bedford Mills pond belonged to the Tett House property. Additional water access to the pond was also included in the real estate listing, described as a “kayak launch.” However, when our lawyer pulled the PIN (Property Identification Number) for the land, he discovered these areas in fact belonged to the neighbour, Barry – the owner of the mill. Remember Barry? I told you in my last post to remember Barry.
This is the crumbling boathouse. It has been painted and photographed A LOT, but that is the extent of its purpose, being evidently housed by beavers and other wildlife.
And this is a photo of the “kayak launch” lifted directly from the real estate listing:
We engaged in some back-and-forth communication with the Jerks of Tett House via various professionals. Our exchanges went something like this:
Us: Yeah, so… Our lawyer did a title search and it turns out you guys don’t own the boathouse on the pond.
Jerks: Yes, we do. Our lawyer says we do.
Us: Okay, if you could just go ahead and share the documents to prove that, that would be great.
Jerks: We don’t have documentation. But our lawyer says it’s ours.
Us: Can he provide legal verification, given that he operates as a lawyer?
Jerks: No. We just believe him. And we think you and your lawyer should believe him, too, even though our claims are legally unsubstantiated.
The professional people involved couldn’t help us. The lawyers engaged themselves in a half-hearted title search mystery stalemate that neither seemed particularly interested in solving.
Ultimately, we ended up reaching out to our (future) neighbour, Barry, who had the only existing copy of the survey, along with other historic memorabilia.
Barry has been living at the mill for something like 25 years, and he had no time for the Total Jerk owners of Tett House. When I emailed him to ask if he could share any information about the house, here’s what Barry had to say about the Jerks:
“Hi, I can tell you that I feel the present owner ruined it [with] cheap inappropriate “improvements” He is a “flipper” almost as much a scumbag as most real estate agents. He also illegally cut down trees so he could view the mill. ALL the waterfront around the mill pond belongs to the mill not that house. I have the surveys.”
(The opinions about real estate agents expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of this blogger!)
But otherwise… a truly glowing recommendation, right? Yikes. Needless to say, I was a little intimidated about meeting Barry, but I needn’t have been. Barry was thrilled that the Jerks were leaving, and happy to see a family moving into the home again at last. He sorted out all of our questions about boundaries – including some complicated grandfathered clauses tied to his unique property.
We conceded his ownership of the boathouse and he generously granted us courtesy use of the pond’s waterfront. Barry is also a passionate naturalist and eco-science guy, so he instructed us NOT TO CUT DOWN ANY MORE TREES. Being tree lovers ourselves, we were more than happy to oblige.
As our realtor prepared the purchase agreement, the Jerks of Tett House continued to insist the boathouse property was theirs. Trevor and I had to request that every boathouse reference be stricken from the contract, so as to prevent future legal disputes. Further challenges of arbitration included, but were not limited to:
1) Discovering one of the contractors we wanted to hire refused to work on the house until he found out that he’d be working for new people (us) and not the Jerks.
2) The Jerks’ refusal to make certain repairs – some basic, others more serious – deemed their legal responsibility, based on the home inspector’s criteria.
3) Finding out the home’s “updated electrical work” had been last “updated” in the 1940s or ‘50s, and the entire house had to be re-wired with grounded outlets and junction boxes (a massive and expensive undertaking.)
4) Previous work had been done in the basement, necessitating important legal documentation. The Jerks refused to provide us with these documents, requiring us to search the public records system and pay to obtain them ourselves.
5) We had expressed an interest in purchasing a few antique items the Jerks were keen to sell. Despite several requests, they never told us the value of any of the pieces, so eventually we suggested negotiating them into the sale of the home. This offended the Jerks, who said they had believed “in good faith” that we had already committed to buying the antiques. Apparently, they planned to simply quote us a price and we were expected to pay it, unquestioned.
6) We requested the cleaning and junk removal of a large garage on the property. Considered a “Carriage House,” only by those blessed with the most vivid of imaginations, this building contained an inaccessible 2nd floor with an abandoned living space, open to the elements and littered with broken glass, furniture and general debris.
We had a standard real estate clean-up clause written into the contract, which was to be fulfilled by the Jerk owners before the closing date. (More on this later.)
As we hammered out the final purchase agreement, the Jerks continued to insist the property had waterfront access on Bedford Mills pond, right up until the very last minute. In the final moments of mediation hell, we and the Total Jerk owners of Tett House ended up in a bitter stand-off, with me in tears, and they wrapped in an entitled cocoon of their own asshole-ness.
We were fifteen minutes from the negotiation deadline, when everything would be declared null and void and we’d have to start the negotiation all over again from scratch. Having known all along that they couldn’t sell what they didn’t own, the Jerks suddenly deleted the kayak launch from the contract. That conversation went something like this:
Us: So, the property just went from having two points of water access on the pond, to zero?
Us: We should probably renegotiate the purchase price, then. And address your possibly fraudulent real estate listing?
Even though they had misrepresented the property, withheld information, and been less than cooperative on a variety of issues; even though the work that needed to be done on the house was now greater than we had initially been led to believe, the Jerks refused to adjust the sale price. By the end of this process, we were asking our realtors if the Jerks really even wanted to sell the house. Anybody else would have walked away by this point. But I was still desperately in love with Tett House, further strengthened by the conviction that the place needed to be rescued – by me – from evil jerk villains. (I read a lot of books.)
In the end, we said, to hell with it. We’d come that far, we’d already committed time and money… we wanted the house. So, we decided to suck it up. We stopped trying to reason with the unreasonable, and signed the papers. Tett House would be ours, and we wanted the Total Jerk owners – now officially promoted to TOTAL ASSHOLES – out of our lives as soon as possible so we wouldn’t have to deal with them any longer than was absolutely necessary.
Turns out, they left a legacy. A stinky one.
As assholes are wont to do, I suppose.
Original outhouse at Tett House. (This was not the stinky legacy.)
Read Part 6
Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.