house story

Hope you enjoy our 100% true “house story” that we lived through this past summer. For those of you who don’t know the story, I hope you enjoy. For those who know some of the story, you’ll probably hear a couple of twists you didn’t know about.

I have posted them in order so that you can read down the page instead of the usual reverse order of most blog posts.

Feel free to pass this on to others, especially those who are buying/selling a house. You can honestly say to them “it could be worse”. Also please post any comments or questions you have, but I will not publish any comments if I feel they are there primarily to advertise a product, website or blog.



To set the stage somewhat for those unfamiliar with the story, my wife (Petie) and I lived with our daughter (Joelle, age 2) in a 3 bedroom house in Spring, TX (North of Houston). We moved into it after it was built in May 1999.

For the following reasons we wanted to move to the Memorial/Spring Branch area of Houston(a.k.a. “in town”).

  1. Closer to parents (e.g. from 40 to 5 min and from 50 to 15 min one-way trips)
  2. Better schools
  3. Closer to town/work
  4. Our neighborhood was going down the tubes
  5. Wanted another bedroom/room

[OK, for those of you who live in Houston I know that the specific area where we end up (outside of the Beltway) is not downtown by any means, but it’s within the city limits]

Some of the names have been changed…

February 1, 2005
We decide on a listing agent, but want to wait a couple of weeks so we can do some landscaping work, clean out extra furniture and other items that will make the house look bigger.

February 15, 2005
We list the house at $138,900. This is on the high end of what we expect based on what we paid and what other houses are listed at. One potential listing agent suggests $130,000 but that’s about the minimum we would take.

February 16, 2005
No showings. (A showing is when someone interested in buying comes to tour the house)

February 17, 2005
No showings.

February 18, 2005
No showings.

February 19, 2005
Still no showings. OK, this is the first weekend day and we are starting to wonder. We remind ourself that it could take six months due to all the new construction competing with us. We start viewing available houses in the Memorial area (for those of you who know when we actually end up moving, you can laugh.)

March 15, 2005
No showings in the first month. Is there anything more comforting that Fiona (our listing agent) could say besides “wow, I’ve never seen anything like this.”? She says that only one house has sold in our area in the last 60 days. We explain to her that if there is ONE house that sells in the neighborhood in the next year, we want it to be ours. It wasn’t meant as a humorous comment.

At this point Petie and I exchange the phrase “still no showings” whenever the other one comes home to make fun of how we were anxious to hear if someone saw the house when we first put it up for sale.

March 18, 2005
Our first showing. Their comments: “Shows like a model home.” But…they’re just looking. I guess those two weeks “cleaning up” were kind of silly, huh?

April 15, 2005
In the last month we had a couple of open houses – a combined two days of having signs posted and ads in the paper generated two people. We need to generate traffic so we drop the price and offer an agent incentive. Now it’s $136,900 and $1,000 to the selling agent as a bonus.

April 17,2005April 26, 2005
The move generates traffic (two showings) but apparently the target market for agent bonuses are dumb agents. One comments “wanted a bedroom downstairs” (even though all the posted information clearly indicates all bedrooms are up). Another “master won‘t work with a king-sized bed” (I want to know how big this bed is).

A rather quiet 2+ months. Hopefully the summer will bring more “action”.

A few definitions that will come in handy if you are not familiar with the home buying/selling process:

1. Centralized Showing – a service that handles the showing of your house (realtors subscribe to this service). A realtor calls Centralized Showing and they call us saying “X agent wants to see your house between 3:00-3:30 as a courtesy.

2. Earnest money – this is an amount (usually about 1% in Texas) that you give to the title company when you sign a contract. If you want out of the contract after the option period (see below), you lose this money.

3. Option period – when you enter into a contract you pay an option fee (say, $100) to have an option period. This is a period of time where you can have inspectors come and look at the house more carefully.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Late morning – Petie and Joelle are at home. Petie gets a call from Centralized Showing saying that a man is outside our house and wants to see it – he does not have a realtor. We say “no” (although tempting since we have had so few showings) – we’re not going to let some guy in our house off the street.

Early afternoon – the man calls our realtor and does come to take a look at the house. He seems interested. He is an older man (approx. 60)

Late afternoon – he and his wife knock on our door to see the house again. Turns out they live elsewhere in the neighborhood. Petie gives him our phone number if they have any other questions.

Early evening – the guy calls and wants to show it to a family member. He brings his wife and her sister and proceeds to measure every room in the house and even discusses the drainage grade for about 10 minutes. All three of them rave about how wonderful the house is. We never hear from them again.

Thursday, May 5, 2005
We’re coming up on three months and the start of the summer season when all the activity is supposed to spike upwards. We see a bunch of houses we like (to buy) but who knows how long we’ll have to wait? We decide to step it up. Our contract with Fiona ends May 6th and we switch to Michael. He’s more aggressive and we like him from our initial meeting. Confident and replete in his customized Black Hummer, he’s the guy we want to get it done.

We are now listed with Michael at $129,900 – $9,000 less than the original. If that doesn’t get people to look at the house, I don’t know what will. Fiona calls back saying “Oh, would you reconsider switching – I have some people who are interested.” If she was listing and gets someone to buy the house she would get 6% instead of 3% if we switch to Michael and she finds the buyer. Maybe she should have thought of that before not even calling us in the last three weeks of our contract.

Monday, May 9, 2005
Fiona’s prospective buyer comes for a showing in the evening. As usual we made plans to be elsewhere during the showing (Chuck E. Cheese this time) and come home to her purse sitting on our porch. After she figures out her purse is at our house she comes back to pick it up saying “They are extremely interested – I am pretty sure they are going to write an offer.”

Boy, this is going to be the easiest commission Michael has ever gotten.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005
9:30 am – A woman who is relocating from Arkansas and living with family comes to look at the house. She loves it and wants to show her husband that evening.

5:15 pm – The couple (the McKays) love the house and plan on making an offer the next day

Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Michael Zin calls – “Chris, lightning has struck.” We have two offers. We successfully bid them against each other until we get to both offering $132,900. $3,000 above the current list price. Now we have to make a decision:

Fiona’s buyers: – 0% down, working with Fiona (who both we and Michael had worked with) and wanting to close on June 30th.

Arkansas buyers: 5-10% down (so maybe better finances?), don’t know their realtor, wants to close quickly – June 1st.

Since we felt kind of bad for Fiona not getting any of the commission after having us listed for three months and her buyer giving us more time to actually find a house to move to, we go with Fiona’s buyer.

Thursday, May 12, 2005
We sign the contract with Fiona’s buyer and the option period begins on the next day.

May 13-May 22, 2005
Petie and I go to look at houses a number of times. We find one that we really like (on Woodthorpe) and think we will make an offer but want to wait until the option period is up for our buyers.

Monday, May 23, 2005
Option period is up for our buyers, so if they don’t buy the house they owe us $1000. Considering that and the costs of inspections and applying for a loan they will have spent about $2000 if they don’t buy the house.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005
We make an offer on Woodthorpe and it is accepted

Tuesday, May 31, 2005
We have mechanical, structural and termite inspections on Woodthorpe. No big problems but the inspectors recommend a hydrostatic (leak) test because of some house settling on one side.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005
12:15 p.m.
Michael’s assistant, Chad, calls me at work. “Michael wanted me to pass on a note to you that something happened on Fiona’s deal and that he’ll be calling.”

Their option period is over and our option period is almost up on our new house. I ask Chad if he knows what’s going on and he says “I’m not sure, I know Michael will be calling you shortly.”

Wednesday, June 1, 2005
3:15 p.m.

After not getting calls back, I call Fiona’s office and her assistant says “well, how much have you heard?”
“Well, we don’t know how much brain damage she has, but she’s had a seizure.”

4:15 p.m.
Michael calls to say that the principal buyer (Sara) is in a comatose state. Apparently she had a seizure and is in the hospital.

4:40 p.m.
Michael already has a NEW potential buyer – a couple that lives in The Woodlands – just in case Sara backs out of the deal.

6:15 p.m.
The Woodlands couple loves the house and it is their favorite –they want to see it again Saturday morning.

Friday, June 3, 2005
We get the leak detection results from our future house on Woodthorpe – they estimate between $10-11,000 in repairs. Quote: “the bottom of the pipes on one side of the house is gone.”

Saturday, June 4, 2005
The wife of the Woodlands couple brings her mother – she thinks the house should be bigger (she lives in a huge house in Memorial) so it’s suddenly not their favorite. Michael is “flabbergasted” because they liked it so much.

Michael also confirms that Sara is terminating our contract – we should still get the earnest money from her now since it was after her option period. If she were to give the reason of financing the contract states that it has to be within a certain number of days as well.

We give up on Woodthorpe and back out before our option period was up. The sellers had agreed to pay for the plumbing, but we don’t want two houses at once.

Monday, June 6, 2005
We call the title company to check on Sara’s earnest money. Turns out she has a “stop payment” on the check. Behind the scenes, our realtor’s office had lost the check (5/19) and told Fiona to give the title company a new one. Michael found the old check (5/26) and gave it to the title company. It didn’t process until 6/6 that it had a stop payment on it.

When getting information together to send a letter to Sara, I notice that she lists a phone number on one of the documents. I call and a woman answers. I say I have a wrong number. So now we can reach her if we need to.

We send Sara a letter explaining that she owes us $1000 and if we don’t hear from her within 10 days we will file a claim in small claims court.
We call Fiona and she denies that she did anything wrong and says that she is “unable to get a hold of Sara”. Boy, she must not be trying very hard.

We receive a certified letter from Sara. She says that she doesn’t owe us the money because her fiancee was transferred and she was going to be unemployed so she was denied a loan. She cites that the contract says if she can’t obtain financing that the contract is void.

I call Sara’s number (with the intention of actually talking to her this time) and it says that her number has changed to a 903 area code. I look it up and it is Longview, TX (where she said her fiancee was being transferred). I leave a message on the 903 number.

I call three times throughout the day – on the third try Sara picks up. She said it was all a misunderstanding and that she would be able to send some of it after the second Friday in July when she has some money. She gives me her address in Longview, TX.

7/8/05 (the second Friday in July)
I call Sara to see if she is going to mail us a check. She said she would send part of it that day, but couldn’t send it all because she has $4000 in medical bills.

We get a letter from Sara with a $100 check that states by depositing the check we agree that she can pay off her $1000 (now $900) of debt over the next few months. We deposit the check. It clears.

As you’ll see (when I get back to the house part of the story) we were busy during the last month so we hadn’t followed up with Sara regularly. I call her and she happens to be driving to Houston that weekend and says she will mail a check from Houston that weekend.

Still no check – I call Sara and she said she’d call me back to verify the address. She said she had sent it that weekend.

Busy again for the next two weeks so I get around to calling Sara again. She said she had gotten the new address (my work address) and hadn’t had a chance to send the check yet. Her fiancee had just left her and was no longer supporting her as she goes through school. She thought she would probably be moving back to Las Vegas (where she’s from apparently) within a week and would be calling me back. I offered her to send a reduced amount instead of doing it over several months. She said she’d talk to her mom about perhaps borrowing the money from her and doing that.

Call Sara and she said she was now in Vegas and was starting work in a couple of days – asked us to bear with her until she gets the money together.

Called Sara – the 903 number is disconnected.

I post this story on a friend’s blog (without changing names)

Sara posts a comment requesting me to take her name off. She states that because of the move she no longer has my contact information. She found the blog by doing an internet search on her real name.

Via e-mail Sara obtains my contact information and agrees to continue paying the money when she is able.

In Part 5, we’ll get back to the “house” part of the “house story”.

Update 7/15/07: Sara has since filed for bankruptcy and it was granted – the $900 she owed us was dismissed.

Part 3 left off with us backing out of our new house the first week of June because Sara backed out on us. So, let’s find a new buyer and (eventually) a NEW new house for us, shall we? We expect there to be more traffic because, after all, the day after we lowered the price we “sold” it in May.

6/8/05, 3:27 pm
Gary (realtor) schedules a showing for between 5-7 pm. We go out to dinner to get out of the way.

6/8/05 7:00-8:20 pm
We return at 7:30 and it doesn’t look like anyone has come to see the house. We get a call at 7:51 asking if they can still come. Joelle’s bedtime is 8 pm so I almost say “no, this is ridiculous to be over an hour late” but since we’re desperate I say “no problem, sure!”. At 8:05 Gary brings a young couple to see the house. They seem to like it a lot (just as everyone else has, no surprise there).

6/9/05 1:15 pm
I call Michael’s office to get information about flyers since our house is back on the market – he tells me that the young couple that saw the house last night was putting together an offer. Turns out it is just the woman, not a couple (oh boy, this sounds familiar).

6/13/05 9:45 am
We get the offer from Gary and it is too low – we decide to counter with something that would be similar to what we got the FIRST time we sold the house.

6/13/05 3:20 pm
Curious about which realty company Gary works for, I look him up and he’s not listed in the Houston Area Realtors database. I google Gary. His name shows up on Texas Department of Insurance on a court docket. I call the State and received documents showing that his insurance license was suspended in 1999 for fraud and that he had recently scored poorly on a mortgage broker exam.

Michael calls and says that he has some concerns about Gary after speaking to him a couple of times. I told him “I can do you one better” and forward him the documents. Michael says Gary is a smartass and has been unable to answer some basic questions about the mortgage side of the buyer. I tell him to go ahead and try to work out a deal. In the last week we have had a number of showings and a number of “almost offers” but nothing concrete enough to ignore Gary.

Michael calls me to tell me that Gary left him a message saying “I want to assure you that I have been a loan officer for over 10 years and that there is no reason to worry about the deal falling through. ” We think that’s kind of ironic based on what we found out about him.

Michael’s office calls to say Gary’s offer is going to end up being about 4,000 less than when we had two bidders in May. We say, “go for it”.

Not really related to the house, but demonstrates how our summer was going:
10:30 am – Petie comes in from taking out the trash and says that our neighbor’s dog is loose. Our neighbor (Bill) has had a number of large dogs (mostly pit bulls) that either escape from their backyard or are allowed to roam around from time to time. They are probably not vicious, but are very large and intimidating.
10:35 am – she notices that our other neighbor (Nancy) is trying to lead the dog back into their backyard because her kids are scared of large dogs. I go out to help. He’s really growling and actually EATING the fence. I calmly try to get him to go in and lead him by the collar but he’s not at all interested.
10:40 am – Nancy suggests I go in her house to get a hot dog or something to distract the dog. I go in and her daughter offers me some salami – I take it out and use it to lead the dog into the backyard. We slam the fence shut and block it with bricks and sandbags – the dog is absolutely charging the fence and the bolts are shaking as if they could pop out.
10:45 am – Another neighbor (Shawn) calls Animal Control – they say they’ll be there in 60-90 minutes. We don’t look forward to leaning against the fence for that long. We alternate turns to bang on Bill’s door because sometimes he’ll pretend he’s not there or will sleep through things like this. No answer.
11:00 am – We realize that the dog calms down when we step away from the fence so we go across the yard. Animal Control arrives. He doesn’t have a tranquilizer gun and is by himself so he calls backup.
11:45 am – he gets an urgent call and says he’ll be back later with backup. We all go back to our houses since the dog has calmed down now.
12:20 pm – Nancy calls.
“They were there the whole time!”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“The dog isn’t in the backyard anymore, they were there the whole time and just now let the dog in!”
We are both frustrated. We never liked that neighbor. It has nothing to do with the fact that his kid careened out of control on a motorcycle through our front yard killing a tree and running into our neighbor’s garage (luckily he hit our tree first, actually) or that they set the nearby forest on fire one 4th of July, really.
2:00 pm – I see Animal Control go into Bill’s house – since we had left there is now a car in the driveway so someone else is home now. The Animal Control team comes out empty-handed. I approach them.
“I guess you can’t take the dog now that he’s inside, huh?”
“Uh sir, the dog is dead.”
I’m shocked. “Oh….oh my gosh.”
“Do you know who threw that salami back there? Because we think the dog was either poisoned or had a snakebite.”

FYI, the salami was fine – Nancy’s kids were eating it. I don’t know exactly what happened to the dog but looking back it makes sense that something was wrong with it – trying to bust out, eating the fence, growling when usually the dog is quiet (huge, but usually quiet). Just another day in our Summer 2005.

Over this period of time we have a number of showings and constantly wait on Gary to send an update to the contract, get the buyer’s initals, etc. Each day we figure we’ll go with Gary’s offer if someone else who just saw the house doesn’t come through. Normally this process would take a day but with Gary it stretches into almost two weeks.

So, it’s nearing the end of June and we have Gary’s offer which has been out there for a while but isn’t finalized and a lot of activity but nothing solid.

Mon, 6/27/05
Petie says “I’m surprised Ruthann (the realtor helping us buy a house) hasn’t called to see how we are doing.” It has been about three weeks since we are now waiting for an offer to even begin looking again. Literally two minutes later the phone rings – it’s Ruthann. We tell her that we have hope for a contract but it looks shaky. After she hangs up we wonder if she called because Michael changed the status on our house to “Option Pending”. Turns out he did.

Tues, 6/28/05
Michael confirms that Gary has finally filled in all the blanks and has all the paperwork to him. Option period ends 7/7/05. We close on 7/20/05. Maybe THIS one will work better than the last one?

Thurs, 6/30/05
Phone is dead. Whoops – forgot to “cancel the cancel” from before when we were planning on moving out. Later that day DSL goes out because our phone account was cancelled. Without going into detail, it literally takes about a week to get service again. Next time we’re not cancelling things until after we have cash in hand for the house!

Fri 7/1/05 – Tues 7/5/05
Yolanda (person who has submitted the contract through Gary) has inspectors come and inspect our house. Our house is appraised by the bank.

Thurs 7/7/05
They fax us a copy of the inspection report with minor things (that don’t even need to be done, really) and I say we just offer them $250 since it’s the last day of the option period for them.

Fri 7/8/05
I see a house online (the Barryknoll House) that looks like it could be perfect for us. We had gone the previous weekend and had pretty much been left with no great prospects, so this was exciting that a new one might be on the market. That night it’s no longer online. (Sold already??)

Sat 7/9/05
I call the realtor of the house that was online (luckily I had written it down). He said it was a computer glitch and it’s online now. He had 13 calls and 6 showings the first day so he suggests we see it at the Open House on Sunday. We decide to see it that day. We go once by ourselves and once with our realtor. After discussing it for about 30 seconds we decide to write up an offer on the spot – it’s perfect.

Sun 7/10/05
After the open house they call and we agree to an amount slightly below list price. We close on 7/28 and they will lease it back until 8/12. Since we are closing on 7/20/05 we will have to move in with Petie’s parents for almost a month, but that’s not the end of the world.

Michael calls back and says that Gary wants us to make the repairs. They have no say since the option period is over but we don’t want to screw anything up so we agree to have people come look at it. Over the next few days we spend about $425 on them to make them happy.

Mon 7/11/05 – Mon 7/18/05
We have inspections on Barryknoll and do a lot of moving. We completely move out of our house on 7/18 since Yolanda is closing on Wednesday.

Tues 7/19/05
The title company calls and says “We just received a call from your buyer and they wanted to let you know that the closing that was supposed to be tomorrow is postponed. The earliest they can close now is 8/1.”

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