Friday, April 12, 2013

Real Estate Wars

Yay! I sold my house! I loved that house up north in Utah. I bought it after I got divorced. It was the first house I'd ever bought on my own, with no husband involved. When I moved in, I felt as if it were temporary. I felt uneasy moving in alone. I hung a Spanish sign over the doorway. "In mi casa, soy la reina." It means, "In my house, I am the queen." It was like whistling through the cemetery, staving off the fear by talking big. But it was not temporary, after all. I owned that house for eight years. Once I got used to being alone, I loved that house. I started a new life in it, and grew from scared-and-alone to thrilled-with-my-new-life.



So thrilled with my new life, in fact, that over the last four years, I've been wandering around away from Utah and have left the house intermittently empty for over two of those years. It was time to move on. Six months ago, I listed the house for sale and came to Tucson. Three weeks ago, I loaded two-thirds of my worldly goods into a storage pod, gave away the other third, went to Hawaii for a week, finalized the sale of the house, blocked the new owner from taking possession until her loan came through, slept at a neighbors' house for two nights, then headed back to Tucson.

When I lived in Tanzania, I had several bizarre house hunting experiences. You can read about those here and here. You can read about the bad results and all kinds of drama around the last house I lived in there by clicking here. But it struck me last week, as I was driving back to Tucson all exhausted and trying to shrug off all the stress, that this recent house sale in America was just as dramatic.

It started getting weird within a couple of days of the listing.

I chose a husband-and-wife realtor team who had been selling houses in the neighborhood for over 15 years. They even remembered decorating my house and setting up their sales office in it. It was the model home for awhile when the developer first started building. I figured people who wanted to buy in the neighborhood would seek out these realtors.

Meanwhile, a neighbor--let's call her Susie --found herself alone in her parents' house, after her father's death. I stopped over to offer my condolences one evening when she and her sisters were out on the back deck. Susie told me she'd just lost her job, and planned to get a realtor's license so she could control her own professional destiny. I asked if they'd be selling their house. They said yes, but not for awhile. Susie would continue to live in the house, get her license, and then sell the house. I said I was going to sell my house, too, and move to Tucson. I encouraged her to get that realtor's license. She said she'd sell both of our houses! Her first sales after she got the license! I didn't say much to that.

I listed my house a few days later, just before I left for Tucson. I hoped to capitalize on the last few weeks of summer because buyers are not as busy shopping during the winter up there.

You can see why...

When I told Susie, she said, "But you're supposed to list it with me." Uh-huh. I pointed out that she didn't have her license yet. She said it would only take a few weeks. I explained politely that I did not want to miss the last few weeks of summer, and that I wanted to use the realtor who was associated with the neighborhood. She was miffed, but I was leaving. What did I care?

Two days after I left, word came through the neighbors that Susie had posted a "For Sale by Owner" sign in her yard. And then she sold the house in only two days. Then she sent me Facebook messages designed to goad me into asking her, "What big life changes?" "Oh, did you sell your house?" 

Then word came through another neighbor that she had spotted Susie with a handful of keys trying to open my front door! Susie said that I'd given her a key so she could let herself in to retrieve some of her things that she was storing in my house. None of which was true. She fumbled at the door a bit more, then said she must not have brought the right key and would have to come back, then headed back to her house. I called from Tucson and left a message asking her what the hell? She called back, drunk, and shouted a message saying she hadn't been near my house all day. Then she called back, still drunk, and shouted out a second message saying she had every right to sell her house whenever she wanted to (true) because it's a free market (true) and that she'd offered to sell my house by owner for free, too (not true--she was going for the commission)! Hmmm...I guess she was more miffed than I realized. It all made me nervous about my vacant house, but nobody saw any more attempted break-ins and my house was fine when I got back to it.

Time passed. Winter arrived. It snowed one inch in Tucson and everybody got all excited.

Snow on palms photo by my cousin Chris.

I'm going to like living in a place where snow is a novelty and it melts before you can find the shovel.

More time passed. Tucson's winter wound down after a few days. Utah's winter persisted. The realtor sent me occasional e-mails letting me know that someone had looked at my house but didn't want to buy it. At least I wasn't living in the house. I hate when you have to keep the house spotless every day because you never know when a potential buyer will want to see it. I put the house out of my mind and scheduled numerous activities stretching through spring. 

The realtor phoned to tell me we'd received an offer! But it was a full twenty thousand below my asking price.We countered. The buyer's realtor sent us an e-mail saying, "My client feels that her offer was reasonable. If your client changes her mind, let us know. Otherwise, we will continue our search." Her e-mail signature block included a glamour photo with big hair, big makeup, and stretchy, low-cut shirt. This photo made me attribute the snarky tone of the email to the realtor, not the client. Over the next few weeks, I realized all snarkiness lay with the client. 

Twenty-four hours later, they made a reasonable offer. We countered back and forth a few times, then reached an agreement. 

Reading the contract, I realized that I'd have to move out of my house just six days after returning from a pre-paid package vacation on Kauai. Yikes! I jumped in my car and drove two days to Utah. I bought a whole bunch of boxes (thank you very much, helpful manager lady at the U-Haul store) and feverishly started packing. 

The buyer--let's call her Sadie-- kept sending messages from realtor to realtor. First, she asked for a new water heater and hand rails on the back steps and snow melters on the roof. Then, she pressured me to vacate the house sooner and sooner, although her loan paperwork was extending out later and later. Every demand was accompanied by the statement that she was an old woman in weak condition and was very stressed. The first time I thought, well, ok, I don't want to stress out any old ladies. The second time I thought, great, thanks for spreading the stress around. After that, I just started thinking of it as "playing the old lady card."

 I packed my grandmother's china into dish pack boxes, then flew to Kauai.


For the first three nights in Kauai, I dreamed about packing boxes. Eventually, I stopped thinking about the house. Then I dreamed that a woman followed me through the breakfast buffet and scolded me about my food choices. So apparently, I hadn't actually relaxed.

But Kauai is lovely, even if you can't relax. And even if it rains a bit. I had a really nice week at a really nice resort with one of my favorite traveling friends, Marian.


 Local arts and crafts fair.

 Rainy day at Waimea Canyon.

 Chickens everywhere!

Even at Wal-Mart, where we bought beach mats and aloha wear. (Between trips to Hawaii, I always forget how much I hate to iron rayon.)

 Night Heron.

 Seriously? I could never afford to live here.

 Hawaiian shave ice from the food trucks.

 Puka Dog menu. Basically a Polish sausage in a bun that's not sliced open, but has a hole punched in it, then fruit-flavored syrup (aka tropical relish) is squirted in. I hope this makes the breakfast buffet lady happier!

Good-bye meal at the airport--a local breakfast favorite, Loco Moco. It's two scoops of rice topped with a hamburger patty topped with a fried egg, all smothered in gravy. It's not as bad as it looks. I would have liked it better without the gravy.

Okay. That's enough relaxing. I flew back to Utah, got some more boxes, and feverishly continued packing.



Sadie continued to demand that I move out earlier and earlier and played the old lady card several times. In the meantime, her lender demanded more and more documentation and delayed the closing four times. 

After I signed the second contract addendum pushing the closing a second day later, I thought why the hell am I rushing around like crazy packing so fast. I called the storage pod company and the movers and rescheduled them both for a day later. I told my realtor I'd be out of the house Friday morning, and the Pod people would collect the pod by noon Saturday. I said tell Sadie and her realtor I'll vacate the house Saturday by noon. Which would have been a full 48 hours earlier than required by our contract.

Sadie told her realtor that as an old lady under incredible stress, she would cancel the whole deal if I didn't vacate by Friday and asked her realtor to start finding her a house to rent for six months. That sounded pretty good to me by this point. But I said I could vacate the house by Friday at 1:00, just not the driveway. The pod would stay until Saturday. Sadie's realtor said that I was an angel. Gee, thanks.

I continued with my feverish packing. (Literally feverish. I'd picked up a virus on the plane coming back from Kauai. Because if you're stressed and exhausted and riding on a plane, you will always get sick a few days later.) A few friends stopped by and helped (thanks Marsha, Carol, and Hannah!). The two movers I hired showed up right on time and packed everything into the pod. They were incredible--worked fast and efficiently and were geniuses at the three-dimensional puzzle of cramming all my stuff into the pod. They were from Smart Move in Salt Lake City.

I signed closing papers. My realtor explained to me that the money from Sadie's loan, once her lender funded the loan, would go first to her title company, then to my title company, and then into my bank account.

Sadie signed closing papers.

The next morning my door bell rang at 8:30. I opened the door and there she stood in all her glory. No, not Sadie. Sadie's realtor--let's call her Sybil. She was a plump forty-year-old with a buoyant mass of blonde hair falling past her shoulders. She was encased in black spandex tights and scoop neck t-shirt, accessorized with knee-high leather boots and leather vest. "I hope I didn't wake you," she said. "I'm Sybil, your buyer's agent."

"Yes, of course," I said. "I recognized you from your photo." She wanted a key. My realtor had put it in a key box in the bushes so that she could meet her client at the house--after the loan was funded--and get the key out of the key box. She preferred to take it with her so she could pass it to her client at the appropriate time without returning to the house. I showed her the key box.

A few minutes later, my realtor called. "So you had a visitor this morning," he said. He knew who it was because the owner of the key box sees a record of who opens it with their code.

"Yes," I said. "I opened the door and there was Sybil in the flesh. And she was showing a lot of it." He put me on speaker phone and made me repeat that so his wife could hear it, too. 

Friday morning I was cleaning the house with help from a neighbor. I had a pile of things in the garage that I needed to load into my car. I drove out to the U-Haul store to return unused boxes for a refund. $40.55! As I returned to the house, I realized I hadn't heard anything from my realtor. I called and asked him if the loan was funded. He said it would be at least another 90 minutes, maybe two hours. This meant that, although I had agreed to vacate the house by 1:00, Sadie would not own the house until about 3:00. He assured me that Sybil would not give the key to the buyer until the loan was finalized. Ha!

At 12:55, a moving truck pulled into the cul-de-sac, circled around, and parked in front of my house. Three young men hopped out and opened the back. I ran outside and told them it would be two hours until they could unload that truck into the house. They tried to be polite, but they laughed a little bit.

At 1:00, a car pulled into the cul-de-sac and parked across the street. Sadie's daughter and son-in-law were ready to help their mom move in. I explained that this was not the legally appropriate moment for them to take possession of the house because the loan had not yet been funded. At 1:02 another car pulled into the cul-de-sac. Here was the stressed-out feeble old lady herself. And she already had the key to my house! I explained to her that she did not yet own the house. She explained to me that she was paying the movers $100/hour so she didn't want to wait two hours. She was incredibly polite--let's call her obsequious-- and kept calling me by name and looking sincere.

I flounced away across the lawn and called my realtor again. He said Fed Ex had messed up a delivery of papers and the first  title company was still waiting. If things extended much longer, the money wouldn't reach the second title company by close of business. And it was Friday afternoon, so the loan wouldn't fund until Monday!

Sadie followed me after a moment. Still very polite, she called me by name again and held out the key. "Here," she said, "I'll give you back the key, Barbara. That would make me feel better, Barbara. I think it'll make you feel better, too, Barbara." I think she wanted me to refuse the key and say it wasn't necessary to return it. I held out my hand and said, "Yes, that would make me feel better."

After consulting with my realtor, I agreed to let Sadie's movers unload the truck into the garage, because she said they needed to get another load at her old house, which they could be working on while we waited on the loan. Sadie and family left to go to lunch. I got the movers' advice on how to place some ceramic lamps in the back of my car. They began unloading the truck, and mentioned that just as she left, Sadie told them not to go get the second load because she didn't want to pay for anymore of their time. I locked all the doors leading into the house. The movers said they wouldn't be surprised if Sadie had made a copy of the key already. And that she'd been yelling at them for two hours that morning, demanding that they keep loading the truck even after it was full. I told one of the movers he couldn't use the bathroom until the loan funded. Ha ha! Then I let him inside.

I hid the key in the end of a downspout. My realtor said he'd tell Sadie's realtor where it was when the loan was finalized. I went up the street and out of sight to a neighbor's house. Forty minutes later, my realtor called to say the money was at the first title company, and that it was safe to let Sadie into the house.

I said, "I'm mad now. Let's wait until it hits the second title company. And then I have another 48 hours under the terms of our contract."

My realtor said, "Now, Barbara. We don't want to do that." He has a very soothing voice when his clients start going over the edge.

As soon as we hung up, I realized I still had the garage door opener. I sprinted to my car and drove fast back to my house. My plan was to slip the door opener into the downspout next to the key so I wouldn't have to talk to Sadie again. But, although it took me about 90 seconds to reach my house, Sadie and family were already there. Either she got the call first, or she really had made a copy of the key! All the doors were open. Sadie was enthroned on a chair by the fireplace, directing her daughter and son-in-law and the movers as they carried things in from the garage.

"Barbara!" she said, as I came up the front steps. "Barbara!" Again, the extreme politeness. It was in such sharp contrast to the way she'd treated me over the last few weeks that it just felt manipulative. Her daughter complimented me on some of the decor she'd noticed in the house before I moved out. She was being nice to compensate for her mother's behavior. I gave her the garage door opener. I managed to say, "I loved living in this house. I hope you'll enjoy it, too." Then I wished I hadn't gone to the trouble the day before of hauling out my giant ladder and changing all the smoke detector batteries that are up in the 14-foot high peak of the ceiling. Which I had done because a feeble old lady was moving in and it would be hard for her to handle it. Ha!

I slept at a favorite neighbor's house that night. I intended to make an early start the next morning driving back to Tucson, but I woke up still exhausted. And then my neighbor cooked bacon. And I ended up sitting and talking with her for a couple of hours because we are going to miss each other and it was hard to say good-bye. Lucky she's Mormon and doesn't drink coffee. I was drinking some no-caffeine instant-imitation-coffee beverage with my bacon, so that drove me out eventually. Then I stopped for a couple of hours on the way out of town to visit with a couple I will also sorely miss.

I only made it as far as Cedar City, Utah the first night. I like the Holiday Inn Express just off the freeway by the south exit there, so I checked in. It's on the edge of town, right next to the Springhill Suites, with nothing else nearby. I put my bag in my room, combed my hair, and went out for dinner. Man, I was tired! But there's a Mexican restaurant in that part of Cedar City that I love--Lupita's. I thought I felt recharged after eating a plate of chicken mole.

I drove back to the hotel, rode the elevator up to the third floor, realized I'd forgotten a map in the car, rode the elevator back down, got the map, rode the elevator back up, went to room 328. It seemed like the room was on the wrong side of the hall. I tried the key card a few times and it wouldn't work. I went back down to the lobby and showed the girl at reception my key and said, "I thought I was in Room 328, but the key won't work. Can you check my room number for me?"

She smiled gently and said, "You're in the Holiday Inn next door. This is Springhill Suites."

So...I was still stressed and exhausted and it was really a good thing I had stopped driving already.


But I did eventually make it back to Tucson. Aah! Feel that warm sun!

I only saw a few of my Utah friends while I was there. I was so frantic trying to get everything packed in just a few days. And I didn't stay longer because I had scheduled a 4-day hiking excursion with some Tucson friends to Havasupai, so I needed to get back in time for that. Which I did, but then I had to cancel because I was still in the grips of the airplane virus. When I saw pictures from the hike, I almost cried because they had so much fun and I missed it. I am really hoping they go again next year. And to my Utah friends that I didn't get to visit, I'm sorry, and I'll come back soon to see everyone....

And one final note on the new dynamic in the Utah neighborhood. Susie is still living in her parents' house. She's either renting it until summer, or renting it permanently, or bought it back from the new owners--just depending on what she says to different neighbors on different days. She's still planning to get her realtor's license, which will only take a few weeks. Susie and Sadie are both strong personalities with strong ideas about what they want and now they live next to each other. Really, it's only a matter of time until a conflict arises. Good luck, ladies! May the best neighbor win!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Three Ladies Walk Into a Bar--Version 2

Why Version 2? Because another blogger has already blogged about this event. You can read Version 1 at "My Life a Bit South of Normal." That's Ann Currie Williams' blog about life in the south. She's funny! I've been following her blog and laughing at her take on things for a couple of years now, so I feel like I know her--kind of--in an online sort of way. But not bad, like from a dating website or anything.

Ann has encouraged me over the past year, as my blog has limped along as I try to settle on a post-Tanzania theme. Every time I lapse for a couple of months, she comments on the next post and welcomes me back online and says that she missed me. When I posted about Tucson's Day of the Dead festivities, Ann commented that she sometimes travels to Phoenix for work, and we started emailing back and forth, plotting a get-together in Arizona.

Linda Medrano, who blogs at "The Good, The Bad, The Worse", also comments and says she missed me when I come back after writing nothing for a couple of months. I don't comment on every one of Linda's posts, because she has about a million followers, and at least 100 of them comment every time she posts. But I do comment sometimes, because she's so outrageous and funny that sometimes I just have to say something! After awhile, I friended her on Facebook, and then I liked her even more. Because every time I post a picture of myself, she compliments my smile. Recently I've noticed that Linda and I often comment together on Ann's posts. It's like we're all linked by our blogs and we're all friends even even though we never met.

So...this past week, Ann made a trip to Phoenix for a week. I drove up from Tucson, only a couple of hours. And when we suggested to Linda that she should fly to Phoenix and meet us for dinner, since we'd both be in the same place for the first time, she immediately agreed. Then she changed her mind and said she'd drive instead of fly. And her husband, Alex would come, too, and they'd bring their dogs. And after 11 hours of driving and an overnight in Indio, there she was in Phoenix.

 That's me, Linda, and Ann after we walked into a bar and found each other. It was easy--we'd all seen pictures of each other online.

And no, neither Linda nor I turned out to be dangerous, contrary to what Ann's family and friends said to her! You can see from the picture above that I am harmless and sweet. You might think Linda looks harmless in that picture, too, but...

...look at her here! No, it was still okay. She was giving Zoe her "crazy eyes," which lets Zoe know who is the alpha female so she'll behave.

And it worked. Zoe calmed right down and snuggled up with me and Ann.

Harry was already calm and didn't need the crazy eyes.

When the three of us sat down together, we all knew some things about each other, from two or more years of reading each others' online thoughts and seeing each others' photos. We chatted about the upcoming wedding of Ann's daughter. I tried to get Linda to fix me up with the hot guy that hangs her Christmas lights. (She said she would, but I guess I'll have to wait until December when he shows up again.) And I regaled them both with stories about Tanzania--most of which they'd already read in my blog. I felt like I was sitting down with old friends rather than a first meeting with somebody I met on the internet.

As the evening progressed, Linda's dangerous side came out more. 

 She noticed Ann's "porcelain white silky smooth" ankles and just had to touch them.

And after that, we all agreed to get together for dinner again the next day. Alex joined us. Linda writes about him often in her blog. She makes him sound very nice. And in person, he is just as nice as in the blog. Thanks, Linda and Alex, for the nice steak dinner!

Ann played it safe and covered her ankles with these fabulous boots. 

But it didn't work, because Linda has a thing for red cowboy boots. Which should have been predictable, based on how often Linda blogs about getting new designer shoes. 

Alex and Linda went to a spring training baseball game the next day. I accompanied my cousin to visit my aunt, who now lives in Phoenix. When she first sees me, I can see it across her face that she is remembering my mother. I love that. And Ann flew home, safe and happy after meeting up with two strangers from the internet!