Monday, November 15, 2010

And We Thought We Were So Smart!

Mollie writes:

Well, Roger and Joy are off on a trip to planet reality.  They are considering buying a home somewhere in the 'burbs of our local metropolis.  Of course, they are young, we have a tempestuous economy, there are a lot of homes for sale out there with baggage (think foreclosure and short sells), and you have the picture.

Did I mention that they are babies?  OUR babies?

It can't be easy.  When John and I bought our first house, we got hosed.  Nope, I'm not talking about the home we ultimately bought, I'm talking about the first home where we invested money.  I'll try to make the retelling easy - but in the end, getting hosed never results in an easy retelling.

Back in the 70's, my parents had built a home in a southern suburb on Portland, Oregon.  It was a lovely place, with roomy rooms, good structure, nice finish work, the whole shebang.  We liked their builder, so we began talking with him about building a home for us.

We weren't in my parents price range.  If we were going to build something, it would be small and merely '"sufficient" for our needs - not the house of our dreams, but a house to dream in while we were building equity.

We settled on a small split level, and paid to have plans made up.  The house itself would have 1600 possible square feet, only 1100 finished, with the basement being completed as money presented itself.  Our builder had a lot chosen in a small neighborhood he was developing, and work got underway.

We watched progress as the lot was cleared and building began.  Every time we met with our builder to discuss progress on the house, we were prepared to sign papers, but he kept on forgetting to bring them.  We thought nothing of it since he had sold himself as a "devout Christian" and my parents were pleased with the job he'd done for them.

Well, there was a hustle in progress, and we were the patsies.   After significant work was done on the house, it was up and framed, the builder came along and informed us that he was selling "our" house to someone else for twenty percent more than we'd agreed (orally) to pay.  Since we had nothing in writing (and in real estate, if it ain't in writing, it ain't anything) we were challenged to come up with more money.

As it turns out, the builder had gone to the bank to arrange financing for his development with our drawings as proof that he had a buyer for the first house.  He'd fully expected us to cave in and pay more for a house that we were, by then, emotionally attached to.

He was wrong.  Since neither one of us had anything in writing, we felt free to back out.  AND, after speaking to a golfing friend of my dad (who just happened to be a federal judge!) we sent the builder a bill for the use of OUR plans for the beginning of his development.

As it turned out, there was NO other buyer, it was a fictional person the builder created to up the price on the house.  The bank got wind of this and realized that this development loan was based on buyers who weren't contracted to buy the house.  Money for the house dried up immediately and the builder was left with a development with no buyers and no money.  The house we started sat unfinished for over a year.

And, strangely, the builder's credit dried up.

We pressed the issue and threatened the builder with fraud if he didn't reimburse us for the plans.  Ultimately, he did, but it was a while before he did.  Meanwhile, we started searching for a house that was within our price range, and life moved on.

Thirty-three years later, we ARE in the house of our dreams.  Where, in the past, we've purchased homes with the future in mind, now we are sitting pretty in a house that is perfect for the here and now.  But, that didn't happen overnight, and not without a lot of scarring.

So, a word to the wise.  If it ain't in writing, it ain't.  If someone has done business with your parents, SO WHAT!  And, and this is key, if the other party brings God into the picture, run, don't walk, to the nearest exit.

What crummy advice to give our kids!  We've refrained from telling them the details until now (and now, for heaven's sake, I'm blogging it!).  But, things worked out in the end, at least for us (the builder might have another story).

So remember, "In God we trust - all others pay cash" (Jean Shepherd)!

Good luck, kids.  And, remember we're there with all our advice and scar tissue!


  1. Ouuuuch! I'm glad you brought it home to the builder, though! What a sleaze.

  2. I know. Wonder where he is now?


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