Vampire Properties

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I just went out doing some general market scouting. Looked at ten properties, and at least three were of a sort that I've started calling "vampire properties." One more reason you want a good buyer's agent.

Like a mythical vampire, these properties are very charming on the surface, luring in the innocent victims with brand new flooring, new roof tiles, and new paint. All the relatively cheap stuff that inexperienced buyers love. There might even be a new spa in the back yard. They call the listing agent and fall in love with the property. They put in an offer, which is quickly accepted, buy the property and move in.

Then the troubles start. Those brand new roofing tiles get ripped off the rotten substructure the first time a good wind comes up. The new owners notice that the travertine floor tiles are separating, and eventually, when one comes loose, find that there's a two inch wide crack in the foundation that runs the width of the house. That beautiful new tile in the bathroom has to come out because they discover the green board is rotten, and the framing boards as well.

It'd be better if the property was sucking your blood. At least that's covered by health insurance if you've got it. But it's got its fangs permanently embedded in your bank account, instead. None of this stuff is covered by home owner's insurance, new home warranties, or anything else. Your home owner's insurance might replace the roof tiles (pulled off by wind, which is usually a covered peril), but the rotten structure underneath is your problem, caused by the normal wear of time.

In most cases, I find it hard to believe that the previous owners didn't know about this stuff. That's what the brand new facade is about. They figured a quick surface fix - the home owner's equivalent of a cheap paint job over a rusted car body - and they unload the lemon on some unsuspecting chump and walk away. Quickly.

For any of those sort of people reading this, I've got to tell you that the lawyers will find you. But for the buyers in the situation, the lawsuit - which will take years, even assuming that they win and if the judgment is paid - is a poor substitute for not getting into the property in the first place. Particularly if, as seems to be the usual case, they stretched to the extreme limit of their budget or beyond in order to afford the property.

It is far preferable, to all parties, to have the issues dealt with before the sale is consummated.

Now most buyer's agents aren't licensed inspectors, and I'm not one of the few. You still want an full-on building inspection. That doesn't mean agents can't spot stuff before you have a purchase contract, come up with a deposit, and spend hundreds for an inspection. All of this is called "buy in," and works off of a phenomenon psychologists call cognitive dissonance. You've said you want it, you work really hard and jump through all of these hoops to get it, and when you find out how bad it really is, you keep going because you are so mentally committed, because you've done all this stuff. If it's something I can spot, wouldn't you rather find out before you do all of that work?

The listing agent certainly won't tell you. They'll have you sign a standard disclaimer advising you to get an inspection. Yes, they have to help fill out the disclosures, but if they're not licensed inspectors, they can't be blamed for not knowing, can they? Their responsibility is to get the best possible deal for the sellers. They have very little responsibility to the buyer. You can't blame listing agents for doing their job (You can blame them for lying).

It's almost inevitable that the owners of vampire properties price the property like something out of Big Al's Discount Used Car Lot. "Cream puff, baby! One owner, a little old lady who only lived in it on Sundays." They want top dollar and then some. I understand, but I'm not going along and neither are my clients if I can help it. I saw one today where the list price was $40,000 more than it should have been if it wasn't a vampire. The agents should know better, assuming they are not deliberately "buying a listing." Price it to market if you want to move, and that includes a hefty discount for not being the one who has to hassle with fixing it. If you want that money in your pocket yourself, fix the problem yourself. You'll also interest a better grade of potential buyer, not to mention more buyers than just the simpleton who happened to win the lottery.

I'd rather deal with a property where the issues are out in the open. I also found one property today that has a crack across the living room floor, out in the open due the aftermath of an obvious flood, but I can find buyers who know how to deal with that (If the lot is level, it's not such a big deal, and can often be fixed surprisingly cheap). You don't have a listing agent pretending to drool over beautiful flooring that is going to have to be replaced anyway. Furthermore, it indicates that the listing agent, at least, doesn't have their head stuck in the Land of Wishful Thinking, so if I take a client who is interested despite the flaws out to the view the property, we're all pretty much on the same page as to what's going on with the property, and we have the makings of a reasonable negotiation. If the listing agent is in the Land of Wishful Thinking, I'm wasting my time to look and the client's also if I show it to them.

Vampire properties are out there. In markets such as this one, they are both increasingly common and deadly to your financial future. You want somebody whose job it is to look past the beautiful surface to the very real issues beneath. If you buy a vampire, it's worse than a disastrous marriage, because the financial consequences are likely to follow you long after your abusive partner is history.

Caveat Emptor


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Real Estate information is asymmetrical. One of the central facts of real estate transactions is that the seller always knows more than the buyer. They've lived in the property for years, and had to deal with any defects first hand.... Read More

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on January 25, 2007 10:00 AM.

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