I open my Hotmail account to an e-mail from favorite realtor, Tracey. Subject: Want a FREE house?. She had my attention.
I open the attachment. The photos are difficult to see. It’s obvious that house needs work, but how bad is it? I call her up. “Tracey, what’s the story?” She tells me that the owner died. The house is now owned by the nephew and he wants nothing to do with it. “Oh yeah… and someone is living inside.” I was told that he had been living in the house for over 10 years with no electricity, no gas, and no running water. Sounds nice.
Tracey explained that there was a water lien on the property for about $350. There were also real estate tax liens totally about $650. If I wanted the house I would have to take it subject to the squatter and the liens. It would be deeded to me under a quitclaim deed, which basically means that the current owner does not guarantee that he/she has clear title to the property. I agreed.
I jumped on the next flight out of Boston. Within a few hours I was standing in front of the “Free House” with one of my maintenance guys and my uncle. The house was decorated for Halloween, but it was June. We joked that it didn’t need any help in looking haunted.
From outside I could see that the shingle roof was in very good condition. The exterior brick also looked great. The front porch post was deteriorated, the brick had crumbled from years of water pouring down from the damaged gutter above. The soffit and fascia were also a mess, rotted and coming apart.
The neighborhood wasn’t bad. Most of the other homes on the street seemed fairly well-maintained. That’s always a good sign.
I knocked. As the door opened, I was immediately blown away by the pungent reeking odor of cat urine. The warm, sour air flowed out the door. I was momentarily paralyzed by the offensive odor and wasn’t sure if I would be able to proceed. A scruffy middle-aged white man answered. Behind him, was a black woman with small pigtails in her hair and brightly colored plastic barrettes. She glared my way. “What do you want?”, he scarfed, with defensive grumble. “Hi, I am the new owner of the house. Would you mind if I walked through”. I didn’t really own the house, but that’s what I said to get him to let me in. It worked.
We entered the house. Distracted by the overwhelming odor, it was difficult to concentrate. It was like my vision was blurred by the sharp biting scent of stale, saturated ammonia. I tried to walk through as quickly as possible and snap as many photos as I could. I knew that I would need them later to actually see the condition. My uncle was in the house for less than 10 seconds and left. He said that he would meet me outside. I knew that it was the odor. I couldn’t blame him.
The “squatter” gave me the grand tour. He changed his attitude as soon as I mentioned that I was the new owner (even though I wasn’t). He was rambling. I could only catch bits and pieces of what he was saying because the smell had disabled my senses. He knew that he would have to move, and was asking if I could give him a month.
The windows were boarded with plywood, the side-door was screwed shut and braced with several 2×4’s. The front door had multiple locks. It was a Fort-Knox, but they really didn’t need any of it. The odor alone would keep anyone away.
The pigtail women was muddering under her breath. She was obviously confused, probably worse. “How can you take Tony’s house? I loved Tony? I was the only one who cried at Tony’s funeral.” She repeated this over and over. I also heard her mention something about me being the devil and having “nasty ways”. “You’ll pay”, she scathed. I ignored her, until she put her hand on my back. “Don’t touch me”, I scolded. She walked away.
The house was grimy and uninhabitable. Every inch was covered in filth. The bedroom walls were black. The “squatter” explained that in the winter they would use kerosene heaters to stay warm. Greenish- grey slimy fluid was dripping from the walls. The kitchen and dining room drywall had fallen. There were cats everywhere. Small bags of trash hung throughout, fly paper coated with dead flies adorned ceilings, and soiled sheets draped windows.
Toys were scattered throughout; on beds, and the floor. I asked the “squatter” if any kids lived there and he quickly blurted, “hell no”. I was relieved.
After a couple of minutes inside, I could take no more. I had seen what I needed to see. Time to get out. I left my maintenance man inside. He was heading to the basement to check out the systems. I told him to report back. Normally, I would look myself, but I could no longer tolerate the odor. I was becoming light-headed and seeing stars from trying to hold my breathe.
I was grateful to be back in the fresh air. Spoke with the “squatter” on the sidewalk for a few minutes. He agreed to vacate within a month. That was easy. I was delighted.
Phoned my realtor and told her that I would take it. Two weeks later, signed and faxed back the documents. Another e-mail from Tracey. “Congrats on your new palace”.
What it needed:
- Complete clean-out, 3 dumpsters of crap
- Busted copper lines repaired
- Boiler repaired
- 3 Coats of primer and paint
- Carpet removed. Wood floors refinished
- Drywall patch in kitchen and dining room
- New bathroom and kitchen floor
- New bathroom vanity and toilette
- Front brick porch post removed and replaced with wood
- Soffit and fascia repaired and wrapped with aluminum
- Water line dug to street and replaced
Sent a few guys in, a month later the FREE house was rented.
Next…. 5 Ways to Get a FREE House