Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Your Basement Smells Like Pussy: A Tale of Real Estate Woe

In 2007, when The Lovely Becky and I moved from Iowa City to da UP, we sold our house in less than a day. The realtor put the sign on the lawn in the morning, and before the sun set, we had an offer that we accepted. No muss, no fuss, just the usual cleaning and moving out.

In 2010, after being on the market for three months, we got a very shitty offer on our UP house. We negotiated our way to a smelly offer, one that was substantially less than what we paid but acceptable in a market where foreclosed McMansions litter the landscape like used Porta-Johns after a Lollapalooza concert.

My Spidey sense tingled a bit when the buyers, who I will dub Lord and Lady Douchebag, started off with their shitty offer. When I told my father—the former Navy man turned car dealership manager, a man who is the best salesman I know—what they offered, he said that I should tell them I would burn the place to the ground before I’d give the house away at that price. Maybe I would have in 2007. But this was 2010, and not only was it a buyer’s market, I was in the UP and looking to get out of it like a bad marriage.

I’ve tried over the last three years to not bad mouth the UP too much. I’ve often failed, and in retrospect, it’s not the UP, it’s me. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula does indeed have a lot to offer. It’s beautiful, and thanks to the size of Lake Superior and the presence of big-ass tanker ships moving in and out, Marquette often felt more like a quaint Atlantic seaside town instead of a Great Lakes hamlet. There were some creature comforts of civilization like Starbucks and a very good hair salon. However, the very fact that those two things stick out for me says a lot about why I was not meant for the UP. The three main S’s of life in the UP—stalking, skinning, and shoveling—did not mesh with mine—shopping, shows, and summer. I was the Zsa Zsa to the UP’s Eddie Albert (ed. that's Eva to Eddie Albert, doh! Thanks to Terry for the correction). And unlike the 200-inch winter we had two years ago, this break-up was not bitter. I just wanted us to go our separate ways and meet other people and places we were better suited for. I was even willing to give the UP the one thing I loved in the final settlement: our house.

The house was critical to making three years in the Great White Near North, because for at least half the year, I didn’t want to go outside. The finished attic in particular was my salvation: it not only served as my home office and offered a beautiful lake view, but it eventually became my first man-cave where I could watch movies and Rock Band-out to my heart’s content. (Given that it was at the top of the house and had a lot of windows, I couldn’t really call it a man-cave, so I instead dubbed it The Cock Pit.) Even the basement was perfect for our needs. It was an old, unfinished room we could use for storage and for the fleet of cat boxes that serviced our three fuzzy, purring shit machines.

Said shit machines were initially a thorn in our side during the selling process. We had showings, but they tended to complain about the cat smell in the basement. The basement did indeed have a cat smell, because that’s where the cats were (duh!). We also had one cat with a kidney problem who started peeing on the floor during the past year. We cleaned the basement frequently but you can only do so much to keep that kind of environment bakery fresh. We didn’t worry about it too much, however, because we figured someone would come along who saw the basement for what it was: an old, ugly place to store Christmas decorations, cleaning supplies, and cat accoutrements.

Three months into the process, Lord and Lady Douchebag appeared. They visited the house, and the initial report was that they liked it a lot and that the basement was not a big deal. They liked it enough to come for a second showing that lasted nearly two hours, with TLB and I driving by the home during the second hour knowing that every minute longer they took probably meant they were seriously interested. They made their shitty offer, we negotiated to the smelly one, and we proceeded to the seller’s agreement. We even agreed to their request to be out in 30 days.

They had a couple of contingencies, one of which was that we have the basement professionally cleaned “to their satisfaction.” At the time, that didn’t seem like a big deal to us, as we had planned all along to get the basement cleaned by some pros. When TLB and I had moved into the place, it had been left in a pretty dirty state, and we vowed to pass it along to our buyers in a state so scrubbed it would give Mr. Clean an erection.

The inspection is where things began to go to shit, literally. Our agent called us and said the buyers had gotten adamant that they would not buy the house if the basement smelled like cat. We were caught off guard by the shift in tone, but thought we found the culprit: our middle cat, Stinky. We had stuck him and the others in their cat carriers during the inspection, and Stinky had pooped in his cage while the buyers were inspecting the house. We understood their concerns and reiterated that we’d get the basement cleaned. In fact, we boarded the cats so that said scrubbed basement would not be touched by feline ass again.

The cleaners came and did a number on the basement with one of those scrubbers like you see in grocery stores, working the floor hard enough to take off some of the paint. Post-clean, the basement smelled free of cat. The Lovely Becky and I left for the weekend to start the first phase of our move to Illinois, confident we had held up our end of the bargain.

The following Monday, our panicky agent called us. The buyers had come to sniff the basement and were not happy. They still insisted that the basement smelled like cat.

It was four days before we were supposed to close.

TLB and I mobilized, planning to leave our daughter Libby with my mother-in-law and heading back to the UP on Tuesday, with my father-in-law joining us to provide additional elbow grease and olfactory analysis. Our agent also suggested we talk to the house inspector for cleaning suggestions. Apparently he had had fuel oil spilled in his basement, and he recommended a product that had removed the smell. Marquette was not a center of janitorial supplies, however, and TLB had to go online to a New York company to order the product and pay $200 for overnight shipping.

The next morning, just before we left, the owner of the New York janitorial supply company called TLB. We’ll call him “Bobby.” The first thing Bobby asked TLB was, “What’s with this crazy shipping?” TLB explained the predicament. “You don’t want that stuff,” Bobby said about what she ordered. “I been in this business 20 years, I’ll give you something better.” We suspected that Bobby knew not only how to make the evidence of cats disappear, if you know what I’m talking about.

We returned to our house. The basement smelled...like an musty, old, unfinished basement. It did not smell like cat pee. If we got down on our hands and knees, we found a few faint hot spots, but overall it didn’t seem like enough to derail the deal. We figured we could beat it.

We started with a pre-Bobby barrage of hydrogen peroxide, letting that work its bleachy magic overnight. The next day UPS arrived with our assortment of Bobby-approved products, mostly enzyme cleaners good for urine, vomit, blood, and guys who talk. Then, just to be My-Cousin-Vinny sure, we mopped up with Mr. Clean orange with Febreeze. Even on my hands and knees, I could smell no cat, just the scent of hard work and modern chemistry. Our agent and her assistant came over, and both concluded that the basement smelled fine. “I don’t smell cat,” the assistant said. “It just smells like an old Michigan basement.”

Confident that the buyers would agree, we waited for them to come over and smell the scent of victory. Except that they didn’t want to come over. In a note to their agent that we saw, they said they felt “pressured” into making a decision, had called off the closing, and wanted to wait until the following Monday.

I went Lou Ferrigno on our agent. Granted, she was the messenger, but frankly she had been very passive and annoying during the process. She had been badgering us with questions about how we cleaned the basement and bringing in a different cleaning company instead of, you know, selling the goddamned house. I laid out a cell-phone salvo where I said I was ready to blow the whole deal up just to keep Lord and Lady Douchebag from owning the house. We had left our child behind to meet their demands, and they couldn’t deign to visit us because they felt “pressured”? Our agent tried to calm me down, and at one point changed the topic to other possible cleaning solutions. “I don’t want to talk about fucking cleaning products!” I said. “You are a real estate agent, not some cleaning expert.”

If the squeaky wheel gets the grease, then the screaming wheel gets the KY, because lo and behold, Lord and Lady Douchebag changed their minds and said they would come on Friday. That happened to be the day the movers came, because while Lord Douchebag was cavalier about the closing date, we still had to stick to the moving date we had arranged in order to meet their Douchebag demands. Their highnesses came, they smelled and we conquered. Our agent said that they didn’t smell anything. Huzzah!

Except not. The Douchebags were worried that the smell would come back, like a monster from Stephen King’s Pet Dysentery. They still wanted to smell it again Monday. TLB, also known in our relationship as “The Smart One,” figured the deal was over, and that they were just delaying the inevitable. I, known as “The Other One,” thought we still had a chance.

Guess who was right?

Our agent called on Monday. The Douchebags had given the basement four nostrils down, and I knew for a fact that they were just looking for a way to back out. We were positive the basement was fine, fine enough that what had not seemed like a big issue to them shouldn’t have become a deal breaker later on.

In the end, it’s not so much that they didn’t buy the house that angered me, it’s the way they didn’t buy the house. The LeBronned us for a few weeks instead of just making up their minds and letting us know. The worst part was the inconsideration. They treated the whole process like they were shopping for fruit, as if our house was a cantaloupe they could tap for a while and put back whenever they wanted. They didn’t seem to comprehend that, in order for them to move in, people had to actually move out.

So, we’re left with an empty (albeit cleaned) house in Marquette that’s still on the market, with a sad, empty Cock Pit just waiting to shake again with the sound of poorly played plastic drums. Meanwhile, we received no earnest money from his Lordship, because you can’t disprove a subjective condition. They weren’t satisfied, ergo we got no money for taking our house off the market during the 30 days we tried to please them. I blame myself for not being more savvy and will definitely never agree to something like that again.

We are, however, out of the UP. Despite all the frustration, expense, and aggravation this has caused...despite the last month leaving me mentally and physically exhausted, to the point where creating a Top Ten full of low-hanging dick jokes seemed too taxing...despite having to take care of a house I no longer live in...I’m no longer dealing with all of this while living in the second-snowiest city in the lower 48. I’ll take going through The Tale of Lord and Lady Douchebag by Alexander Dumbass over not having a way out of the UP. Now I just hope we find a buyer and that the house finds an owner who appreciates it, one who will love what the UP has to offer.

17 comments:

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Well that sux.

Funny thing, I'm in the real estate bidness, after all these years (I've never owned anything, been a renter all me life).

Commercial real estate, to be exact.

But yeah, it sux.
~

fish said...

Shit. And not the cat kind.

Churlita said...

I'm sorry. I hate that kind of crap and people with entitlement issues. I hope you sell it soon and for more money.

Von said...

Man. People realllllly suck.
Lame.
Sorry to hear that Brando.
They be lucky I have zero plans to go to the UP any time soon.....

Jennifer said...

I think we bought this place from Lord and Lady Douchebag, just at the opposite end of the market... we could request nothing, had to pay full price, and somehow just asking to buy was almost a deal breaker.

Good luck, Brando! We're glad you're back to mellow Chicago winters. :)

wv?? pees :) No doubt, cat pees...

Brando said...

Thanks, guys. Been a tough month, but I'm still glad we're out of the UP before the winter.

Substance McGravitas said...

Turds.

blue girl said...

Brando, this was a really well written post! Your righteous anger shone through like the hot burning sun!

Man, what a total drag to the Nth degree. I can relate to this post so much you wouldn't believe -- right down to the cat with kidney problems.

We have someone coming through our house this morning at 11. And I'm heading out now to take Woody to the kitty hotel again. Can't pick him up till Tues cuz we have an open house Sun and a broker's open on Tues.

We put our house on the market last week. Haven't had an offer yet -- ha! As if! And my broker keeps telling us to prepare ourselves for really bad offers. I think I'm gonna make her counter offer $1 less than what we're asking when that happens. Yeah, I know it's immature, but at least it'll make me laugh.

So sorry about your experience. People STINK! Here's hoping you get a great offer and soon.

blue girl said...

And Jennifer, we had the same experience as you when we bought our house. We made an initial offer and they were like, "No." Everything we asked, they were like, "No." lol

I really need something like me to come and look at my house now and I have to be prepared to be all "No."

almostinfamous said...

sorry to hear about your woes, Brando... although you did get a dirty blog title out of it so far.

here's hoping your next offer is a realistic one.

Terry David said...

That was Eva, not Zha Zha. Eva died in 1995. Zha Zha is still living and having hips and whatnot replaced.

While Eva was known for "Green Acres," Zha Zha is best known (in my troubled mind, anyway) for her starring roll in "Queen From Outer Space." Rumor has it that she once tried to purchase every copy of the film in existence to destroy it. Fortunately, she failed so that we may continue to enjoy one of history's more interesting cinematic wonders.

Speaking of insults, sorry to say that the above info will do nothing to insulate you from the insufferable poopie-heads who are enabled by economic woes in both the housing and labor markets. Hang in there.

Brando said...

Terry, can't believe I missed that. Well, once you've had one Gabor sister, you've had them all.

aif, funny thing about the title: when I told it to TLB, she stopped what she was doing and laughed for a good minute before saying, "what's wrong with you?" That's like a comedy metal detector going off.

BG, good luck on your place, and don't take flak from any royal Douchebags.

Kathleen said...

so I instead dubbed it The Cock Pit

and that is why Brando is Brando, and we love you.

word ver: comic

Mandos said...

Nothing to add, but

word verification: precoc

(oops, forgot to actually enter it)

word verification: rental

fish said...

Well if they were douchebags, shouldn't they be able to get the pussy smell out themselves?

Brando said...

Ha, nice one, fish. Perhaps "Homeowner Hybiscus" would be a good scent choice.

Chuckles said...

If it had a landing pad for a hunting helicopter, I bet you would find lots of takers. You should install one of those.

My brother ended up paying someone to buy his house in Baltimore in 2008. I thought this was crappy, until I looked at the housing listings in my soon to be area of Virginia. There are lots of things in our price range, if I were still able to work my old job as a waiter/shift manager, which blows my mind. My mind was slightly less blown when I realized that most of the houses we were skimming were foreclosures or pre-foreclosure sales. Rough.