Sunday, December 20, 2015

Nimo's Future Home, part 3

The first thing that needed to happen during our 60-day study period was a title search.  I thought the purpose of the title search was to find out if there was a right-of-way buried in the history of the property as well as to ensure that the title was "clean," i.e. legally transferable without issues.  It turns out that the title company thought it was just the latter.  After a little over a week, we had the results of a standard 60-year title search which showed a clean title, but no right-of-way, other than what I already knew from the county's mapping database.  So, I called the attorney at the title company to ask if the search could be expanded so that we could find out if there was some kind of very old right-of-way in the property's past.  (I should note that I was paying for said title search and title insurance...)  That was when I got a huge lecture from the attorney about how the property was being sold as a landlocked property and the price was commensurate with that lack of access.  "You can't just find access by making a phone call," he told me.  And then he basically hung up on me.  Huh.  I really wanted to fire the title company at that point, but I couldn't do it easily because we had agreed to use the company as part of our agreement with the real estate agent and the company was listed on our purchase contract. 

I had three options at that point.  I could hire my own title examiner outside of the title company, which I had done through an attorney the previous year when I had looked at a different property.  Because of the complicated legal issues, that title search had cost $800, and I suspected one going back 100 or even 200+ years could get expensive really fast.  And I might uncover nothing.  Or what I uncovered might be something, but might still require a lot of work and money to yield the type of access that I wanted (i.e. motorized vehicle versus horse and buggy).

My second option was to go to the County's offices and see if I could uncover something on my own.  The problem with that option was that it was September, I currently had visitors, Gemma's birthday was coming up, and I had taken time off of work at the busiest time of the year.  So I would be behind on work and couldn't take more time off to spend it in the dusty halls of county records.  Plus, I had a three-year-old who would probably not be super tolerant of spending a lot of time looking through old plat books.

My third option was to pursue buying one of the three one-acre lots between my target property and the road.  I decided to go with that option.  I had gotten a couple of referrals for real estate attorneys from my realtor because the attorney I'd used before had done a good job, but I thought he moved more slowly than what I needed.  I choose one of the attorneys my realtor recommended instead and set up a consultation to explain what I wanted to do, which was send a letter to each of the three property owners asking if they were interested in selling.

The attorney suggested that I do the letter on my own to save money and then bring him in if/when I had a verbal/informal agreement with a land owner.  So I wrote the letter and had the attorney check it out before sending it.  He had no suggestions for improving it, so I sent it out and crossed my fingers.

I had given the land-owners about three weeks to get back to me because I needed enough time to negotiate an agreement, sign the paperwork, and do a title search and survey on the one-acre lot before the end of the 60-day study period on the five-acre lot.  My hope was that one of them would get back to me and we could negotiate a price at or below the assessed value of the lot, so I could stay within my budget.

So I waited, and waited, and waited.  I had really hoped someone might get back to me quickly, but it was just a few days before my deadline when I finally got a call from one of the land owners.  He was willing to sell.  Deep breath.  I made an offer right on the phone.  It was a little less than the assessed value (although I thought the assessed value was a tad high) and it gave me just a bit of breathing room in my budget to cover all the fees associated with buying property as well as the surveys and just a little bit more for some initial site work.  The seller wanted to think about the price for a bit, which seemed reasonable.  So I waited some more, and after a few days, he got back to me and confirmed the deal by e-mail.  I e-mailed back that I would work on getting a purchase contract to him later that week, and spent some time being pretty impressed with myself:)

I contacted my attorney and requested a purchase contract.  And while I wasn't in a huge hurry - it's not like the property was on the market and I was competing with other buyers - I did want to keep the momentum moving and make sure the one-acre lot would have the access to the 5-acre lot that was shown on the tax map.  And I waited, and I waited, and I waited.  I waited 4 days for a purchase contract.  Finally, I decided that if the attorney couldn't turn around what was a boilerplate contract within 4 days, he was not the right person for me to be working with.  I was prepared to call him the next day and explain I would be using someone else when I got an e-mail from the seller of the one-acre lot.  There was a problem with the lot, was what it said.  A problem?  As in it disappeared?  It got blown up?  Nuclear waste was accidentally disposed on it?  I couldn't even imagine what the problem could be.

I called the seller the next day because it was late when I saw the e-mail.  It turned out the problem was that another buyer had in fact outbid me by $20,000 on the lot, and the seller had decided to go with that offer instead.  While I couldn't blame him for choosing a higher offer, I was floored.  How could there be that kind of competition for a lot that wasn't even on the market?  My realtor was suspicious that it was a bluff designed to get me to offer more money.  The problem was that I didn't have any more money to offer.  And, the gentleman had seemed like a decent guy when I talked to him.  He also said that his nephew owned one of the other three lots I was interested in, and the nephew would be willing to sell to me.  But I was going to have to wait to hear from him and go through the whole negotiation process again.  And of course, the nephew would know that his uncle had gotten quite a bit more money than the assessed value.  Plus, because all these lots were part of the same old estate, I had to assume the owners of the various lots knew my situation.  If I didn't buy a lot to get access, I'd have to file a very expensive lawsuit.  That put me in no position to bargain.

So, I waited and I waited and I waited.  After several days went by without me hearing from the nephew, I called the uncle and asked if the nephew was really interested in selling his lot.  The uncle assured me he was and seemed surprised that I hadn't heard from him.  (I know what you're thinking, and I was thinking it too at the time, but I felt like I needed to fully explore the option.)

Meanwhile, my deadline to make the deal had passed and guess what?  I still hadn't heard from my attorney.  So I called his office to make a big fuss about not getting a purchase contract in what I considered a timely manner.  And how that lack of contract may have cost me the whole deal.  I was assured I would be getting a contract soon.  And I waited and I waited and I waited...

Finally, I got a purchase contract from my attorney two days after he said he'd have it done.  As luck would have it, I got a call from the nephew that same day.  I negotiated a new deal that cost me a little more, but not much, and this particular lot was actually a little better in terms of overlap with the 5-acre lot, so it was fine.  But I wasn't taking any chances on being outbid or the seller changing his mind.  I filled out the contract, printed two copies, and drove over to the seller's house (it turned out he didn't live that far from me).

The seller looked over the contract and agreed to the terms (it was a really simple contract with the only contingency being a 30-day study period to allow me to confirm clear title and that the lot was where it was supposed to be).  Unfortunately, his wife needed to sign to and she wasn't home from work yet.  And they were leaving for a week's vacation the next morning.  I might possibly have started hyperventilating at that point as I tried very hard to remain calm and ask if he would mind dropping the signed contract in the mail the next day before they headed out of town.  He said he would, and I believed him.  We actually found that we had a connection in the horse world and I was kind of excited about that.  The connection was a good one and I think it may have eased the awkwardness of two very different people negotiating over a land deal.

That was a Thursday night.  So theoretically my contract would be in the mail on Friday, and I would likely have to wait until Monday or Tuesday to get it...

So I waited on Friday, and Saturday, and Sunday.  And then the mail came on Monday and along with it was my signed contract.  Eureka!  Now I was in good shape.  I had access to the five-acre lot through the one-acre lot and I had two ratified contracts.

But before y'all go celebrating, there were still hoops to jump through.  At this point, we were days from the end of the study period on the five-acre lot and I still needed a survey on the five-acre lot plus a title search and a survey on the one-acre lot to tie up the loose ends.

I got in touch with my attorney (who I had wanted to get rid of, but much like the title company, I was kind of stuck with him because of the timing consideration) and explained the urgency of getting a title search and survey done within a week.  I was assured it would be handled.

So I waited and I waited and I waited to get the results.  And nothing.  For some reason, the title search was taking longer than usual and no one ever ordered the survey.  (Bangs head into wall over and over.)

And my husband and I had to make a choice.  We could see if the seller of the five-acre lot would extend our study period or we could go forward with closing and hope everything worked out.  We decided to go with the latter choice.  Before you wonder if we'd lost our minds, here's what we knew.  We could always sue for access. If our fees ended up in the lower part of the estimate we got ($50K), we would still be within our budget.  If our fees ended up in the upper part of the estimate ($100K), we would have exceeded our budget, but we would still be coming in below market value for a 6-acre property.  And the expenses would likely be incurred over a period of 2-3 years, so we could budget for them.

But, we also knew from the title search on the five-acre property that a survey had been done in 1947, when all the lots were created from a large estate.  That survey had used iron pipes to mark the property corners for the five-acre lot (and most probably for the one-acre lot), so we weren't dealing with the metes and bounds system of defining property boundaries (think "123 paces NW from the big oak tree to the river, then 47 paces to the red rock...").  We were dealing with a modern method and that meant the survey we had from 1947 was likely quite accurate.  Which meant that one-acre lot boundaries on the tax map were also pretty accurate and we had a good 100 feet of overlap between the two properties, which would be more than enough to accommodate a driveway even if minor discrepancies showed up in an on-the-ground survey.

Of course there could be problems with the title on the one-acre lot, but we decided that if there were, we would deal with them when we found them.  Because the reality was that there were no five- (much less six) acre properties on the market in our price range.  There was one five-acre lot that was close, but it was heavily forested all the way up to the road, the terrain wasn't quite as level, and my guess (based on the price) is that the lot was too narrow for a barn.  All other five+ acre lots would be well outside of our price range and exceeded the value of what we would pay for the five-acre lot and an expensive lawsuit.  We felt that the lot we had a contract on was our least expensive option for obtaining land.

So we told the realtor to schedule the closing.  And on November 11, we closed on the five-acre lot.  We had never seen it or set foot on it.  And until a few days before the closing, I actually thought it was on the other side of the road than what it was.  I can be forgiven for that mistake, though, because technically, the survey we had was upside down.  For some reason, they didn't pay any attention to North when they drew it.  Anyway, we knew approximately where it was from the road, and we'd seen satellite views of it using the county's map system, but we did buy the property sight unseen.

Because of the outstanding contract on the one-acre lot, our closing was a bit anti-climactic.  However, I did get an official copy of the survey we'd paid to have done the previous week, and guess what?  The surveyors noted an old road bed and what looked like a right of way extending beyond the property all the way to the road.  It was a long, convoluted route that had a very tight turn and would be less than ideal for a horse trailer, but it was there.  The title company seemed to not recognize the significance of it and there may be a reason for that.  Without doing a full title search on the other properties that the road bed went through, it was impossible to know if it gave the kind of access we would need to get to our lot, but it was interesting to note for future reference.  (I should mention that we were not working with a lender for this deal.  If we had been, the lender would never have agreed to finance the sale because of the access issue.)

Now, I needed to turn my attention to the one-acre lot.  To find out how it worked out, check back tomorrow!:)


  1. All this anticipation...arghh! I can't take it much longer!

  2. Aarrgghh is right! But Im enjoying all your tenacity through all this!