Monthly Archives: February 2014

Buyer Beware, Especially When Listing Agents Lie Like A Rug, Part II.

In the last post, part I, I described how we placed an offer on a property where the listing agent misrepresented (by omission or negligence) relevant details about a house, and refused to present our offer to the seller.  Furthermore, she told us that they were taking the property off the market rather than deal with our low-ball offer.

You can imagine our surprise when we found out they were holding an open house. 

I assumed that the someone neglected to update the MLS or websites.  There is no way they would be holding an open house after they pulled the house off the market. 

However, today we had planned to visit four other open houses.  I told my wife we would drop by to see if they really were holding an open house.

Welcome to Our Open House!

We drove up and sure enough, the area around the house was festooned with open house signs and arrows pointing to the front door.

We had been lied to, again, by the listing agent. 

We walked up and rang the doorbell.  An older man’s voiced graciously beckoned us in.  We knocked the snow off our shoes, removed them, and we started to look at the property again.

The real estate agent was talking with a couple.  The husband was talking.  I got the feeling he was the type that liked to talk, who liked to impress people with his intimate knowledge of unimportant things.  The agent was nodding and smiling.

We quietly drifted through the house looking at everything again.

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I felt a sense of sadness when I looked into the nursery this time.  In a few months, the air outside will be filled with the sound of jack-hammers, the whine of diesel backhoes, and heavy machinery angrily digging through the cold earth.  The sellers must be desperate to leave this place.

As we drifted down into the basement, the wet musty smell had been replaced by incense, but the place looked different.  Even though they had added lights to brighten the place up, somehow the place looked smaller and more awkwardly laid out.  We saw things we missed before.

We went back upstairs and by then, the other couple had left.  The real estate agent met us with a big practiced smile.  He asked us to put our names down on a sign in sheet.

I looked at the information sheet and saw the disclosure booklet, which was had many pages about the surrounding community and remarkably few words about the “City project” and assessment.

I saw they had MLS printouts and I asked about the city project.  The agent said, "It’s just a little utility work; I think they did most of it already."  That was eerily similar to the lie my real estate agent was told by the listing agent.

They are actively lying to people to sell the house.

I had originally envisioned confronting the listing agent, but I felt sorry for the family.  There were no indignant declarations, or shouts; there was no confrontation or profanity.  We just left without a word.

As we left, a two young boys raced past me into the house.  A husky man with a salt and pepper beard followed.  Lastly, a small framed woman drifted by, holding an infant

She must have seen the pictures of the nursery and thought it was a great house for an infant.

Buyer Beware, Especially When Listing Agents Lie Like A Rug, Part I.

In the last few weeks, we’ve been actively trying to find and purchase our first home.

Experienced real estate agent. check.  Buyers representation agreement. check.  Mortgage pre-approval and submission of a stack of tax returns, bank statements and other financial documents.  check.   The only thing left was to find a house and buy it.

Unfortunately, we had no idea we were stepping into a distorted world of house flippers, hucksters, and sellers who have a detached sense or reality. 

But what happened this week made me frustrated and angry.

Last week, we looked at house #5 with our real estate agent.  While the price was substantially more than most other houses in the neighborhood (cost per square foot), it was perfect.  The only defect was that the garage dumped into a very busy county road. Other than that, we loved it.

After the showing, we were ready to make an offer just as soon as I figured out what a fair price was.  I looked at the MLS sheet again, and saw some terse verbiage about a city project and assessment. The MLS remarks had a city project id, there was an assessment, and, something about a payment to the buyer from the city for replacing a retaining wall and fence. 

My buyer’s agent called the listing agent, who casually explained that it was “a little utility work and she thinks they completed most of it.” A URL was provided that led to some newsletters the county sent out several years ago when they were voting for the project.

My agent suggested I call the city.  He said he would do it if we wanted, but it was probably better if I had all my questions answered directly.  I agreed and I said no problem.  After all, it’s only a little utility work and most of it has been completed. 

Major and Extreme Disruption

The next day, once I caught up with all my work, I took a break and snuck into a quiet conference room.  I plopped down into a chair, pulled out my notepad and started dialing the city.

I called the city’s main switchboard, and after I was transferred several times, I finally connected with someone in the city’s engineering department.

“Hi.  I’m hoping you can help, or point me to someone who can.  I’m putting an offer on a house and I have a few questions about some utility work.”  I said.

“I definitely can help.  What’s the address?”  she cheerfully asked.  I gave the city employee the address.  “Oh” her tone immediately changed from one of cheerfulness to quiet resignation.  “what questions can I answer?” 

I made mistake of asking the general question, “can you describe what kind of impact the construction will have?”  That is the exact moment when the fire hose of bad news started to flow.

You see, when a listing agent says, “a little utility work,” it means a three year major construction project.

The city engineer basically stated that the project would be extremely disruptive, and would take place in two phases, over a total of three years. The street would be closed to all traffic and be completely torn up.  We would not have access to our garage for the better part of the summer.  We would also might have to park a block or two away during the construction.

They would be digging down 20 feet to replace a 36" water main, sewer lines, and putting the power lines underground.  Other utility companies would be allowed to work in the area as well.

Moreover, they were going to excavate in the front yard and behind the house, in addition to the county road (on three sides of the house). 

Construction is going to start in April, end in November, and resume the next year, and finish the following year.  On the plus side, she said that by November they would have partially paved the county road and would be allowing traffic on it, but the final layer of payment would not added until 2016.

I was dumbstruck.  She mentioned something about the assessment and easement negotiation with the home owner, but I was overwhelmed with idea that I am purchasing a house that will be the nexus of heavy construction for three years.

I discussed it the real estate agent, who wisely suggested we move on.  But after talking with my wife, we decided to make an offer with a price that takes into consideration the construction.  We made the offer.

The house was listed at $179k; I offered $145k. 

“I’m not going to present your offer.”

The seller’s agent was not pleased. My agent relayed that the listing agent basically told him that she would not present the offer to her client because it was too low.  Apparently, there was some back and forth and I got the same URL in an email. 

Obviously, she must not know how bad it is going to be.  I looked over the two year old newsletters in the URL to see if I made a mistake.  The newsletters touted new bike trails, beatification and in small print mentioned some utility work.  There was a timeline that mentioned negotiating rights of way.

I realized several things that I had missed.  1) it was possible that when they construct the new road, they might expand the road (shortening the driveway to the point it is useless); and 2) more importantly, the seller might have sold a portion of their property to the city. 

I called the city again, got even more information.  The sellers had negotiated (and was paid for) a temporary easement by the county, and also negotiated a payment plan for the assessment with the city.  Therefore, the sellers knew about the construction.

I hammered out an email with the facts from the discussions with the city, and cc’d the listing agent.  At that point, I felt like the listing agent was misrepresenting, but my agent said he expects the other agent to be ethical and professional.  Giver her the benefit of the doubt, he communicated in a statesmen like fashion.

Regardless, I know the sellers knew of the construction.  They met with both county and city personnel and negotiated payment.

Then nothing.  I assumed the listing agent was ambushed with this information and was probably scrambling to verify the information with the city.

A few days later, I asked my agent to see if the buyers had received the offer.  The response:

The Sellers would take their home off the market and wait until the work is complete or further along so Buyers can see this will be a better improvement for all rather than work with an offer at this price.

If I was an optimist, I would have imagined that the listing agent confronted the sellers and after a heart-felt conversation, they decided to take the house off the market.  But I’m not.

I think you can guess what happened next… onward to part 2.

Review: Fundamentals of Logic Design, 7th Edition

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What is the best book to buy to learn digital logic design?  Well, it’s not this one.  That much I tell you for sure.

If you are required to purchase this, don’t get the kindle version.  You will find yourself flipping back and forth between the practice problems and the text in order to try to figure out what you missed. 

And trust me, you will figure you missed quite a bit, because there is a dramatic mismatch between the text and the practice problems.

I found myself mumbling things like, “Convert 111010110001.0112 to octal and then directly to hex?  What page was that on?”  Oh wait.  It wasn’t.

The book is filled with many such puzzles, where you try to intuitively fill the gap between what is presented in the text and the practice problems. 

This book doesn’t teach the material, it punishes you and forces you to look for better information on the subject. 

EE101: myDAQ Educational Lab Kit Unboxing

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve decided to take some electrical engineering courses at the University of North Dakota (UND) as a distance student.

Remarkably, there are very few, if any reviews or information about the DEDP program online that I could find when I was considering enrolling.

As a result, I thought I would posted a quick review of the National Instruments myDAQ kit that is required by several of the electrical engineering courses, along with some comments about the program.

Poisoned in Las Vegas

Sometimes, simply traveling can be gamble. image

When we arrived in Las Vegas, we made our way to the baggage claim area to pick up our bag.  My wife and I watched as people jubilantly snatched up their bags and giddily raced off to check into their hotels. 

As the crowd thinned, I noticed the conveyor belt stopped, leaving only two solitary bags being pushed around the metallic carousel.    We stared at remaining bags that slowly circled.  Our bag never emerged from the conveyor.

I started to realize that our bag wasn’t going to materialize.  They lost our bag or left it in Minneapolis, I thought.  I sighed.  It was going to be one of those trips.  I started mentally preparing myself for shopping for clothes at 1 a.m. at the local Wal-Mart.

I persuaded my confused wife to follow me to the baggage office.  Half way there I heard my name being paged, asking me to come immediately to the Delta baggage office.

As I opened the door and walked in, we were greeted by the overpowering aroma of ethyl acetate, burnt rubber, and two somber Delta employees.  The Delta employees explained that there was a problem with our bag.   The “problem” was that bag fell off the luggage tug, was run over, and dragged for a good long distance.  She waved at our severely damaged bag.

Sensing my wife’s confusion, the agent quickly tried to change the subject.  “We will, of course, give you a brand new bag.  Here.  This one is about the same size.”  She held up a new carryon bag triumphantly and removed it from the plastic.  She smiled.

My wife slowly reached out to our broken, mutilated, melted bag that had been sodomized by an airport cargo trailer just minutes before. 

My wife started to go through the bag, cautiously surveying the damage.  She didn’t say anything.  The Delta representative finally broke the awkward silence and asked if there was anything valuable in the bag.  Luckily, there wasn’t – just our cherished possessions.

The acrid smell of nail polish was just that, a nail polish bottle had been crushed inside the bag.  A cracked makeup case and ripped toiletries bag rounded out the damages. 

We left with the new bag and travel vouchers and ambled out to the taxi stand to go to our hotel – Hooters Casino Hotel. 

If Depression Was a Hotel

IMG_0148I had booked the hotel stay because Hooters Casino Hotel positions itself as a no-frills frugal place to stay in Las Vegas.  The room rate was $22 per night ($36.95 per night after the mandatory “resort fee” is added). 

The casino is small, dark, and dank.  There were few people, no exuberant shouts of joy from the craps tables; just quiet, punctuated by electronic chimes from slot machines.  

Walking to the elevators, I was surprised to feel water dripping on me.  I looked up and saw water dripping from the ceiling, right before the entrance to the bar.

We exchanged glances and soldiered onwards in silence. 

I expected the worst, but surprisingly, the room wasIMG_0140 remarkably clean and the bed was comfortable.  When I pressed the power on the remote, the TV came to life. 

Other things in the room were less than stellar. The AC/heater was very noisy  The electrical outlet by the bed was broken.  Inserting the plug from the iron would cause visible electrical arcing.

Hooters Room Service: Food Poisoning Without Seeing Hot Chicks

The next morning, my wife left early to attend a seminar, and I casually started getting ready for a full day of gambling.  A full day of my own, in Las Vegas.

The first item on the agenda was to eat some breakfast.  At the Hooters Casino Hotel, they have chicken wings 24 hours a day.  Therefore, by applying my own tortured brand of logic, I deduced that I must order chicken wings for breakfast.

It would be the third mistake of the trip.  The first was checking my bag, the second was coming to Hooters.

After 30 minutes, a knock at the door announced the arrival of my chicken wings.  There was no fancy room service cart, just a guy with a tray of chicken wings.  The server pushed the tray of wings into my hands and then held up the room service ticket for me to sign.  I awkwardly put the tray of wings down in the room and came back the door to sign the ticket. 

The room service menu stated that all room service orders are automatically charged an 18% gratuity.  However, on the ticket, there was a line for an additional tip, and the server had highlighted the percentages for a tip.  In my confused embarrassment, I tipped an ADDITIONAL 18%, thinking the gratuity wasn’t automatically included.  I would find out later after viewing the itemized statement on checkout, I tipped twice.  The double-gratuity or “double-grat” as my waiter friend used to say with a guffaw.

I started eating the wings while watching, “The Lottery Changed My Life” on TLC.  Face smeared with hot wing sauce and ranch dressing, I watched fascinated by the trailer-park to riches stories that unfolded before my eyes.

I started to get a headache and my stomach started to turn. 

I’m getting headache, I thought.  I just need to wait it out.  I’ll be fine in an hour. I watched another episode.  Then another episode.  Then another

After a few hours the headache got worse, followed by an increasing sense of nausea.  I took a nap, thinking it would go away.  On the rare instances where I’ve gotten a migraine headache just sleeping would cure it.

I woke up to find the headache and constant nausea.  About the eight hour mark, the vomiting and diarrhea started.  For the next several hours the misery multiplied. 

I realized that this wasn’t a migraine headache.  I had food poisoning.  There was no fever, no chills; only the unrelenting nausea and diarrhea.

After the worst of it, my symptoms started to lessen.  By 10:30 pm, I was hungry and we left to eat at Planet Hollywood.  I was definitely feeling much better.

You Must Go to Security

Next morning, as I checked out, I made it a point to complain.  Normally, I never complain about anything.  However, I wanted to tell them I got food poisoning.

So we waited for the manager to come from the restaurant.  I informed him that I got food poisoning from the wings I ordered.  I gave him the room service charge ticket.

He then basically said: a) I should have complained right away, b) if there was a problem in the restaurant there would be lots of complaints, and c) I’d have to go to security to make a complaint.

“Security?” I asked, incredulously.

“Yes, security handles all of the restaurant complaints and gastrointestinal issues.”

I told him I wasn’t going to do any such thing.  We were going to the airport.  Besides, I wasn’t complaining to get a free meal or get anything taken off of my bill.  I was trying to tell them they had a problem.

He offered me gift cards for the Hooters restaurant, where I got food poisoning.  I turned him down.  That was an intelligence test I didn’t want to fail.