Tuesday, August 26, 2014


I closed a deal last week that had an interesting twist… well, actually, it was something more than that, but I prefer to think of it as “interesting”.

For the second time in four years, I went to a routine walkthrough en route to a routine closing only to find that the house had been stripped of all its copper plumbing the night before settlement.

The home in question was an estate sale in Wheat Ridge, vacant for probably three months before it hit the market in July.  My client put it under contract on the first day it hit the market (which is another story, because we wrote some very creative provisions into the contract that ensured we would have it under contract within hours of going on the market), it inspected cleanly, and we were scheduled to close just 21 days after our offer was accepted. 

Closing was scheduled for Friday, so on the preceding Sunday, I went to the house just to make sure all was calm and quiet.  No problems, all was well.

On Friday morning, I met the client at the house one hour before our appointed closing time.  As soon as we opened the front door, we knew there was trouble.  Broken glass on the carpet.  The thick, rotten egg smell of natural gas.  And then, looking into the kitchen, water on the floor. 

I stepped outside and instructed my client to do the same.  I took a deep breath and went back into the house.  Quickly, it was apparent what had happened. 

In the utility room, the water heater had been removed.  The copper from the walls had been cut and stripped.  The water heater had been drained on the floor, all 40 gallons of it, flooding into the garage and rolling out the back door on to the patio. 

In the bathroom, we found the same thing.  Copper lines stolen, those running to the sink as well as those running to the tub and shower.  Ditto for the kitchen.

This, as I mentioned, is the second time in four years I have had copper stripped from a vacant home on the way to closing.  Previously, I had had another bank-owned home stripped, which resulted in about a four week delay before the bank finally had the home re-plumbed, allowing us to close.  So I had walked this beat before.

My 19 years in real estate has not been without occasional drama.  While under contract, I have had appliances stolen from vacant homes, hail storms that destroyed roofs, kitchen fires, broken windows, floods, buyers who lost jobs… not to mention the usual fare of tax liens, low appraisals, financing crashes, inspection objection disagreements, and sellers who have suddenly decided they didn’t want to sell after executing a contract obligating them to do exactly that.   

Every agent handles adversity differently.  Some project that emotion right back at everyone else in the transaction (bad idea).  Some make threats (bad).  Some drink or do drugs (bad).  Some quit the business (yes!).

As for me, I’ve come up with one strategy that usually allows me to keep going.  Rather than looking at anything as “good” or “bad”, I simply view everything that happens as “interesting”.

So when we walked into a stripped house one hour before closing, I didn’t panic.  I didn’t cry.  I didn’t get angry.  I simply said to my client, “This is...interesting.

Then I took a deep breath (literally, outside), and evaluated the situation.  The copper has been stripped, the water heater has been stolen, the house is full of gas.

Deep breath.

Call the police, call the seller’s agent, get Xcel out to shut off the gas.  Call the lender, call the title company and let them know we won’t be closing today. 

Talk to my client, tell him it’s all correctable, and with some focused effort, we’ll get to the closing table in a week.  He’ll get a new water heater (upgrade).  He’ll get new plumbing (upgrade).  We’ll have a fire and flood company remediate the water damage. 

There's no basement, just a crawl space.  That helps us.  No water downstairs.  No ancillary damage.  

With any luck, we’ll get the seller’s insurance company to foot the bill. If not, we’ll negotiate our way to a solution.  It will be… interesting.

We did get full repairs done inside of a week, in part because we had a terrific agent on the other side of the deal who also took ownership of the challenges.  My client had a great attitude about it as well.  We all focused on solutions, and so that’s what we got.

You never what tomorrow holds in real estate.  There are big wins.  Demoralizing losses.  If you’re competing at a high level, there are going to be up and downs.  You have to be careful with that roller coaster, because it’s more than a lot of people can handle.

By keeping things “interesting”, you learn to park your emotions outside and focus on solving problems.  Effective agents solve problems.  They don’t get caught up in drama.  To make it for the long haul, you have to rise above it.