Inherited trailer turns up unexpected treasures for neighbors

#556 in a series of true experiences in real estate
July 2008, Hills Newspapers

Gretchen relaxes in front
of the trailer she inherited

My good friend Gretchen has been attending to her parents’ estate, filing trust returns, going through their papers and memorabilia and clearing their belongings from their mobile home. The trailer is not on wheels, doesn’t move anywhere. It’s located in Southern California adjacent to a golf course in an over-55 mobile home community.

For awhile Gretchen thought about keeping the trailer and using it as a sometime getaway, and she and her husband went there a couple of times for a few days, but it was a fair distance from home, too far to drive easily, and it just wasn’t what she would have chosen for a vacation place. She decided to sell.

She and I both tried our best to locate on the Internet trailers for sale, or sold, in the area, but had no luck with that. Then she got the idea of looking at newspaper classifieds, and that worked better. The asking prices for trailers with land are around $250,000. Should she try to sell the property herself?

I said that I know nothing about trailer real estate, let alone ones in Southern California. Are there park fees? Do buyers have them inspected? What makes one trailer worth more than another?

She could find out what she needed to know, we were sure, but did she want to take this on, try to find a buyer? Go back and forth to show it, settle the details, deal with whichever disclosures she’d need to provide?

She said she realized that the value was in the land. Maybe she should just have the trailer hauled away? That would eliminate any fretting over its condition and the contents. I thought she needed to talk to an agent who had experience with these things, which is what she did.

Turns out, there is value in the trailer, even old worn and outdated, because some buyers want to strip them back to their “skins” and redo new, thereby avoiding higher new construction taxation. That’s what the agent she hired said. We weren’t sure how this worked except that it was time to clean out the trailer.

So, a couple of weeks ago, Gretchen made the trip, this time in her car so she could bring back what she wanted. I got an email from her the first day. She’d found out that she wouldn’t have to call Salvation Army. Although there is a rule against garage sales in the neighborhood, just about every neighbor loves anything free. She could give pretty much everything she didn’t want away.

She learned this from the gardener who’d been tending her parents’ roses. He also offered to take some furniture off her hands; he even had a truck. Gretchen helped him load up, then set about to see if what he’d said was true. She wrote FREE on a paper towel (it was handy), taped it to a stick and stuck it out front. She selected a few items and put them on the driveway.

The next time she went out, everything had vanished. She was excited. She decided she could do two things at once: have a giveaway while advertising the trailer for sale. She made up a flyer saying “free” and “new stuff everyday” and went to a copy store to make a bunch of copies. That night she put notices in every mailbox she could get to.

For a minute there, she went a little crazy and considered buying $200 worth of BBQ from a newly discovered soul food spot for the oldsters to eat at the free happening. But she never got to it because having been alerted, dozens of people appeared the next morning and then more people arrived. Some came back more than once.

She’d already put aside in the bathroom anything she planned to take home so she could invite people to go inside, plus she pulled out entire drawers, carried them out full, adding a note to leave the drawer itself. The scene was chatty and festive. She did have one rule: No returns, and she did have to enforce this once or twice. Small and portable items flew off the shelves, as it were. Larger, heavier items, like a couch, loveseat and coffee table remained.

And a musical instrument standing in the corner of the living room, a melodean. “It’s like a little pump organ” she explained. “Everyone wanted it; everyone said since it was a genuine antique, I should sell it; nobody had room for it.”

The melodean was still there when, toward the end, a large woman wearing a big polka dot dress, pencilled-in arched red eyebrows and very red lips came with her husband. He’d had a stroke, the woman promptly told Gretchen, and he couldn’t talk. They took a ton of stuff even though their van was completely filled to the gills already. They took a bed, they took many things, they left.

About twenty minutes later they were back, the woman gasping and breathless with excitement. “I’m taking it! I have a place! I’m thrilled!” she said. But the melodean-to-van move was too much for her and her husband. They left again, then came back once more. “Guess what,” the woman screamed, “I got two perfect strangers to take it to our place!”

Not much was left, a few pieces of big furniture, about 10 big bags of pass-overs in the shed. The handyman who works next door will be taking those to the dump. Gretchen jammed a marble-top wash stand, plates and glasses, photos and various do-dads into her car and drove home. Stuff was sticking out of the open trunk but it all fit in. Kinda dicey about changing lanes to the right since she couldn’t see the side-view mirror, but she just signaled and moved slow and honked, and it all worked out.

No offers on the trailer yet but it’s been less than a month and we hear that this market is a little slow. That’s ok because Gretchen’s already thinking if it doesn’t sell, she can rent it.

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