Spooky moments in real estate

#380 in a series of true experiences in real estate
Hills Newspapers

It’s Halloween time, spooky time. Strange things happen in real estate all year long; some of them are spooky.

Like the one about the seller who reluctantly admitted to our buyer that the house was haunted. The seller worried that the buyer would back out of the sale, that buying a house with a ghost would be scary. But the buyer liked the idea, said in fact that she vastly preferred a house with a ghost than one without.

The problem? Six months after the sale closed, the buyer complained that she’d been cheated. No ghost had made itself known to her. She asked that the seller tell her how to lure the spirit out into the open. Too bad, the seller didn’t know how.

Once we went to see a house that the owner needed help pricing. She mentioned that some work was needed and wanted to know how far she should go in fixing it up for sale.

On the street level of the vacant house, on a fairly steep down sloping lot, we found a derelict garage, its roof caved in, rotted windows and decking, an incomplete kitchen, and the need for cleaning and paint. But these paled in comparison to the shock we got when we saw the underside of the house.

No interior stairs connected the upper portion of the house to a large room on the third level down. We got there by means of a wobbly staircase and precarious path through the garden. Everything looked disheveled but normal when we first entered the room.

Then our unbelieving eyes saw a tunnel cut through the foundation and the earth under the house. This tunnel was large enough for a wagon and team of horses to be driven through.

It was a few moments before we could gather our wits and ask the obvious question: “What happened here?” As the reality of what we were looking at sunk in, we rushed to exit the house to the safety of the yard, then spent an hour listening to the owner’s story.

The owner’s daughter and her husband who had lived in the house had devised a plan to build a stairwell to connect the lower room to the upper living levels. Unfortunately, a lot of dirt and concrete were in the way of the proposed stair site. They charged ahead anyway and, over a period of years, managed to remove and dispose of huge portions of the house underpinnings.

We told the owner to quit worrying over interior paint, but instead to quickly consult a structural engineer.

Then there’s the mercury-in-the-house story. It wasn’t our sale, so the facts may be wrong, but what we heard is that before he died, a mad professor type conducted experiments of some kind in his house. Mercury was involved.

The house was stuffed with stuff which the heirs had removed to the dump. Apparently there was a way for the dump people to know that mercury was included in the trash from this house.

The heirs were charged $30,000 to clean up the dump and another $30,000 to rid the house of mercury remains. Even then, they had to disclose to potential buyers that there were remnants of mercury in the house.

A different kind of story, this one benevolent: Owners of a Berkeley house insisted that they carry the loan for whoever bought their house. Amazingly, they wanted to charge a far-below-market interest rate of 3 percent.

When questioned, they said that they wanted to make it easier for someone to live in the house, a home they’d remodeled and enjoyed very much. They were even willing to pay taxes on IRS-ruled imputed interest. The buyer was pleased.

A seller whose business was located in his home made it a condition of his sale that he and his large lower floor office remain after title changed hands. As the house was highly desirable to several different buyers, this provision was agreed to, and the old and new owners shared the house for some months.

The opposite happened in another sale. The seller of a badly deteriorated hill house had no where to go. Before the new owner could re-roof the house or replace the floors (both had gaping holes), install windows (many had fallen out), provide electricity and plumbing (mostly missing), a rental for the seller had to be found.

In the contract, the buyer agreed to find an acceptable place and to move, at his expense, the seller’s extensive, water-damaged belongings. What a nightmare! We hear that it was all done but that it was most difficult.

During inspections of another house, honey bees were found in a kitchen wall. Bee experts were called in who said that the bees liked the warmth provided by the stove. In order to remove the bees, the wall had to be torn down, but this story has a happy ending. The gallons of honeycomb that hung from the studs were left with the owner. She bottled it and gave it to friends as Christmas gifts.

One probate sale on Piedmont Avenue in Berkeley a long time ago was offered for sale with all of its contents because there were no heirs to the estate. The house was overflowing with glorious items including rich Oriental carpets, valuable antique furniture, old Christmas ornaments, paintings, a Victrola, even an antique car.

There were so many treasures in the house that the couple who bought it went into the antique business. Sad note: In the process of selling off their bounty, they had such heated disagreements (about what to sell?) that they got a divorce. The husband got the house and whatever was left in inside.

Lastly, macabre gossip: A termite inspector crawled under a house and found – eek! – a skeleton! Not a whole body — just the head.

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