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Who knew "predatory remodeling" was a thing to worry about?
July 9, 2014 3:49 PM   Subscribe

I bought my first home, only to become a victim of predatory remodeling.
This is the story of how I got tricked by malicious criminals into buying a house that had been illegally remodeled to cover up multiple building code violations. 50% of the house is unusable, and will require as much as $100,000 in repairs to undo the faulty work.

Yes, the home was inspected before it was purchased, and the inspector did find some problems as expected. But most of the problems described below were cleverly hidden behind finished drywall, carpeting, and concrete where the inspector couldn't see them. All of this was done intentionally by the house "flipper" and remodeler to turn a profit on a house that is riddled with code violations.
After 8 years diligently rebuilding my credit and saving up a sizeable down payment for my very first house, I purchased a beautiful four-bedroom home in Columbia Heights, MN (a suburb of the Minneapolis / St. Paul area) in May of 2013. With a surplus of houses in the market, prices were low, and the timing couldn't have been better.

However, I never suspected that the beautiful walls and finishing work were secretly hiding building code violations and hazardous living conditions. Days later when my plumbing began leaking inside the walls it became clear that I had become a victim of "predatory remodeling". The problems have left me without a working kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room for months, and half of my house is completely unusable. With no immediate legal options or recourse, I am now responsible for completing structural, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC repairs estimated at more than $65,000 before the city building inspector declares the dwelling uninhabitable.

The experience has left me with a crippling amount of debt and despair. Under these circumstances, my investment will never appreciate enough value to cover the cost of repairs. Thanks to a few individuals who knew exactly how to manipulate the system, it is the first and last house I will ever own in my lifetime.
posted by Lexica (103 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite

 
Damn, that sucks. I wish it were a setup for a Jason Statham movie.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 3:53 PM on July 9 [7 favorites]


Makes you wish Mike Wallace were still here to go knock on that remodeler's door.
posted by briank at 3:56 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]


And why can't he sue the living daylights out of the idiots who flipped the house, exactly? Because presumably they didn't pull permits when doing all this shoddy work, which depending on where you live can get you in BIG trouble, and they perpetuated a deliberate fraud in selling the house.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 3:59 PM on July 9 [8 favorites]


The individual who remodeled my house was not licensed at all, and did not pull any permits for any of the work. There is no existing legal recourse against someone who was never licensed in the first place.

This is just fucking staggering.
posted by scody at 3:59 PM on July 9 [27 favorites]


Why couldn't he sue for fraud? It appears that intent would be easy to prove.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:00 PM on July 9 [15 favorites]


He says at some point a criminal case is pending, and it sounds like his real estate agent was totally complicit in the fraud.
posted by jeather at 4:01 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


Holy shit, where was the inspector, really? I bought an old farmhouse and we pulled up carpeting, put a scope in the walls, tested the wiring and coax. Holy shit, holy shit.


> At the time of purchase, he and the sellers had coached me into waiving the disclosures notice (which means I bought the house “as is”).

Holy shit, oh my god. His agent did this to him. Oh my god.
posted by boo_radley at 4:02 PM on July 9 [51 favorites]


I read this yesterday and it just scrolls and scrolls and scrolls and I was honestly expecting the final photo to be of a charred and smoking hulk and him shrugging.

I have heard all kinds of similar horror stories and the fact is that construction is a huge lobby and the laws are enormously in the contractor's favor, whether they ought to be allowed to operate a hammer or not.

This is also a helpful reminder that your real estate agent's loyalty is never, ever to you, whether you are the buyer or the seller, except insofar as you're going to make them some money. When we bought our house, our agent did all kinds of dealing behind our backs, including getting the inspector to blow off stuff he shouldn't have.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:03 PM on July 9 [13 favorites]


I may have to send our agent a fruit basket because what the hell. Holy crap.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:04 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


> At the time of purchase, he and the sellers had coached me into waiving the disclosures notice (which means I bought the house “as is”).

well....um....not sure how to say this but....totally screwed the pooch on that deal.
posted by shockingbluamp at 4:05 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]


God this brings back (bad) memories. Nothing on this scale and nothing intentionally malicious. But our old house had 80+ years of "owner improvements" that made it janky at best. Sooooo glad to be renting right now.
posted by axoplasm at 4:11 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


He should also sue the inspector, as the dude missed A LOT OF STUFF!!!
posted by Asbestos McPinto at 4:11 PM on July 9 [4 favorites]


Home inspections are important, but I've always been of the opinion that people put way too much faith in them. Even if you have an excellent inspector (this person clearly didn't), there is a TON of very serious stuff that's difficult or impossible to check out non-destructively.
posted by primethyme at 4:18 PM on July 9 [6 favorites]


Time to call in "Homes on Homes".
posted by KaizenSoze at 4:18 PM on July 9


I'm pretty honest but the more I read it the more I consider when I would've had an "accidental fire."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:21 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


This is just fucking staggering.

And also a little misleading. He's talking about professional disciplinary proceedings. his civil suit is underway.
posted by jpe at 4:21 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]


Really feel for the guy.

If nothing else, I am taking the lesson to heart. No real estate purchase as-is, ever. Permitted changes only. Regardless of how hot or fast moving your local market might be.

There's simply too many ways a previous owner could screw you.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 4:26 PM on July 9


Yea, this guy needs to be looking for a good lawyer, not writing a sob story online. Or at least not only writing his story online, there's a whole list of people to sue here.

My realtor also visits the house to see the problems for himself. At the time of purchase, he and the sellers had coached me into waiving the disclosures notice (which means I bought the house “as is”). I would later learn that this is one of many tactics used by predatory remodelers.

And you sir, are an idiot. I just lost all my sympathy reading this part.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:28 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


I purchased a beautiful four-bedroom home in Columbia Heights . . .

Well, that was your first mistake.
posted by Ickster at 4:28 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]


Kidding aside, that situation really sucks.
posted by Ickster at 4:29 PM on July 9


No real estate purchase as-is, ever.

The only reason to accept anything as-is is to remodel yourself at a massive discount. Not to live in trusting that everything is good to go.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:30 PM on July 9


Which crime is worse -- the scammers who inflicted this disaster on the poor sap? Or the infinite scroll with the latest content at the bottom?
posted by tftio at 4:34 PM on July 9 [10 favorites]


Oh god. I actually scrolled all the way through the whole thing, and it just made me sick to my stomach. When the general contractors refuse to even bid on the work, because it's too risky... And your lawyer says you have no chance of getting any money from suing these guys... And the city officials tell you these people should be in jail, so your only recourse is to try to put together the criminal case against them while you're struggling to keep your house from collapsing... Ugh.

We bought our house in Minneapolis from a contractor who had fully remodeled it, but had been in that business long before "flipping" was a thing. I was nervous about the whole situation, but we lucked out that they did really quality work. Our home inspector pointed out visible things they did that were really nice, which indicated that they probably did quality work in the areas hidden by finish work, but I suppose a good con-artist could make it look good on the outside too. Luckily, a mis-slopedgutter is about the only problem we've had in 3 years (knock on wood).

I'm glad to see this guy has so many friends and family members to help him out. What an awful situation.
posted by vytae at 4:39 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]


I am grateful for my real estate agent. She insisted I look up permits for every house I was serious about and also that I review the flood zone status, and the fire zone status (one house I looked at and loved, had all kinds of un-permitted work and was located just inside a fire zone that would have required that I get very expensive triple-pane replacement windows). She had me looking at drainage patterns and special districts, etc. All this info was available online, but still took time and digging.
posted by agatha_magatha at 4:41 PM on July 9 [12 favorites]


I purchased a beautiful four-bedroom home in Columbia Heights . . .

Well, that was your first mistake.


Hey coulda' been Hilltop.
posted by nathan_teske at 4:47 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]


And also a little misleading. He's talking about professional disciplinary proceedings. his civil suit is underway.

From the article: I meet with my attorney to discuss my legal options. Over the course of a 2 hour meeting, he lets me know that our real estate laws are set up to favor the sale and ensure that the transaction takes place, but offers no real protection for home buyers. He tells me that finding the responsible parties and getting a court judgement against them might be possible, but the likelihood of collecting any compensation from them is slim to none. Those responsible took great care to run the transaction as a 1031-Exchange through the IRS, they provided fake contact info, and likely used offshore bank accounts.

Might've been more updated information lower down the list; the layout gets corrupted for me around early 2014.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:49 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]


This is a terrible situation. Poor naive guy. People doing something like buying a house for the first time don't know how ignorant they are. I bet the inspector was recommended by his realtor; it would explain why things like a shower head that couldn't be re-aimed and an illegal vent under the sink weren't cited. Seems like a heck of a conspiracy, though.
posted by not that girl at 4:50 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]


Which crime is worse -- the scammers who inflicted this disaster on the poor sap? Or the infinite scroll with the latest content at the bottom?

I dunno about you, but I like reading things in the actual order in which they happened. And I don't begrudge the infinite scroll, either -- the page is very long and pretty image-heavy and it reduces the loading of images that may not be seen.
posted by zsazsa at 4:55 PM on July 9 [15 favorites]


I had a friend who moved up to Columbia Heights from . . . a trailer in Hilltop. Good times.
posted by Ickster at 4:57 PM on July 9


A little less victim blaming would be nice. Naive or not, the buyer was demonstrably taken advantage of and he is not one of the guilty parties. Moreover, he gets some credit for (1) rolling up his sleeves and attacking the problems himself and (2) continuing to build as best a case as possible.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:07 PM on July 9 [64 favorites]


No real estate purchase as-is, ever.

We bought our house as-is. We bought it from the estate of a dead person which is the only way that as-is is legal around here. Our inspector was good and we knew that we were buying a money pit. So far it's been worth it.
posted by octothorpe at 5:07 PM on July 9


Time to call in "Homes Holmes on Homes".

I have often wondered just how people wind up being made whole by Holmes. I'm not sure he ever works in the US, either.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:10 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


I looked at an "as-is" house owned by a bank. It was an amazing buy superficially, except they insisted that the nobody can turn on the water, ever, including during inspection, until possession occurs. No thanks, stupid ass cheap bank.
posted by aydeejones at 5:12 PM on July 9 [9 favorites]


And you sir, are an idiot. I just lost all my sympathy reading this part.

Yeah, blame the victim. First house, probably didn't understand the full ramifications of "as is" and I'm sure the real estate agent wasn't overly inclined to explain it to him, as it sounds like the REA was complicit in the whole fiasco.

Count yourself lucky if you EVER get a half-way decent home inspector. Walk through with yours. Mostly they don't do shit but gallop through and put their hand out for the check. You pay a lot of money for someone to tell you the place has four walls. If they don't check out the crawl spaces and attic, pull a couple plates off wall sockets, get in under the sinks and pull out the stove to look at the gas fittings, you know right off you've hired a lazy ass that's going to red stamp it. If you get one that inspects the flashing and checks out the septic, buy them flowers!

Boo_radley, your experience is rather more the exception than the rule.


I'm pretty honest but the more I read it the more I consider when I would've had an "accidental fire."


And it would be hell to pin on the homeowner when there were no permits pulled and things are so screwed up. Although with this guy's luck....


This is also a helpful reminder that your real estate agent's loyalty is never, ever to you, whether you are the buyer or the seller, except insofar as you're going to make them some money.

THIS! As a seller that was majorly screwed by a real estate agent that didn't bother to do her part in working up a contract, I rate real estate agents about a half notch above car sales personnel.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:25 PM on July 9 [11 favorites]


the layout gets corrupted for me around early 2014

Same for me in Firefox. Chrome was able to render it all the way to the end (spoiler: no resolution). Worth it because it keeps on getting more and more HOLY SHIT, WHAT?

In particular this bit and photo tip it over from "shoddy do-it-yourself bodging" into "deliberate fuckery":
I discover that some of the coax outlet plates in the bedrooms only have a few inches of cable attached to them, not connected to anything at all. Of all the things to find, this discovery is the one that clearly indicates that all of this was done on purpose to make a house that is riddled with problems look nice enough to for an unsuspecting buyer to take the bait and assume ownership of the code violations.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:27 PM on July 9 [5 favorites]


Having scrolled down, I have to say:

This dude is house-poor but friend-rich.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:46 PM on July 9 [22 favorites]


Also: for me this is absolutely the worst photo (warning: poop! lots of poop!)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:48 PM on July 9


This dude is house-poor but friend-rich.

That struck me too. The people who are helping out are really cheerful and smiling and you kind of have to assume they did a bunch of Googling about installing (or removing) drywall - or whatever - in the weeks before. They are happy to be there, and happy to be helping out, working hard. That sub-plot seemed very sweet. This guy inspires some loyalty in his people. He's not dumb, he got taken.

All of us get taken sometimes, somewhere, we just hope it's for something small. People got taken all the time buying cars before there were lemon laws. I think the takeaway is, why *aren't* there such laws for real estate?

Surely there must be a framework that could be reapplied here?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:56 PM on July 9 [13 favorites]


Time to call in "Homes on Homes".

Yes, he's overly nit-picky. Yes, there's no $5 fix he couldn't turn into a $50,000 job. Yes, he makes spaces and exteriors objectively ugly.

But, the man has a nose for bullshit. I wish my inspector had it - I could have negotiated the cost of the garage dehumidifier and the ongoing expense of operating it - the dehumidifier which they removed offsite for the showings and inspection - from the cost of the house. Or at least known the basement and garage would grow mold over everything without intervention. It even smelled dry and dusty when we first checked the place out...
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:57 PM on July 9


I really feel for this guy.

I had improperly installed plumbing after doing a bedroom remodel and the whole situation was very stressful despite being on a smaller scale by an order of magnitude. Luckily I was able to get the work correctly redone by another plumbing company because my state has laws protecting the consumer for these reasons.

After all the work is done, I truly hope he still has the energy left to fight with lawmakers to make sure this doesn't happen again.
posted by z3niMAGiNE at 5:58 PM on July 9


I've bought three houses in my life, but all three were new construction by reputable builders, so my risk was mitigated. If I ever buy an older home my plan is to skip the home inspector and hire a general contractor to do the inspection. In many states, home inspectors are not regulated. You could literally order business cards and be a home inspector next week.
posted by COD at 6:00 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


Ugh. I bought a house just after college and I was so, so naive. I thought I was being smart by getting a home inspector but really he did the schtick of listing off dozens of superficial problems while skipping big stuff. Fortunately there were no huge disasters, but there easily could have been.

Also, I'm a friend of a friend of the author!
posted by miyabo at 6:02 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


...also, I think he's bonkers for not publishing names. Publish. the. fucking. names.

He has so little leverage here. He is making no accusations, or if he is, he can clean up the prose so it is merely factual. He is just 'this date, this, this cost' etc.

His lawyer can help him keep it clean legally. If his lawyer is advising him against doing so, I would seriously consider finding a more aggressive lawyer.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:04 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


Surely there must be a framework that could be reapplied here?


Pl-eaze!
posted by BlueHorse at 6:07 PM on July 9


Pl-eaze!

I genuinely don't get it. Spell it out for me.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:12 PM on July 9


I think we killed it; I can't get it to load anymore (although Down for Everyone or Just Me says it's up) and yeah, when it was still loading, around early 2014 I started getting glitches, with repeated text over and under photos. This is fascinating (and incredibly frightening), though!
posted by limeonaire at 6:14 PM on July 9


A little less victim blaming would be nice. Naive or not, the buyer was demonstrably taken advantage of and he is not one of the guilty parties.

I want to favorite this more than once.

Being naive doesn't mean that you deserve to be taken advantage of. And it doesn't mean you're irredeemably stupid. You could just be inexperienced and a little too trusting.

(Besides, even if they are irredeemably stupid, it seems kind of questionable to decide that less intelligent people don't deserve protection or sympathy.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:15 PM on July 9 [30 favorites]


I've thought of telling the home inspector "I'll give you $1000 extra if you can convince me not to buy this house."
posted by miyabo at 6:25 PM on July 9 [7 favorites]


When I got to the part where the sewage was backing up into the basement, I just wanted to cry on his behalf.

After this I bet he could build an amazing business for himself as a house inspector. He knows what to look for now.
posted by ambrosia at 6:33 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]


I don't understand why people don't hire an attorney who knows about real estate laws when they're buying a house. As many people have noted above, the REA is not on your side, and many inspectors appear to be in it just for the quick buck.

If you're committing to buying something as expensive as a house, why not spring a little extra cash and hire a competent attorney to guide you through things and look all the paperwork over? Seems like a smart investment to me, although certainly not fool proof.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 6:35 PM on July 9


Whoa, my inspector caught some pretty subtle (and accurate) stuff. He ran every faucet in the house, as I recall, and left them running. I'm pretty sure he would have caught the shower head misalignment and the visible plumbing problems.

This reminds me of the ancient ebay Xbox scams.
posted by Lardmitten at 6:40 PM on July 9


The site is working fine for me.

My inspector caught a busted roof joist and a bunch of other stuff, but missed the fact that the flipper hadn't bolted our toilet to the floor (because who would just use a wax seal and caulk to connect a toilet? the lazy bastard who "renovated" our house, that's who) so I sympathize with those guys - it takes some real imagination to think like a crooked flipper. It's fine to say "you should cut holes in the walls for the inspection" but it's the rare seller who goes along with that.

But honestly, it's pretty obvious if you can't direct a showerhead to put water into the shower enclosure.

I think the saddest part of this is that the owner's still not immune to the standard screw-ups and disasters that everyone has when they're dealing with their house - dropping the can of gap filler, dealing with vermin that just won't stay gone, torrential rainfall at exactly the wrong moment. (It might be smarter to give in and install a sump pump in that basement given it's flooded again even after dealing with the gutters - it's going to a long while before he has time and money to fix the drainage in his yard.)
posted by gingerest at 6:46 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]


Trying to hire a general contractor for this is overkill. I think the author is compounding their problems.by letting their understandable anxieties dictate a plan of action that is overkill.
posted by humanfont at 6:50 PM on July 9


It's like a horror movie! The flippers cut 2/3 of the way through a roof joist and removed a load bearing column from the basement...
posted by Kevin Street at 6:56 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


The fundraiser has raised around $7.5k.
posted by daninnj at 7:01 PM on July 9


What a mess for this poor guy. The fake cable jacks are what pushes it from shoddy to malicious, for me.

I question his overwhelming use of the word 'illegal'. Wouldn't that often depend on when the work was done, which he has no way of knowing? Just because something violates code today doesn't mean it was in violation when it was installed.

I understand inspectors don't often look behind drywall, etc. But if the inspector missed raccoon activity in the attic and the fixed showerhead, that's pretty negligent.

I admire this guy for digging in and doing the work. There's so much I don't know how to do around the house.

An advantage of not buying new construction or a new remodel is that it's more likely anything you need to live in a house is at least functional, and if everything in the basement is up on blocks you know it must flood. Using a lawyer in a home purchase is a very regional thing - you couldn't buy a home without one in the northeast, but I got looked at cockeyed when I used one in Ohio.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:11 PM on July 9


The fundraiser has raised around $7.5k.

I'd love it if the dude whose Kickstarter campaign has raised $43,000 (and counting) to make his $10 potato salad would throw a couple of spuds this guy's way.
posted by argonauta at 7:16 PM on July 9 [5 favorites]


I'm the one who used the word "naive" and since that word has been invoked in a couple of comments referencing blame-the-victim stuff, I want to be clear that wasn't my intention. There are all kinds of things you only learn through experience; I never really understood what "no-fault" auto insurance meant until I had to file my first claim, for instance. And there's not really any way to prepare people for every possible iteration of learning-by-mistake, as they happen with cars, financial matters, homes, health insurance, and so on. I'm sincerely sorry that this poor guy learned "always double-check your realtor's info, use a lawyer, and don't hire the inspector your realtor recommends" in just about the most expensive and stressful way possible. I learned that lesson, too, in a much less costly way, which just makes me luckier than him, not smarter or better-informed.
posted by not that girl at 7:29 PM on July 9 [7 favorites]


Count yourself lucky if you EVER get a half-way decent home inspector. Walk through with yours. Mostly they don't do shit but gallop through and put their hand out for the check. You pay a lot of money for someone to tell you the place has four walls. If they don't check out the crawl spaces and attic, pull a couple plates off wall sockets, get in under the sinks and pull out the stove to look at the gas fittings, you know right off you've hired a lazy ass that's going to red stamp it. If you get one that inspects the flashing and checks out the septic, buy them flowers!

This is beautiful prose, with the galloping and whatnot. This was my experience, the things he specifically said would last another 5-10 years (furnace, roof, water heater) lasted under year, he missed structural issues that cost thousands only when they were caught on a sale inspection of our house 7 years later. The new buyer's inspector caught some real legit stuff that truly pissed me off since it was so blatantly missed by the other guy, and then nitpicked about a litany of stuff that was blatantly superficial and our realtor went to war on them, because they basically won a small bidding war and were trying to peel back thousands that they'd piled on top of the asking price. Such an unpleasant experience overall to me, hell I don't even know if I like owning a home really, other than the stability it sort of brings with a family if you're already pretty damn stable...
posted by aydeejones at 8:01 PM on July 9


Never trust a texture ceiling is my motto.
posted by vespabelle at 8:04 PM on July 9 [4 favorites]


Shit, I had someone clean out the ducts with a mega-vac truck early on before we had carpet put in, and the original construction guys from 197-fucking-8 had filled the air returns with fast food wrappers, cups, etc. Fucking everyone involved in this industry pisses me off at every turn, until you run into the rare good contractor who you can exchange services with or whatever and they actually want to see your face again for future jobs...moar enforcement of regulation plz
posted by aydeejones at 8:07 PM on July 9 [4 favorites]


Also the ducts were full of drywall screws, etc, it was a total asshole shit-job. One of those cookie-cutter neighborhoods too, with 3-4 house "styles." Gahhhh
posted by aydeejones at 8:07 PM on July 9


Also, I appreciated the Statham reference, that was sort of my initial impulse, but I grew up on Arnie [bad ass 20-second YT].
posted by aydeejones at 8:09 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]


Oh my god. I'm going to have nightmares about this tonight.

We bought a house in February and the inspectors estimated no more than $10k in repairs. We're at $30k and counting, including some issues that would have been obvious if the sellers hadn't piled up a crapton of furniture against this one basement wall, hiding some really blatant evidence of water intrusion. So fucking frustrating. It's one of those situations where my emotions say "take these fuckers to court and RUIN THEM for lying on their fucking disclosures!!" and my rational mind says "it probably is not worth the time and effort".

To be fair to our inspectors, one of them definitely called out that we might have the most expensive of our problems, but said unless he could pry off the siding he couldn't know for sure. That's fair. But he underestimated how much the repairs could cost by a factor of 3-4. In retrospect, I wish we'd had a contractor come to the inspection...but we were out of state buyers, hell if we were able to find a contractor before the end of our ten-day inspection contingency...

Sometimes I really think buying houses is a chump's game. Sheesh.
posted by town of cats at 8:46 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]


Although if I had to give any advice to this guy, it would be to focus on the big stuff for his site. Racoons in the attic and a tree falling on the garage are in no way the seller's fault, and minor stuff like lack of properly vented plumbing is incredibly common. I'd be hard pressed to find someone whose basement hasn't flooded at some point, it's what basements do. Of course the serious stuff like actual water leaks within the walls is evidence of obscene misconduct on the seller's part, but it's kind of buried in the middle of the page.
posted by miyabo at 9:20 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


I don't understand why people don't hire an attorney who knows about real estate laws when they're buying a house. As many people have noted above, the REA is not on your side, and many inspectors appear to be in it just for the quick buck.

If you're committing to buying something as expensive as a house, why not spring a little extra cash and hire a competent attorney to guide you through things and look all the paperwork over? Seems like a smart investment to me, although certainly not fool proof.


I've worked for residential real estate attorneys for the last 20 years. In my neck of the woods (Western NY) you're more likely to have a real estate deal with no agents, than no attorneys. The boilerplate contract used in our area has a whole section about how the contract is contingent upon its approval by attorneys on both sides.

My bosses and I have definitely seen a laissez-faire attitude in certain agents, and that can be frustrating for us. A realtor's commission is based on the purchase price of the house, usually several thousand dollars. We charge a flat fee of only a few hundred dollars (this used to not be the case - lawyers' fees also used to be based on the purchase price, but 20-30 years ago an attorney came into the area and had bargain-basement rates, and everyone in the area had to cut their fees to keep in business), while we have to hammer out all the details and pit falls and title issues and "buyers did a walkthrough and the ceiling is leaking, what sort of credit are you willing to give us" back and forth at the eleventh and a half hour.

TL;DR: Support your local residential real estate attorney.
posted by Lucinda at 9:21 PM on July 9 [7 favorites]


I question his overwhelming use of the word 'illegal'. Wouldn't that often depend on when the work was done, which he has no way of knowing? Just because something violates code today doesn't mean it was in violation when it was installed.

Yeah, I always feel like there's a pretty pervasive misunderstanding about what "to code" means. Unless your home was submitted to the building department, permitted, and built since January (and I mean submitted January 1), your home and nearly every building you enter are probably not "up to current code" because a new code was adopted at the beginning of this year and there will be new or different requirements. So you could easily walk through any building and point at a bunch of things and correctly say "that's not up to code". However, anything was permitted and built to code when it was built is technically, per the code itself, up to code.

So, yeah, alterations that aren't permitted are obviously illegal to a certain degree, but code doesn't necessarily require that you have a coaxial line. There are plenty of things that can be faulted to a negligent or criminal builder that don't have anything to do with being code compliant or not.
posted by LionIndex at 10:03 PM on July 9 [4 favorites]


well....um....not sure how to say this but....totally screwed the pooch on that deal.

Jeeze, everyone railing him on "lol its ur own fault" for that part, what if they misrepresented what that meant? How the fuck was he supposed to know? He literally hired an expert on this shit to coach him because there's only so much you can expect a Reasonable Person to know about this stuff, and they coached him into fucking himself.

Consent without all the information isn't consent, because it's not informed consent.

Jeeze.
posted by emptythought at 10:06 PM on July 9 [14 favorites]


I've been in a couple of mid-flip houses during remodeling, and they were hot messes of illegal and unpermitted construction. Never, ever buy a flip house was my takeaway, but it's clearly an easy moneymaker, so....
posted by Dip Flash at 12:16 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]


House flippers are professional defect concealers. At least when you buy from a Mr. Fixit owner, the flaws are obvious and they won't be skilled at hiding assets if anything goes wrong.
posted by benzenedream at 1:22 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]


I question his overwhelming use of the word 'illegal'. Wouldn't that often depend on when the work was done, which he has no way of knowing? Just because something violates code today doesn't mean it was in violation when it was installed.

He provides (June 7th update) a number of photos from before the house was sold to him, showing that the house looked completely different as recently as October 2012 (i.e. 8 months before he bought it). I mean sure, it's possible that Minneapolis changed the code so that you can't build vents out of duct tape or remove support columns or plumb a toilet without a vent stack during those 8 months and this was totally standard practice in Ye Olde Days of late 2012, but that seems pretty unlikely to me.
posted by Ed The Sock at 1:47 AM on July 10 [6 favorites]


God, now my house seems perfectly beautiful, even with the terrible DIY jobs the previous owners did.

Even with the stair carpet tacked on with every variety of nail and screw they had in the house, even with the bathtub silicone sealer just being dumped into the space between the wall and the bathtub (so that we pulled out giant blobs of the stuff when we had to reseal), even with the sand used under the roof tiles that then blocked up the gutters, even with the weird ripped bits of wallpaper disguised by slap-dash paint job, at least it's not going to collapse on me or catch fire.

My house is old, and ugly, and ridiculous, but it's mine, and it'll be fine.

(But, Jesus, I really need to get someone to redo the bathroom.)
posted by Katemonkey at 2:02 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]


I question his overwhelming use of the word 'illegal'. 

I don't think that hidden electrical junctions and junctions of wires just capped and taped together behind drywall, and shutoff valves hidden behind walls, is anything new to code.

I am so hugely impressed with this guy's work ethic. He's plowing ahead full steam with the hard work of getting it done right.
posted by Dashy at 5:49 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]


Having read through the site now, the level of maliciousness on the flipper's part is that it seems like it just would've been easier to do things right. Some of these took a real effort to be such an asshole!
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:35 AM on July 10 [9 favorites]


I loved and hated being a homeowner. My house was similar to Katemonkey's - lots of really weird/terrible/shitty homeowner DIY but mostly no deliberate subterfuge.

Well, there was the fact that the roof leaked on the first night I lived in the house, and turned out the sellers had painted over obvious water damage on the dining room ceiling. I did actually call my real estate attorney (everyone does have lawyers here in Chicago) and asked him about going after them for that. The problem is, the roof was in bad shape and my inspection report showed that, so it becomes a "he-said, she-said" about whether that particular leak had ever happened before. According to my attorney, I would have spent as much in legal fees as I could have potentially gotten back from them, so unless I wanted to spend the money on principle it wasn't worth it. I chose to spend the $8k on a new roof instead.

When I was ready to leave, it took a year to sell and although I broke even on sale price (getting what I paid for it 4 years earlier), I ended up losing money on the whole thing after closing costs and all the improvements I had done.

Lately, every time we've had a big wind/rain storm I've felt a palpable sensation of relief that I don't have to run down into a basement to check for leaks or rush to make sure my gutters are clear before a storm. And turns out while I miss having a backyard, I don't miss the yard work.
posted by misskaz at 7:47 AM on July 10


Jeeze, everyone railing him on "lol its ur own fault" for that part, what if they misrepresented what that meant? How the fuck was he supposed to know? He literally hired an expert on this shit to coach him because there's only so much you can expect a Reasonable Person to know about this stuff, and they coached him into fucking himself.

Consent without all the information isn't consent, because it's not informed consent.


The hardest, first lesson is that the realtor, whether a "buyer's agent" or not, is hired by the seller. Always. Even if they're "your" agent, you are not paying them one red cent. You are overhead. They spend time on you, take you to lunch, etc. Their job is to sell the home. He waived informed consent specifically -- it's actually an incredibly naive thing to waive disclosures, that is basically borderline stupid in my opinion, just Google it if you're ignorant about what it means to have your own "buyer's agent" encourage you to waive something so obvious as a list of known problems (which is often obfuscated and incomplete, but still). But yes, he was swindled, and yes, it was a pretty dumb mistake.

Now if you're talking about the inspector, which isn't totally clear because they don't give advice per se, buyers do pay for them but if they are referred by your agent you might as well just light $400 on fire now and start saving another $5,000-20,000 for unexpected stuff later.
posted by aydeejones at 9:54 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I do think "waiving disclosures" shouldn't even be an option, but it's just such a blatantly straightforward concept. It does expedite a lot of sales but how many of them ultimately turn into these exact situations -- flipper waives disclosures themselves to buy a home on the cheap, does a horrible job, encourages buyer to waive disclosures.

Do you not want to know about what's wrong with this house so you can buy it quicker? Sign here! It's an incredibly exhausting process looking for a house, so I understand how someone might find their dream house and just want to expedite it. But deliberately choosing to be not-informed (to the extent that disclosures are useful, and the ones we got certainly were, regarding drainage etc) is ultimately the buyer's decision.
posted by aydeejones at 9:57 AM on July 10


After a while I just started scrolling down through the endless list of problems. I'm weirdly disappointed it didn't end with something like, "And then we found it WASN'T A HOUSE AT ALL, just a roughly reshaped termite mound covered with a few layers of paint and some drywall putty."

Seriously, though, fuck everyone involved in this. How is someone not in jail?
posted by gottabefunky at 11:04 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


So he's basically had to build a new house, inside the shell of the fake house he bought.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:07 AM on July 10 [5 favorites]


While living in it.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:07 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]


April 9, 2013
I stumbled onto a pungee stick trap while tracing a drainage pipe in the attic. Luckily only one spike really got me; the other three only grazed. I don't think the puncture is infected, but I'm keeping an eye on it. The pipe was connected to an illegal T-junction.


June 29, 2013
Broken glass in the shower tile grout.


August 12, 2013
We were lugging the new washer down the basement stairs when a loud bang and shock came out of nowhere and the room filled with smoke. When the air cleared, we found a claymore had been installed in the riser between the fourth and fifth steps, then painted over (sloppily, I might add). This just seems downright malicious. As if using substandard wood and plastic screws on the steps themselves wasn't bad enough? Seriously.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:18 AM on July 10 [24 favorites]


September 30, 2013
Today I opened an access panel in the living room and a tiger sprang out. Fortunately it was weakened by lack of food and I managed to wrestle it into submission. Unfortunately the local ASPCA does not accept wild animals and I was forced to bring it back to the house.

October 3, 2013
Sad news: while stalking the next door neighbor's child the tiger fell into the open septic tank and was eaten by sharks.
posted by winna at 11:48 AM on July 10 [22 favorites]


mutant tilapia are more likely in a septic tank really
posted by elizardbits at 12:06 PM on July 10 [4 favorites]


paging TryTheTilapia
posted by en forme de poire at 2:30 PM on July 10


November 1, 2013
Scratching sound at night turned out to be pale, tongue-less child of former owners. He was living in the surprisingly spacious gap between the walls. Seems to have been there for years. Goes by "Roach".
posted by SugarFreeGum at 2:42 PM on July 10 [8 favorites]


Although I haven't been victimized by anything as blatant as this (I did have linoleum tile installed over carpet in my first house that the inspector caught), I wish that I'd know about Jim the Realtor before I'd bought that house. Tons of tricks to show you how to catch upcoming problems with your new house purchase.

Previously.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 3:22 PM on July 10 [4 favorites]


It isn't just waiving disclosures that's a problem. You should really get legal advice any time the other party wants you waive rights that you have under law, or strike out clauses in a standard-form contract. These changes will never be in your interest, and if they're worth something to the other party they are worth something to you.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:18 PM on July 10


Haha, oh my god NIGHTMARES. We just put in an offer on a first house in Minneapolis.

On the other hand, my REA is my brother in law and I'm pretty sure he isn't an active partner in a criminal conspiracy to sell broken houses. And we also offered on a house owned by the people currently living in it.

Inspection tomorrow. Wish us luck!
posted by kavasa at 4:34 AM on July 11


Wow, yeah, that's a nightmare.

I do think that the guy is fixated a bit too much on building code compliance, though. I've never lived in a house that was 100% up to code, ever. I would bet you that not 1 house in 100 on my street is completely compliant to current building codes, and any one of them could easily become a teardown-and-rebuild if you wanted to bring it completely up to modern code.

The 1980s deck on my house, for instance, isn't code compliant and couldn't be made compliant without tearing the entire thing down, because current code requires stupendously huge 36" wide stairways with tread lighting. (It would no-shit be cheaper to install an outdoor elevator.) It was — one assumes — compliant with building codes in 1980, and that's how it's going to get sold when I sell the house.

So the fact that the house is nowhere near compliant with modern code doesn't really say anything, in itself. You can do a fair amount of renovation and still be grandfathered in under the old code rules.

So I think a distinction needs to be made about true hazards to liveability (leaking plumbing, unsafe electrical, structural problems, etc.) and issues of technical code compliance.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:21 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


On the one hand, this should be criminal. He should name names and the people responsible for this mess should be brought to justice and never work again. On the other hand, the walls of just about every home are loaded with work that isn't up to code. Once you start opening up walls and ceilings, you're going to find problems in any house. People just don't do work up to code. They cut corners and use whatever is laying around. His inspector fucked him over, not having a lawyer fucked him over, and the previous owner is obviously a sack of shit flipper. Basically everything was wrong with this place. There had to have been clues even without opening things up. Good for him for trying to redo it right, but he's never going to recover the expense. It's a lemon. This is exactly why people walk. It's a difficult thing to do, but it would be hard to argue at this point that he shouldn't have just eaten the downpayment and walked.
posted by mike_bling at 10:23 AM on July 11


The more I think about this the more I'm annoyed that he's not saying who the seller was. Since they're a flipper, I pretty much guarantee they're out there doing it again. He has no case in court.
posted by mike_bling at 11:23 AM on July 11


mutant tilapia are more likely in a septic tank really

God i blame you assholes on here for making me think "FecesFedTilapiaFecesFedTilapiaFecesFedTilapiaFecesFedTilapia" every time i see tilapia for sale anywhere, like costco.

The more I think about this the more I'm annoyed that he's not saying who the seller was. Since they're a flipper, I pretty much guarantee they're out there doing it again. He has no case in court.

If you read the site, he says he's pretty sure they used a false name.
posted by emptythought at 2:17 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Although I haven't been victimized by anything as blatant as this (I did have linoleum tile installed over carpet in my first house that the inspector caught)...


This is possible?!??!!
posted by BlueHorse at 5:04 PM on July 11


God i blame you assholes on here for making me think "FecesFedTilapiaFecesFedTilapiaFecesFedTilapiaFecesFedTilapia" every time i see tilapia for sale anywhere, like costco.

There is a reason tilapia taste so good.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:38 PM on July 11


December 24, 2013

11pm awoke to clatter to see what was the matter. Chimney colllapse. I think these monsters killed Santa.
posted by humanfont at 8:20 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Although I haven't been victimized by anything as blatant as this (I did have linoleum tile installed over carpet in my first house that the inspector caught)...


This is possible?!??!!


Yes, totally possible. And let me be clear, it wasn't linoleum tile squares, it was sheet linoleum, laid out and glued to the very short nap indoor/outdoor style carpet. I thought it was just a very high quality padded sheet product. I replaced it all during a daylong 8" ceramic saltillo tile festival. A feat of which I still take an inordinate amount of pride in.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 1:10 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


The 1980s deck on my house, for instance, isn't code compliant and couldn't be made compliant without tearing the entire thing down, because current code requires stupendously huge 36" wide stairways with tread lighting. (It would no-shit be cheaper to install an outdoor elevator.) It was — one assumes — compliant with building codes in 1980, and that's how it's going to get sold when I sell the house.

Some neighbors of ours tore down their deck planning to do a nice re-build, but when they had the township out to permit the larger project this was part of, found out that (for reasons I either don't remember or never knew) a deck in that location is completely out of code, so they're not allowed to re-build it. They wish they'd found this out before they tore out the old, grandfathered deck, poor souls.
posted by not that girl at 10:47 AM on July 13


There is a reason tilapia taste so good.

This is some creepy fish centipede kind of thing???? why metafilter
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:14 AM on July 13


This is some creepy fish centipede kind of thing???? why metafilter

Tilapia, carp, and a few other species of fish (plus some crabs, prawns, etc) do really well in sewage ponds, simultaneously cleaning the water and producing tasty fish to eat. I think best practice is to give them a week or so in clean water before harvest but I doubt that ever happens.

You can do it on a large scale (India example from the FAO) or just by putting latrines at the end of docks over a fish pond. In his book about Recife, Tobias Hecht called it the "crab cycle": you poop on the mudflats, the crabs eat the poop, you eat the crabs, you poop on the mudflats...

The analogy to house flipping is intriguing, actually, though I'm not sure who is pooping and who is eating.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:30 AM on July 13 [2 favorites]


flagged as fantastic!
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:40 AM on July 13


Have you discussed suing your agent for bad faith/representation? Works in Colorado and the agent carries an errors and omissions policy for just this type of activity.....

and I don't know what the fish stuff is about....but I love tilapia, too!
posted by OhSusannah at 10:24 PM on July 13


My dad said to me once that he felt scammers were morally far more despicable than outright thieves, because thieves are straightforward but scammers prey on peoples' good natures and thereby weaken the very fabric of society.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:10 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


An unfortunate choice of ad when you see this thread while logged out.
posted by divabat at 9:28 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


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