Real Estate Worries

This past weekend was a super busy one. My boyfriend and I spent most of the weekend at my house. When I bought the house 7 years ago, the previous owner left me a “burn pile”. This pile of tree limbs, bushes, and random wood stretched at least 40 feet along the back fence, at least 6 feet wide, and was taller than me. I was told by neighbors that as long as the fire was contained, we were allowed to burn things in our yards. So, year after year, I spent at least the first month of Spring breaking things and putting them in a fire pit I’d purchased. Friends and family would come over for small bonfires. But new limbs would fall, and bushes would get dug up. I made noticeable progress, but never got anywhere near clearing out the pile.

I’m a born and raised city girl. Where I was raised, if someone was burning stuff in their yard you knew a breakup and an arrest were imminent. The boyfriend’s a country boy; If you can get it lit, you can burn it. He laughed that I was trying to get rid of my enormous burn pile in a fire pit. He piled a big section of wood in the middle of the yard, poured some lighter fluid on it, and let it go. In two days we demolished the entire burn pile, some leftover wood from projects we’ve been working on, all the fallen limbs in the yard, and all the old kitchen cabinets (which were in too bad of shape to be sold). He also cleaned out the gutters and roof, and I did some work inside the house. I’m absolutely amazed at the progress we made.

In the course of the weekend, I also had a few conversations with the neighbors, and met with a Real Estate Agent. The agent was super excited about my house, and says he doesn’t foresee an issue with getting it sold. Yes, the small house size (680 square feet) and big lot size for the neighborhood (over half an acre) make it unique, but the upgrades I’ve done will make it desirable. He’s supposed to be getting together some numbers for me. He did say one thing that made me worry; houses in my township typically sell for close to their tax assessed value. He had an old assessment that listed the house at around $43,000.  I’m guessing that was the assessment from when I bought the house; When I bought the house the tax assessment was for around $43,000, even though the house sold for $54,900 (and appraised for slightly more). I looked up my current assessment, which is $48,300. Not the end of the world, but not really what I wanted to hear either.

The neighbors were even more of a buzz-kill this weekend. One neighbor informed me that the house to the east of mine is going into foreclosure. The older couple who lived there passed away in 2012/2013, leaving the house to her brother, who had lived with them for many years. The main house is about the size of mine, and was built by the man’s Grandparents. His mother had added a monstrous two-story garage/apartment behind the house in the 1950’s. Both the house and the addition are in bad shape, and need a lot of work. And apparently they had taken the equity out when the market was high; They now owe more than that property is worth. The Real Estate Agent said it isn’t ideal, but if we get the house listed in the next 3 or so months, it shouldn’t be a huge deal.

In an attempt to be a good neighbor, I’ve been letting the neighbors I talk to know that we’re fixing up the house to put it on the market. When I first told this to the neighbor to the west of me, he seemed really excited: “Let me know before you talk to a Real Estate Agent. I know someone who might be interested in buying it, for the right price.” He started digging a little deeper this weekend, asking what I wanted for it, etc. When I said I wasn’t sure on the value yet, he moved in for the kill: “You know, a Realtor friend of mine looked into it, and houses in this market have only been selling for $47 per square foot. How many square feet is your house? You really can’t expect much more than that. You can save yourself some money by not going through a Realtor at least.”

Alright, first off, yes, the most recent sales have been at a low cost per square foot. However, those sales have been for townhouses a few blocks away, and all of them needed extensive renovations. Most of them hadn’t been updated since the 70’s or 80’s, and were pretty torn up inside. The most recent sale on our block? A 3,000 square foot home. The average house in our area is 1,200 square feet, and houses in the 900 square foot range are fairly common. Of course a house that’s more than twice the size of any other house in the neighborhood isn’t going to go for top dollar!

The whole conversation peeved me off. He got pretty aggressive in trying to convince me that selling my house for $32,000 was a good deal. He also made it known that he would be looking into the contractor that I was using to ensure that he was using a licensed plumber for my bathroom remodel (this guy owns a plumbing business). To top things off, he started badgering me about moving my fence again.

Ah, the fence. About a year ago, I had a surveying company come out and survey my property. I designed the company’s logo and website for them when they first started (like 5 years ago), and in exchange they were supposed to survey my property. They just got around to it. I didn’t have any real need for a survey, but years ago I figured it would be nice to have one, in case some day I wanted to add-on to the house, and build a new garage, or whatever.

My house has a 6 foot, wooden privacy fence that extends around the entire back yard. I loved that the yard was already fenced in when I bought the house, since fencing in that big of a yard would have cost a fortune. Like in most old neighborhoods, they didn’t survey before putting up a fence. They just put up a fence. Actually, several of the neighbors got together and installed the fence. The guy across the street (who helped) admits they were mostly drunk when they did it. They still did a nice job.

According to the survey, the fence on the east side of the property runs right on the property line until halfway through the backyard. From there it juts out about 3 feet, and then continues on to the back of the property. I had talked to the old man who owned the house (before he passed away); he knew the fence was on his property. He was one of the ones who helped install it. And the way they did it made perfect sense to him for some reason that I couldn’t really understand.

On the west side of the property, there is about 1 foot between the fence and the property line, with the fence being on my property. The neighbors on that side have been talking about fencing in their yard for about 5 years. I’ve told them numerous times that I’m fine with them tying in to my fence. When my yard was surveyed it pissed them off. As it turns out, their garage sat just over the property line. The garage was really old, and was there long before any of our time. Who cares? Actually, it was in such bad condition they ended up tearing it down, but they’re still bothered that it wasn’t fully on their property.

They recently had a survey done, so they could move forward with their own fence. The survey agreed with the one done on my property. Every time I see them they ask when I’m planning to move my fence. Again, the fence is on my property. Most areas require you to have an easement between your fence and your property line anyways. If I were going to move part of the fence, it would be on the east side, were it crosses over into the neighbor’s property. Their problem is that when they build their fence, if they tie onto my fence, 1 foot of my property will be inside their fence. If they don’t tie to my fence, that’s one very long side they have to purchase fencing for, and pay labor on installation. Whereas, if they convince me to move the fence over 1 foot, to run along the property line, they can tie in and be on their property, without spending extra time or money.

My understanding is that since the properties have all changed ownership at least once since the fence was installed, and no one contested the placement prior to this, the property lines become “assumed”, and the fence can stay. And even if I had to move the fence, I wouldn’t have to move it on the west side; I’m well within the property lines there!

Overall, I feel like we’re making a lot of progress on the house. I’m hopeful that the Realtor will have good news on the value, but I’m prepared for the worst. I’m also preparing myself for the fact that my neighbors will likely create difficulties as I go to sell my house. Luckily, I’m not actually staying there, and don’t have to deal with them on a daily basis.

Just goes to show that good fences don’t always make good neighbors!

– Cindy W.

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