Easy investment not meant to be
Article Courtesy of Houston Chronicle

Easy investment not meant to be

Easy investment not meant to be 
Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle 

Maybe you can relate to this: I hear about other people reaping spectacular rewards on investments, but when I get wind of some amazing deal in the works, something always happens. 

For example, I recently got a lead on a house scheduled for public auction that might have been an amazing deal. You could move into it or rent it out like the current owner has been doing. The only hitch was that it might have required a bit of fixing up. 

Whoever got it would have to clean up an oil spot on the driveway, if it hadn't already been taken care of satisfactorily. 

I know, that doesn't sound like much of a problem. Somebody says fixer-upper and you think cracked foundation or mold growing in the walls or termite damage. Something serious. 

Spot considered an eyesore
Heck, the house I'm living in had a stained driveway when we moved here. It has since been washed a few times but you can still see it. To the best of my knowledge, none of my neighbors have complained that the stain diminishes their quality of life. It just didn't seem important. I don't even recall mentioning it to the real estate agent during negotiations. 

But the neighborhood I live in now is not run by the Glencairn Community Improvement Association, as is the house I got the investment tip on. That association does not permit oil-stained driveways. 

"This was not a few drops of oil on the driveway," explained the association's lawyer, Cliff Davis of the firm Butler and Hailey, who filed suit against the owner of the house. "This was a stain that measured, at a minimum, five feet by five feet." 

The wheels of justice rolled on and eventually the owner of the house owed, in expenses, legal fees, court and constable costs, a total of $2,463. To force payment, the house was scheduled to be sold on Dec. 4. 

Probably the house would have brought more than $2,463. But maybe not very much more. These quiet little sales are not conducted in a way to realize the best possible price. 

Remember the fellow who picked up Wenonah Blevins' home when it was sold to recover some back homeowners association dues and legal fees? That elderly widow's home was valued at close to $150,000, and yet it brought a mere $5,000 when sold at one of these official auctions. 

You may be thinking that, so close to Christmas, you would feel a little uncomfortable about buying a house under such circumstances. But hey, business is business. The fellow did, after all, have a spot on his driveway. And before the judgment stage he was sent letters telling him to clean off his driveway and then more letters telling him to pay those legal fees generated by the spot on his driveway. It's all perfectly legal. 

"This oil stain was severe enough that the judge found it to be a violation of the restrictions," said Davis. "It has been charged by those pushing their own personal agenda in this matter that an oil stain could be nothing but trivial. That allegation insinuates that the judge in this case is a rubber stamp for associations. As any attorney practicing in this area will tell you, there are no judges that are rubber stamps for homeowners associations." 

Perfectly legal maneuvers
While I share the lawyer's obvious scorn for anyone who would push their own personal agenda and try to take advantage of a situation like this, I repeat: Business is business. And since it's all perfectly legal, I was thinking about bidding a few bucks on that house with the severe oil stain on the driveway. 

But Davis said he got a call on Tuesday, informing him that the owner had paid off the judgment, so it won't be auctioned after all. 

I asked Davis whether that severe stain had been cleaned up satisfactorily, thinking that if it hadn't maybe the process would start all over again. Maybe there'd be another chance at this house. He said he checked with the management company people who drive around looking for maintenance problems for the association, and they reported that the last time they checked the address, a car was parked in the driveway so they couldn't see whether the severe stain was still there or gone. 

No matter. I'm going to keep my eyes open for other investment opportunities. Homeowners associations in Harris County foreclose on at least 1,000 houses a year, according to one recent estimate.