How We Bought A $50K Duplex – Part 2

Realtors Don’t Call Them Problems, They’re “Issues”

Although there was an obvious lack of maintenance in many of these places (with roofs in need of repair being one of the easiest deferred maintenance tasks to spot), it was just as common to see poorly executed and un-permitted construction.

You see, during the real estate boom of the early 2000’s around here – home prices were increasing at crazy rates that made people do very crazy things.  It seemed just about any “improvement” you could make to a house would justify the higher selling price that you wanted.

Make a wrong turn from the toilet, go out the wrong door from the bathroom and you find yourself here. On this weird, unfinished patio.

A New Bathroom Can Add Thousands To A Home’s Value

That’s probably true in many cases, but when you enclose part of an exterior patio to add a weird and tiny triangular bathroom, I think the rules might start to fall apart.  My “favorite” bathroom that we saw was just that – a strange triangular bathroom with just a toilet and a tiny sink.  And to top it all off, there were actually two doors to this tiny bathroom.  Two doors!  One led from a bedroom into the bathroom, and the other led from the bathroom to the patio in this picture to the right.

The Driveway Was Paved With Good Intentions

If you heard that paver stones instead of a slab driveway increased the value of your house – why not get all of the paver stones you can find and pave the entire front yard?

The entire front yard was covered in pavers. They left just enough room for these bougainvillea bushes to come out of the ground.

It actually didn’t look bad.  But there were a couple small issues with it.  One – there’s a cap in our town on what percentage of a lot can be paved over (it has to do with water drainage from storms), and we were pretty sure paving over the whole front yard went over that cap.

But the other issue was pretty important, too.  They paved over the septic tank and its opening, which could definitely create issues when that needed to be emptied.  Can we say oops?  (Pooops?!?)

Pavers over the septic tank. Just how was maintenance supposed to happen?


How Can You Go Wrong With New Flooring?

The previous owners of our house weren’t the only ones that did an awful job installing new flooring during the housing boom.  Turns out, lots of other people got it in their heads that new floors were quick and easy DIY jobs.

Wood laminate was particularly popular.  This floor was actually installed so poorly that it popped up in different places when you walked on it because the laminate pieces were not hooked together correctly.

These floors popped up in different places, and were cut poorly enough that you would need pretty big baseboards to cover up all the short cuts.

If all the repairs and construction issues weren’t enough with these places, we also had to worry about current occupants.  And by that I don’t mean the countless bugs that we had the pleasure of running into on our adventures.  I’m talking about…

Squatters and Current Tenants

Squatters were actually a real worry – and if we thought there was someone inside the place, we would turn around and leave immediately.  None of these properties were being very well maintained by the banks that owned them, and it was actually pretty easy to get into the houses.  I stopped counting the number of houses that we went to where the side or back doors didn’t have locks, or where the plywood that was supposed to be blocking the door frame had been cast aside.  In that case, we would yell out “TAX INSPECTOR – WE’RE ENTERING THE PREMISES!”  With no response, we assumed there were no squatters and would go in.

Current tenants were also an issue.  We looked at one duplex that was in a neighborhood we knew very well – and the maintenance and repair issues looked like we could handle them.  There was a big problem though.  The bank was selling it WITH the current tenants.  As far as we could tell, there were at least 9 people (5 adults, 4 kids) living in this 2 bedroom/1 bathroom 800 square foot unit that also had more stuff in it than you’ve ever seen on an episode of hoarders.  The tenants were living there without a contract from the bank that was the current owner, and the “man of the house” was a one-eared guy named Billy.

Billy was nice – although the lack of an ear on one side of his head did freak me out a bit at first – but he had no intention of leaving.  He had turned down “cash for keys” from the bank, and was currently making payments of less than half the market rent in exchange for god-only-knows how many people living there.  Oh yeah, and we think Billy may have been using one of the bedrooms as a grow-room for pot.  Why?  Because we were never allowed in the room, it was sealed airtight, had light blocking foil over the windows, and two extra window A/C units even though the entire unit had central A/C.  Maybe it wasn’t pot, but it felt like there was definitely something fishy going on in the back bedroom.

Needless to say, we were pretty sure that we wouldn’t want to keep Billy and his crew on as tenants if we bought the place.

Here’s the thing about eviction laws.  Learn them before you have to use them.  We looked up what we would have to do if we wanted to buy the place and evict Billy and his crew.  The laws can vary a lot, but in our county, you have to serve eviction papers to every resident 18-years-old and older to even start the process.  If you filed eviction papers on the 5 adults that we knew lived there (if we could even get their names since the bank didn’t have them), and happened to miss one that was also staying there – that remaining adult could invite them all back in and the process would have to start over.  There were also all sorts of crazy restrictions on getting rid of the belongings – and Billy and his crew had a LOT OF STUFF.

So yeah.  We didn’t want to inherit Billy and his crew with a property.  Can you blame us?


At this point, we had been searching for months and were starting to feel like we had gone on a lot of first dates, but just hadn’t found anyone we thought we could “take home to meet the family”.  But then several of them came up all at once that we got pretty serious about.

Continue reading the rest of the story (links will be updated as the parts are published).


13 comments to How We Bought A $50K Duplex – Part 2

  • […] How We Bought A $50K Duplex – Part 2    Worth Mentioning #5 […]

  • Wow these are such crazy stories! I can’t believe those people paved over their septic tank! What were they thinking? Besides, who wants an entirely paved front lawn? Though I guess there would be less grass to cut…

  • I have been waiting all day to find time to sit down and read this. It’s like a soap opera. One eared Billy. You can’t make this stuff up! We looked at one house that was pretty big and not in bad shape for the price, but we got to meet the current tenants and that ruined it. There was a lady and gentleman on oxygen. They also smoked. They kept telling us how bad the property was and how a child got ran over in front of the house, that we would be stupid to buy it, etc. The kicker was when the guy tells us that he used to be married to the lady but they are now divorced, but he still comes over most every day and stays until the evening. A little TMI. It also struck me as very odd that there was a room that obviously belonged to a child with a deadbolt lock on the outside of the door. Not wanting to mess with those people, but at least they had all their ears!

    • On oxygen and smoking? I hope there’s plenty of insurance coverage for fires on that place!

      And a lock on the outside of a kid’s door? I think you were right to walk away from that one!

  • Come on! Who would love opening up their bathroom door to the great outdoors while they were on the pot. Instead of a half bath you could market it as a half outhouse.

    I love how you are taking us through each issue one at a time. I’m very curious since I want my own rental property.

    • When I saw it I just imagined being in that mostly asleep state when sometimes you can’t find the door handle to leave the bathroom in the middle of the night – and all the sudden you open the door and find yourself outside. Unpleasant awakening if I could ever imagine one.

  • So glad I popped over here! These stories are AMAZINGLY hilarious and also terrible at the same time. My wife and I want to get into real estate pretty bad but we have to wait…one step at a time and debt is the focus. Grrr.

    • Yeah, we tend to go with hilarious as we looked for so long you just had to keep a sense of humor about it.
      Good for you for taking care of debt first! We paid all student loans and consumer debt before jumping into real estate, so now most of our debt is related to that… And we are paying it off. =)

  • Buying in an area with squatters…I’d be scared, too! The bushes and paving look pretty, but I can see how it would be crazy for the whole front yard.

    • It wasn’t always hard core squatters – sometimes it was just opportunistic kids that figured out a house was abandoned and not locked up securely and used it as a hang out. Most of the time when we saw evidence of squatters it was empty beer cans and Doritos bags, but I did see blankets that looked recently used and evidence of drugs a few times, too.

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