Play by Play: Trying to Buy a House When the Owner Doesn't Want to Sell

Today's Play by Play had us on the edge of our seats. I mean, we've all dealt with difficult people, but this one kind of takes the cake. Have you ever dealt with a seller who didn't really want to sell? All names and identifying details have been changed in this one...just in case the seller comes back to torment this happy family!

I grew up in Carrollton, Texas and went away for undergraduate and graduate school.  I moved back to town when I was eight months pregnant with my first child.  We wanted to raise our kids near family.  The Christmas before we moved back to Carrollton, in December of 1999, my husband and I looked at real estate.  We purchased a house that was lovely, in our budget and had lovely neighbors. 

I was tremendously sick while pregnant and my mother took her anxiety out on the garden of our new house.  She weeded and worried while I was a thousand miles away, throwing up.

She got to know the neighbors and took care of the house, which sat empty for seven months until we moved back in August.

I remember looking down at my newly born child in the hospital and thinking, “Oh no.  Where is he going to go to school?”  Bizarrely, it had not occurred to me prior to that moment that the neighborhood we had purchased a house in was zoned for schools that were not great.

We looked at private schools, we looked at moving, and we considered our options.  I knew where I wanted to live, and the schools were great there.  It was the neighborhood I had grown up in.

When Bennett, our child, was two years old, I was driving through my old neighborhood and saw an estate sale sign at a lovely large house.  I stopped and went in.  The owners were an older couple, the wife was an artist, and the husband was a retired Chicago architect. 

We talked at length and I got to know them, and I had been looking for someone to do a portrait of my dog (don’t ask why!).  So, the artist wife did a commissioned portrait of the dog and we stayed in touch.  Six months later, out of the blue, I emailed her and asked if they would consider selling their house.  They would consider and had recently purchased a house in Florida with the plan to move there.

So, we proceeded to work through a for sale by owner transaction.  It was a debacle.  The wife “needed” to sell the house, but it was a family home and she absolutely did not want to sell the house.  Every step was difficult.  They did not want inspections, and wanted us to buy the 100-year-old house “as is.”  They did not want to close on this day, or that day, or really any day.  They were abusive and difficult.  At one point, I was on the phone with the husband and he told me that I was “the most difficult person he had ever met and I should get some therapy and help with my personality disorder.”  I am, of course, a therapist.

I will never forget my sister telling me, as I said to her that I was done and did not even care about the house anymore, that I needed to “keep my eye on the ball.” 

My sister knew I loved the house and wanted it badly.  I just needed to suck it up and take it.

The closing day finally came, not without a lot of drama as they scheduled movers and rescheduled them.  The final scheduled day for the movers was the day after the closing.  My lawyer had asked me if they could spend one more night in the house after we became the owners.  It was a stretch at that point to be nice, but I agreed they could spend an extra night.  My husband went over to the house the day after the closing with a load of furniture and found the prior owners still at the house. 

The wife’s cat was under the house and refusing to come out.  The wife was weeping and the husband was stomping around.  My husband crawled under the house and got the cat.  Several hours later they left.

I found out later after I had painted the giant purple (yes, purple) house a pale lovely yellow with white and dark green trim, that a neighbor had tried to buy the house a year before.  The neighbor had been friends with the wife and as negotiations proceeded the neighbor casually mentioned she would be painting the house yellow.  That was the end of the negotiation and friendship.  Apparently, the wife loathed yellow and was so appalled that the neighbor wanted to paint the house yellow that she essentially never spoke with her friend again.

Oh well, the house is lovely in its pale yellow!

I would never ever do another for sale by owner transaction.  There are excellent real estate agents out there and there are many good reasons to use them!  They are worth every penny!

Whew! That was a roller coaster ride, wasn't it? We're glad it all ended well.