When we decided to move from Tucson, Arizona, to Reno, Nevada, in 2001, we didn’t have much time to get moved and get the house sold. The opportunity in Reno and the decision to go, happened very quickly. We knew we would have to sell the house we had just bought a little over two years ago because we couldn’t afford two mortgage payments and we had no intentions of returning to the Tucson heat, ever. We were offered the services of a relocation company to help us. Enclosed in the package from the relocation company was a business card from the “best” real estate company in Tucson. We had to use the “best” real estate company in Tucson because our relocation service required us to use them.
When the realtor drove up to the front of our house at 5311 S. Via Galapagos, one who didn’t look at all like the picture on the business card I was holding, she was “afraid,” she said, “to get out of her car.” There was a car parked in front of the neighbor’s house, a low-rider convertible, with the usual Bondo, rust and primer paint job, and a scruffy, burly dude sitting in the driver’s seat sipping on a beer, waiting for the neighbor to return. It wasn’t like we lived in a “bad” neighborhood, but it was south Tucson. Not the incorporated city of South Tucson, but farther south, on Benson Highway, in a newer subdivision of homes, not on a hillside, but all looked just the same. She just sat there in her car with the doors locked, so I went out to get her and, I guess, safely escort her into the house.
The realtor, who may have looked like her business card picture 30 years ago when she was in high school, maybe, didn’t impress me at the get go. I didn’t think that she was going to sell the three bedroom, two bath home at all, let alone in six months and I was later proved to be psychic. But we listened to her spiel about all the houses she had sold and how successful she was, using a flip-chart binder that showed sales figures, days on the market of her listings, and all her awards. We signed the listing agreement and hoped for the best.
My wife and the furniture moved on to Reno, and I stayed with the house and lived in our motor home that was parked on the side. At the end of six months, having only shown the house three times, we did not renew our listing agreement and instead went in search of a property management company. We were going to be landlords.
Maria, at the property management company, was new. She told me that. A few weeks new, but she assured me, the property management company was stellar and had been in business for 15 years. They managed all kinds of properties from million dollar mansions to duplex apartments and whole complexes. I was alone to make the decision, and I just wanted to get someone to start making the house payment for me. The management company would require $120 per month, so we settled on a rent of $1,000 a month which would give me a positive cash flow of $185. Not a fortune, but they were still building in the subdivision and when it was built out, the house would inevitably increase in value.
I quit my job, gassed up the motor home and headed to Reno. It was October, 2001. Maria called excitedly while I was on the road, to say that she had found a renter, but they needed a little help getting in the property. She was a single mom (yes, she used the single mom card on me) and would need to split the deposit up into several months. Maria said the woman was a friend of hers and she knew she would be good. I agreed reluctantly and we had our first tenant.
The single mother never paid another dime after the first month’s rent and the partial deposit. And to top it off, she drove her car, I assume accidentally, into the garage door. The door had to be replaced, and within several months I got a letter from the Home Owners Association telling me I was in violation of the bylaws because the door was not painted the same color as the trim on the house. They added that my weeds needed to be pulled in a week or I would be fined, and that I could no longer park the additional cars on the gravel yard. The house had a two-car driveway. I was now wondering how many cars a single mother had, or maybe she just liked parking on the gravel yard instead of the driveway. The other thing about the incident that was interesting to me, was the last name of the guy that repaired the garage door at my expense, was the same as the last name of the guy that owned the property management company.
So I had to make the mortgage payment for another six months until they could get someone to sign a new lease. They would take the rent issue to court, Maria said, but didn’t expect much. When I got the bill from the property management company for the legal fees to file the suit, I told them to forget it, I couldn’t afford this and we both knew the single mother didn’t have the money to pursue.
After leaving Maria several messages over a couple of weeks, I got a call from her telling me they had found a tenant for the property. They checked him all out and he was an elderly Mexican man and his wife. He was retired and in the country legally. No kids or animals. She felt he was the perfect tenant. For almost a year, he was. I got my $1,000 minus fees every month and I was able to pay the mortgage. But I kept being fined by the HOA, what I like to call, in general, “Nazi Organizations,” because of the uncontrolled growth of weeds in my yard.
I called Maria. “We’ve been fined another fifty dollars for the weeds on the Galapagos property. I thought you were going to take care of that? The HOA says we owe them $350 in fines just for the weeds and they want me to pay up. I’m not paying them. You said you had this taken care of.”
“I’m sorry,” Maria said, “I’m really sorry.” She sounded really sorry, almost like she was going to cry.
“Have you seen the front page of the Tucson paper?” Maria said. “I’ve been on vacation and just got back? I tried to call you but I got your voicemail.”
Now why in the hell would she think that I’ve seen the front page of the “Tucson Citizen?” Did she think I was having it mailed up to Reno so I wouldn’t miss anything?
“No, Maria, I don’t get the paper up here.”
“Well go on line and read yesterday’s edition and call me back.” And she hung up. I was stunned. Why the hell did she hang up on me?
I sat down at my computer and pulled up yesterday’s front page of the Tucson Citizen. Oh my God, there was my house, a half-page photograph above the fold, in blazing color…(To Be Continued)