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This might explain some (possibly most) of the problems we've had to date. There's not much else of interest here. You can skip it without missing much.
There happened to be two lots (yes, only two, the neighborhood is well established) for sale. Both about the same price within less than one mile of each other. We chose the one directly across from the school the children would be attending. It backs up to a DeLaveaga Park which is a fairly large (565 acre) county park and has the school playground in front so we didn't have to worry about yard. It was also on a rather steep hill which afforded an excellent view of the city.
So far everything seemed to go smoothly. Since we did not care for the agent we'd been using (we never signed up with her, she simply heard we were looking for a house and started calling whenever something was available) we called the agency listing the property. Turns out the agency is run by two older men, one of whom my father in law knows, and the other lives next to the lot. Minor glitch: there's already a purchase contract for the lot, but it is set to expire because some condition was not met. The purchaser was a real-estate company that had bought an adjoining lot and was in the process of building a house. We went ahead and made a backup purchase offer. Well, it appeared the original offer fell through, so we proceeded with ours. Uh oh! It never occurred to the original purchaser that someone else would make another offer. He came back the next day to finish up the original contract. When told of the new contract he hired an attorney!
Well, the people selling the lot were incredibly nice and patient through the ordeal but needed to settle this quickly because they wanted to start building a house elseware. It was taken to arbitration. The original purchaser refused to budge even though we offered him a fair amount of money to go away. The arbitrator ruled against us, saying that even though the purchaser missed his deadline, it wasn't missed by that much so he should be allowed the property. The owners' attorney (the property owners used their own attorney and paid all costs; we didn't have to hire one) thought fighting it in court was pretty much a crap shoot though we had a slight edge. We decided to drop it and everyone parted friends.
It turns out later the original purchasers, who put two identical $650,000 houses on the adjoining lots, pretty much went belly-up. Sweet justice.
Back to us: the second lot was still on the market! It was 30% larger and roughly the same cost. OK, we made a bid. The owner would not budge on price, so we paid full. This lot borders the same park and is also at the top of a hill with great views, and it's only a 15 minute walk from the school. The lot was actually half of a larger lot that was being split in half. The day the split was recorded, we purchased our half, and another couple purchased the lower half.
If we only knew. First, the the original lot was 16,300 ft.2 and contained a barn, 2 car garage, and 2 bedroom house. We actually looked at this when we were house hunting and wondered why anyone would pay so much money for a 2 bedroom house!
The man who purchased it had big plans : the zoning was such that the lot could be split into 3. Had he been able to do this, he would have easily made 50%. Unfortunately, the neighbors complained and the city refused to allow him to do this. Plan B -- split the lot in half. There was no outcry this time but any hope he had of making a hefty profit disappeared: his best chance was to break even. In order to split the lot he had to move the driveway which required the building of an retaining wall, roughly 8' high and 140' long, and also move (aka rebuild) the garage. Since this is at the top of a hill (under ours), he was supposed to have put sufficient drainage to as not to flood the downhill neighbor.
Thank God we didn't buy the house! The problems are the subject of a long running court case involving lots of people. Any chance of breaking even disappeared! I won't give details here until everything settles down, but suffice it to say things are ugly!
First rain : remember the drainage I talked about? Well, it turns out the original owner of the lot spent a long time putting in a very involved drainage system where just about every drop from the lot surface as well as some subterrainian water would funnel into a large drain on OUR SIDE! When the neighbor's driveway was moved, the draining end of the pipe was severed. Not capped or anything mind you, just severed. First rain, all the water goes where it's supposed to but can't get out. Two problems: first, the drain hole where all the water goes to doesn't drain, and ends up flooding the neighbors yard. So much water in fact that he cannot even get out of his front door, and the landscaping he has done floats down the street. Second, where the water used to drain to the street isn't plugged, just severed, so the water pushing down undermines the neighbors driveway which begins to sink!
The neighbor is to say the least unhappy. He doesn't hold us responsible but does think we need to come up with a solution. Call the man we purchased it from. Nope, he's not really interested. Best we can do is put a pump in the hole for which my neighbor graciously provides the electricity. I figure it's worth the money to get a good pump, capable of pumping something like 1000 gallons/ minute. Remember, all of the original 16000 ft.2 are funneling into this drain. That's about 10,000 gallons for each inch of rain. Did I mention that 1998/1999 were very wet years? Then I manage to put an undersize pipe on the pump. What's the difference? 2'' v. 2 1/2''. Big difference (about 50%)! After watching the pump churn for a week and make little progress, I get the bigger outlet pipe. Wow! At least now the lots are both staying mostly dry.
A fun note about the pump : once I put the bigger pipe on it & it was working to clear off the lagoon, two people from Santa Cruz public works drove up the street in a hurry. So much water was running down the street they thought a pipe had burst!
Here's the barn coming down. I had assumed there would be a crew with crowbars & axes and it would take a couple of days. When we drove by it was these two trucks. The whole thing took about two hours. Half of that was waiting for the truck to make a dump run.
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