Friday, October 30, 2009

Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave When First We ... Buy, Sell or Renovate Real Estate in Salinas

Shenanigans. It's the only word I can think of to describe everything that's gone on with this house in the past 10 years. Not quite illegal, but not quite on the up and up either. Just like a lot of what goes on in Salinas.

(Not bashing Salinas, let me add. I love it here. I moved BACK here, remember? But the town is full of shenanigans.)

Somewhere around 2000, the owner twice removed had applied for a permit to turn the building into a house/bed and breakfast. Fabulous, we thought. We can use those plans. But for whatever reason, probably the passage of time, those permits lapsed. (Interesting that permits lapse when it's convenient for the city, but remain enforced when that's convenient too.) The last owner came in, paid $20,000 for a permit to turn the house into office space, and commenced the work.

That was a very expensive permit: $20,000, paid to a city that then, as it does now, desperately needs the dollars. But the owner lacked a little document called a site plan review, an absolute necessity and one that should have gotten the place red-tagged, but never did.

New roof, new foundation, new electrical and plumbing all were put in. And never inspected. I wouldn't expect they were ever signed off, because the bank foreclosed before the work was final. But there were no inspections along the way either. It would seem logical that the foundation would be inspected before interior work commenced, but that never happened.

And this is probably my favorite part; the previous owner still owns the rights to his plans. They were never transferred to the bank when the foreclosure happened. So while the bank has a copy of the plans, we're not sure they can actually give them to us (although they already have). If we can't demonstrate ownership of the plans, will any architect be willing to revise them?

Strangely, the previous owner isn't answering the bank's phone calls.

I feel bad for the guy, I really do. He over-leveraged and lost a few tenants at another project he owned while he was in the middle of building another house, and that's how his collapse occurred. Someone told me that as he was in the final days before the bank took back the property, he would stand on the street in front of the house, smoking and staring, smoking and staring.

The lack of plans, and lack of clear direction, leaves us in the real estate equivalent of limbo. Not heaven, not hell (not yet, anyway) but limbo. Do we need entirely new plans? Can we get the old plans? Do we need an entirely new site plan as well? And most importantly, what is it all going to cost.

Chuck met with the Redevelopment Agency this week, and they expressed their deep and abiding hope (i.e., desperation) that something good would happen to this property. It's in an RDA district and could qualify for some financial aid. Before California started teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and raided redevelopment coffers to keep the lights on, there was RDA money available for things like facade improvement--painting, landscaping, etc.--but that money is now gone. "God, we just want to see the place painted," the RDA guy told Chuck. We want to see it painted too, painted and a lot more.

Next up is another meeting with the city planning department (they told our agent that they found Chuck "very workable" because he asked smart questions and dressed appropriately. Dressed appropriately? That earned an eye roll, I think.

Stay tuned. I've put the fantasies about what the place could look like on hold for the time being, because in limbo, there's no room for fantasy. But if I was going to fantasize, there are apple and lemon trees in the side yard, and raised beds for growing vegetables in the back.

Not that I'm thinking about that.


  1. I know a good architect who would love to make your dreams come true. For a good time, call a strange fellow (who lives in the (north) east bay.

  2. "...smoking and staring, smoking and staring."

    Totally had days like that, except the smoking part was done in my mind.

  3. I hear you on the frustration front. I've been pretty frustrated with Salinas projects, too. Keep the vision, however, Salinas needs some fantasy, vision and determination to keep us OUT of Limbo!


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