My sister and I have just returned from a trip to Hades. We didn't think it was going to be like that when we flew into a small town in the Pacific Northwest this weekend to take a look at two rental properties we had inherited from our father. Smart man, our father. Good investor. We were even planning to meet with a lawyer in this little burg to help us form an Limited Liability Corporation so we could have a little business that would go on collecting the profits from these fine properties. Hah! The weekend didn't quite develop as we expected--real estate wise or otherwise. For one thing, there is now a question about our parents' marriage. But first the story of the houses ...
Our little home in "Smallville" could use a coat of paint. Or ten.
My sister and I knew the real estate we inherited in the Pacific Northwest wasn't going to make us rich. Prices in the small town, where our mother and father met, are not high. But the rent had been coming in steadily for thirty years. We figured, what the heck? We would take a look at what we had and then keep the rent on coming.
My father bought the homes in about 1978, spiffed them up and managed them himself until a decade later when he was in his early seventies. Then, he found a management firm to handle the properties for him. He had depreciation and a small, steady income from them. His home was a thousand miles away, but he paid a manager, so all was well. Or so he thought.
Sadly, in the last ten years of his life, my father was not one hundred percent well. He wasn't in nursing care until the last few months of his life, but, for a decade, his formidable acuity and his ability to check the rental statements, decreased over the years. Our mother never understood them, and didn't care (and didn't want our help.)
Long story short: After my father's death, I analyzed the data and noted that in some years the expenses on the little rental homes exceeded eighty percent and that, even to my limited experience, didn't seem right. When my repeated questions were not answered by the "Bonanza Rental Agency" (not its real name) my sister and I hired a new management company.
This weekend we flew to "Smallville" (not its real name) to meet the new manager.
The first house was so bad I actually started to cry. It hadn't been painted in twenty years. The siding was peeling and the window trim was worn and rotted. The house needed a new roof, immediately and so did the garage. The yard was a mess and the garage, in addition to the horrible roof, looked as if it might collapse at any minute.
I had to have a cup of tea to settle my stomach after I saw the back door.
The second house was a little better--but not by much. Especially the air conditioning. What can I say? My father and mother would have been beside themselves. They were meticulous about everything they owned and always vowed they would not own a rental house they could not live in themselves.
Somehow, I can't picture my mother living with this AC unit, much less the curtain fabric.
For twenty years my ethical parents paid for maintenance that didn't take place. All that money charged to them over all those years went somewhere: but it didn't go into the homes.
We slithered into a coffee shop nearby to talk. We must have looked shaken, because the waitress, a sweet-looking girl with her hair in a braid, asked us what was wrong. We told her. "It wasn't Bonanza Rental Company," she asked?
Guess everybody knew but us.
Sixty-six years ago, my father and mother came to this courthouse to take out their marriage license. For many reasons, this was an emotional trip down memory lane for my sister and me.
But the day got even worse and we didn't think that was possible! We stopped by the county courthouse to see if our Grant Deeds had been filed (you have to do that when someone dies and you inherit property.) The paperwork had been sent back to us several times because we were a penny off on the check or we forgot to put a page number on something. We asked a lady named Kathy to check her computer to see if, this time, the deeds were filed okay.
Kathy had hair as tall as the courthouse tower and wore white lipstick like Morticia Addams.
"Nah, I sent them back to you," she said. "Your check had your old address on it and we can't accept that."
Okay. My sister and I looked at each other. We were wondering when we could catch the next bus out of Smallville.
But perky Miss Chapman, (that would be me) said: "Hey, let's look up Mom and Dad's marriage license." You have to understand, to a family historian, this is what passes for fun.
My sister looked at me as if I were a two-headed alien.
The dilapidated-looking man at the County Courthouse desk looked up Mom and Dad on the Smallville County computer. "William Ashley Chapman?" he asked, after waiting several minutes for the ancient computer to cogitate a bit and go back in time six decades.
"October 1, 1944?" We nodded again.
"Yup. William Ashley Chapman married Ruth Elaine L____ that day," he said and looked up at us, expectantly. Ruth is our aunt. She was the maid of honor at our parents' wedding. Even the record of their marriage is fouled up. For us, there is no joy in Smallville.
"I'm getting out of here," my sister muttered.
Me? I can't wait to call my Aunt Ruth and tell her the news.
She has been married to my Uncle Joe for sixty years and they have ten children. Now, she has two more she didn't know about!
And her newly-discovered daughters own two really bad-looking rental homes.
Hey, I can made you a good deal on a prime piece of property in Smallville.