Stop Here! This Is It!

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We all have pride in getting the job done as efficiently and financially rewarding as possible but every year hundreds of contractors lose hundreds of thousands of dollars because of their actions during the first fifteen minutes on-site.  You can save yourself money, time and aggravation by first making absolutely certain you are at the right property.

This is a busy business with a lot going on.  You are going to have the wrong paper work sent to you on occasion.  Tax records have been known to be wrong and it is easy, easy, easy to replace vinyl numbers on a mailbox if you hope to confuse someone like property preservation contractors.

This little war story is warranted now, I think and I’m going to tell it so you will know the difficulty some people will go to to hide or deceive.  I think it was my first year in the business and I had a work order to locate a mobile home in the next county over.  I found the address easily but there was a brick home there.

I did not want to be beat so early in the game so over the next several days I checked with the tax office, the Department of Transportation, police, fire and emergency 911.   They all had the mobile home on file at that address.  This is a pretty rural area so the closest neighbor was at a least a mile away. I could tell you some more of the extreme measures I took to find the mobile home but let’s move on:

I finally gave up and was on my way home when I passed a pretty over-weight sixty-year-old-or-so guy in a police uniform walking across a field heading in my direction.  This was too good to pass up; I had to hear his story.  Turns out, he was the on-call, part-time, night-time jailer at the city jail.  They had called him in to work and his wife had the car.  Without revealing exactly what I was up to, we starting talking about properties in the area when finally he said “yea, that guy must have been crazy as a bat.”

Fast forward again.  The owner of the mobile home had spent thousands of dollars building the shell of a brick house around the mobile home.  Not a house mind you, just normal looking brick walls with windows, doors and a roof.  And without a permit.  Seems like this fact along with a few more interesting stories from the jailer revealed why the owner was in the state prison and the property was being maintained by the county park service which I did not check with – would you?

I could not believe what I saw when I opened the front door.  I was inside a brick building with absolutely nothing inside except a mobile home.  There was an assortment of 2×6 planks leading from the front door of the house to the front door of the mobile home.  Amazing.  And crazy.

So, let’s look at some things you can do so that you don’t look as bad as I did:

  • Verify the address.  Look for house numbers, mailbox numbers, numbers on the curb, etc.
  • Try to match the number on the property with the name of the mortgagor on your paperwork.
  • Talk with neighbors and document house numbers and names –  (Do not discuss any details of the assignment).
  • Verify utilities – check exterior water spigots, electric and gas meters, look for water meter at street, etc.  Most electric companies will give you the address if you will first give them the serial number of the electric meter.  Be nice and tell them why you need the information.
  • Is there any personal property – how is it arranged, strewn or organized?
  • What is the condition of the lawn and shrubbery?
  • Are there any realtor signs, even old ones laying in the grass?

In other words do everything you can to make absolutely certain you are at the right property and it is without a doubt vacant.  Otherwise, you are going to be in a world of hurt.

A couple of years ago a contractor told me he would not go to all the trouble other contractors do.  “Walk up, break the lock and start to work”.  That was his words.  “Insurance company can pay for any mistakes”, he said.  And I guess I’ll have to admit that it worked pretty well until his insurance was cancelled and he got sued a week later for $47,000.

Have fun out there and think of yourself first and I guess it’s okay if you want to check with the county park service too.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. From Contractor’s Property Preservation Operations Manual  by Terry W. Platt, Published by Gulf Thunder Corporation, 2009

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