I’m trying to buy a house in West Oakland. The price is right - about 135K. The place needs… well, everything. The previous owner bought three places, side by side, and did a lot of “work” on them, so they could flip the houses. All of it was illegal, and all of it was BAD. Want new walls? Just smack up some drywall over the old plaster. New outlets? No sweat - wire those bad boys in before the new drywall goes up. They won’t see the wires; they’re between the two layers of plaster. But the absolute best? The roof. You can see daylight through this roof. You can whiff basketballs through this roof. The mold is so bad that I have to wear a respirator. The floor has traces of green from alge. But the kitchen! it looks FAB, does it not? Want to remove a stairway and not fix the siding? Cut the door in half, nail it shut, and call it waterproof. NEXT!
In other words, it’s exactly what I’m looking for. I’m delighted. However, the City of Oakland is doing everything in it’s mother-lovin’ power to stop this sale. Why? Probably because they LIKE crack houses. My diligent and excellent escrow company has been “working” with the City of Oakland for almost a month to try to get this thing sold.
First, we pull the title. YOW! Ug-LEE. There are numerous liens on the property from the city. Apparently, when the owner walked away, the crack heads moved in. The city cleaned it up a few times, and tried to charge the owner for the service. Now, the owner has fled, so the city is owed the cleaning charge. Also, there are numerous fines from “red tagging” - All the work was done without permits. There are three additional liens which were recorded in error (how do you record a lien by mistake? Three times?) Then, there’s the doozy. The city has a $50,000 “prospective lien” on the property. And, to cap it all off, the city is in the process of declaring the property a “Substandard public nuisance”. Now, this is all well and good. The guys who “fixed” this house weren’t going to correct anything, and city wants to get paid. However, here comes a buyer - me - paying cash for a crack house in West Oakland. Not to fix it and flip it, but to live there. You’d think they’d want to help.
Here’s where the fun starts. Escrow contacts the city, and the city informs us that the “prospective lien” is ACTUALLY only for $5176, and they refer us to an inspector. The inspector’s boss has been known to return emails, though it usually takes 48 hours. The inspector herself hasn’t returned an email, ever. And she’s running about 30% on phone calls. In fact, the city of Oakland’s voicemail system has been entirely unavailable twice. So, since we’re now three weeks into the 7 day escrow, I decide to trot down to city hall.
I lean that, we (the seller and myself) have to file a “compliance plan” with the city. The intent, presumably, is that we follow through with the compliance plan to remove all the issues that the property now has. However, to do this, we have to work with the inspector. Oh, and draw up plans. And file a $2000 bond. And pay about $1600 in fees. BEFORE the buyer owns the house. What happens, I ask, if the deal falls through? I’m informed that it has happened in the past, and the buyer attempted to get the fees and bond refunded (I guess they were out the plan drawing charge, which typically start at $2500). The inspector told me that the city of Oakland - i.e,:, her - told them to fuck off, and the buyer was left with no money, and the city was left with another crack house. Oh, and one of the violations? Well, my door is right bang at the top of the stairs. No landing. I go to the historical department, and pull a photograph taken in 1988, showing the door in the current position. The historical department guessed that the porch had been glassed in sometime in the 1920s. So, I’m forced to correct a code violation from 1925 before I can move into a crack house?
After three or four rounds of this, (not to mention the good old runaround to other departments, but that’s a side issue), the inspector calls me back and informs me that since it’s an all cash transaction, I can actually just take responsibility for all of the above issues, and we can FINALLY transfer title. The seller - a bank - drops the price of the house by the cost of the bond - $2000 - and the approximation of the fees - $1600.
The summary, though, is pretty sad for Oakland. What it really means is that it’s effectively impossible to use a loan to buy a house which has been declared “substandard” by the city. Only the worst of the worst manage to get declared substandard, but it’s a bureaucratic roach motel. Essentially, the city is going to ensure that once a house has been identified as a nuisance, it’s pretty much going to stay that way, racking up additional fees, and never get sold.
My house will close August 5th. 36 days after entering the 7 day escrow period.