“Alright, alright. Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog. What’s Goofy?”
– Gordie, Stand By Me
Patio homes: what are they?
If you have been in Scottsdale for any period of time, or have been shopping for a home from afar, you have undoubtedly encountered the term patio home more than once.
You know what a single-family home is. You know what a condo is. You even know what a townhouse is.
But what the hell is Goofy?
The term, patio home, is not a legal descriptor. It does not describe a style of ownership. It is really more of an idea than a legal thing.
For brevity’s sake, we’ll define a patio here in accordance with prevailing wisdom. Most consider a patio home to be a cross between a townhouse and a single-family home; a hybrid, if you will. Patio homes bridge the divide between traditional housing types. You can think of a patio home like a single-family home that has been plopped onto a townhouse sized lot. That’s a gross oversimplification, of course, as patio homes come in all shapes and sizes, but this post is to serve as a handy crib sheet, not a thesis.
The idea is to provide housing with relatively low outdoor maintenance without sacrificing the size of the home itself. In other words, patio homes are tailored to those who still want the privacy and comforts of a single-family home, just not all of the headaches and expenses that come with the standard single-family lot.
The typical patio home may be attached to a neighboring property by one or two common adjoining walls (like most townhouses), or be free-standing (like most single-family homes). Many patio homes are single level, but they can have multiple levels, too. Patio homes typically do not have neighbors above or below them, as is common with apartment style condos.
Patio home ownership varies from development to development. Some entail fee simple ownership (you own the lot in addition to the structure). Some entail condo ownership (you do not own the lot, just a fractional interest in the common area).
Responsibility for property maintenance varies as well. Some communities have very active homeowner associations that provide for front landscaping maintenance as well as select exterior structural maintenance of the homes themselves. Other patio home communities more closely reflect single-family ownership, in which homeowners are fully responsible for all maintenance associated with their properties. You need to check community CCRs to determine exactly what is and what is not covered by the HOA in a patio home development.
If you like the idea of a smaller, low-maintenance lot, but aren’t quite ready to step all the way down to a townhouse or condo, a patio home might be just the thing for you. Popular with seasonal residents as well as full-time residents who frequently travel or simply prefer a little less upkeep, patio homes exemplify the lock-and-leave lifestyle that many Scottsdale home buyers seek.
So there you go. Not so Goofy after all, is it?
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“I don’t recall the Pontiac being there.”
Sid Gustafson took in the back end of the forest green automobile that jutted out of the modest mid-century ranch. He had closed the purchase on the home mere hours earlier.
The car occupied the space in the living room’s exterior wall where a large picture window had formerly resided. Remnants from the surrounding brick littered the planter box below, dusting the remains of a lantana hedge in terracotta. Glass stalactites dangled precariously from the top of the demolished window, eager to avenge their fallen brethren.
His wife, Nancy, did not respond, but her sharp intake of breath confirmed that he was not alone in his recollection. Sid scanned the license plate that clung to the rear fender by one twisted screw.
“Warp speed,” he interpreted with a dry chuckle. He turned to Nancy, but she lifted a trembling finger to stifle the welling joke. Grudgingly, he let it pass.
“So,” he tried again after a moment of tense silence. “Do you think this is a home or auto claim?”
“Call Adam,” Nancy commanded, her icy voice scarcely more than a whisper.
“Let’s just see-” Sid began to reply before being cut short.
“Now!” Nancy hissed, rounding on him with nostrils flared and murder in the cobalt eyes that lay coiled beneath tight curls of snow white hair.
The crisp autumn air carried on it the chemical smell of burned plastic. Sid was halfway convinced that the barrel fire blazing within his significant other, rather than the smoldering wreckage behind her, was responsible for it.
He removed his cell phone from the front pocket of his jeans, flipped it open, and dialed their real estate agent without further argument.
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Sid mumbled in practiced response to the automated voice that told him to enjoy the playback music before his party was reached. His Realtor’s genial answer came midway through the well-traveled chorus of Paradise City by Guns and Roses. Unfortunately, it was just his canned message assuring Sid of the importance of his call.
“Adam, it’s Sid,” he said after the beep. “We’ve got a problem here.”
He braved a sideways glance at his wife. Somehow, she seemed to have swelled well beyond her sub five foot frame. Malice alone put her nearly eyeball to eyeball with Sid’s stooped six feet and two inches.
“Someone’s in my parking spot,” Sid finished. “Call me back.”
There was a sudden change to the ozone as everything stopped for a moment, a perfect, unnatural stillness cast over the world. Then Nancy exploded.
“Everything is funny to you, isn’t it,” she demanded. “Just one big running joke!”
“Well, guess what, mister comedian,” she continued. “I don’t think it’s funny.”
Sid retracted from the verbal battering to come, an aged hand thick as an oven glove reflexively rising to ward off the blows.
“I didn’t think it was funny when you introduced me at the first office Christmas party as your naughty secretary! I didn’t think it was funny when you told Helen’s third grade teacher that I wouldn’t let her attend the field trip to the dairy farm because I am lactose intolerant!”
“Honey,” Sid pleaded. “This is ancient hist-”
“I didn’t think it was funny,” Nancy interrupted, her face a pleated crimson mask, “when you told everyone that I was just carb loading when I was six months pregnant with Isaac!”
The beginnings of a smile tugged at the corners of Sid’s mouth, but he beat it back before it could materialize into the death sentence it was sure to be.
“I didn’t think it was funny that time you interrupted my bridge group to ask if your speedo made you look fat.”
At this, Sid did smile. He laughed, in fact. A deep, bellowing laugh, unravaged by time, that had won Nancy over so many years ago.
“I didn’t think it was funny when you asked the bishop if he was a boxers or briefs man.”
A slight smile betrayed her, however. The angry maze of wrinkles began to disband, reestablishing itself along the deeper grooves of her laugh lines.
“I really don’t think it’s funny that there’s a car sticking out of our new house.”
Now, Helen was closing her eyes and shaking her head. Staying angry at her lovable goof of a husband was like cursing the tides. He was who he was. In truth, she was mad at herself. She was the de facto iron fist, responsible for steering their ship when Sid, the drunken captain, inevitably fell asleep at the wheel. It had been an unusually hectic week. Things that she would ordinarily never miss, got missed. And here they were.
“And I really, really don’t think it’s funny that you forgot about the final walkthrough that you promised to do before we signed the closing papers.”
Sid pulled her close and held her tight. Resigned, her breath came slow and steady against his chest.
“What are we going to do,” Nancy whispered.
The phone rang.
Sid answered on the second ring, interrupting the vaguely robotic factory-programmed tone from 2006 that he had never bothered to reset.
“Hi Adam,” he responded without checking the caller ID. The only other person who ever called him at this number was standing next to him.
“About that home warranty policy the seller bought for us …”
“Does it include windows?”
It wasn’t your first choice. It wasn’t your second either. In fact, the short sale you wrote the offer on was likely more a product of attrition than anything else.
Short sales take time. Like most astute 2012 home buyers, you are all too aware that the offer you submit on an upside-down property will likely take a minimum of 60 days for a response from the seller’s lender. You are also aware that the list price of the home is not necessarily reflective of the price that the lender will ultimately be willing to accept. If you are like many buyers I encounter, the cumulative uncertainty of a short sale transaction is likely what ultimately convinced you to first trawl the regular resale and/or foreclosure market for a home before turning your attention to short sale candidates. Fact is, unless you are an investor or in no hurry to move out of your month-to-month lease, you likely don’t have the luxury of waiting on an uncertain outcome.
With the pace that the good homes are selling in early 2012 due to a heightened demand and greatly reduced inventory (approximately 18,250 active property listings in the Arizona Regional MLS at the time of this post), it is also likely that you have either lost out on a property or five to competing buyers or become disenfranchised with the lack of choices.
Enter the Placeholder House.
You see, in recent years it has become en vogue for buyers and their agents to tie up a short sale while continuing to look for a more expedient and/or desirable option. Utilizing a standard AAR (Arizona Association of Realtors) short sale addendum, you don’t have to deposit earnest funds, complete inspections, pay for an appraisal or otherwise commit yourself to the transaction until you get the yea or nay from the seller’s lender.
In essence, you get to tie the property up for free. If something better pops up while the bank is going through its laborious machinations, you can bounce at a moment’s notice. Sounds like the perfect backstop, right?
Not so fast, my friend.
Wising up to the ploy, short sale sellers and their capable agents have taken to adding penalties to such indiscriminate escrow hopping. The shrinking inventory means that there is more competition from your fellow buyers on short sale properties, too. No longer do the better opportunities lie all over the market, waiting for an indifferent buyer to pick them. They are sought after commodities. As such, you can expect to encounter terms such as non-refundable earnest money placed in escrow upon seller acceptance of your offer (before it is submitted to the bank for approval) for the first 60 days (or until bank response, whichever comes first). Some short sale list agents have taken to demanding that the inspection period begin upon seller acceptance as well.
These are measures undertaken to tie you into the deal; they provide you with a vested interest in sticking around for an approval rather than discarding them for the first best alternative that comes down the pike.
If you enter a short sale transaction in 2012, it’s best you leave the placeholder mentality where it belongs: 2010.
Time to abandon the contractual hedging of bets and get back to entering a purchase agreement with the intention of buying a house, lest you get stuck in a purchase you only sort of want to make.
Short sales: they aren’t just for Real Estate philanderers anymore.
Classic risk aversion for the liability-phobic mandates that an agent make no actual referral to an auxiliary service provider in the course of a Real Estate transaction. Need a lender? Here are the names of three professionals. Need a home inspector? Sift through this stack of business cards and let me know who you choose to hire. The very thought of shimmying out on a limb to recommend a capable practitioner sends shivers up the clenched backside of some in our ranks. Cold anticipation of the potential commissionectomy that attends a referral gone bad trumps the tug of responsibility.
No businessman walks around looking for a financial colonic, but the very real potential for having his inner sanctum legally hollowed out exists in each and every transaction he undertakes. As such, it has become customary for many to simply ward off as much exposure as possible by abstaining from any form of guidance that can later be labeled malfeasance or conflict of interest. Heaven knows, if the contractor you recommend for repairs screws the electrical pooch, any rabid attorney worth his salt will gleefully encourage the client to pursue the deep pocketed brokerage (and agent by proxy) as well as the contractor for damages. Why put yourself on the line by recommending a home inspector when the potential for blow-back on a balky A/C unit can put you directly in the cross hairs? For that matter, why even bother to attend the inspection if the due diligence can be misconstrued for interference? Why attend closings if your review of the documents places increased responsibility upon your shoulders for their accuracy?
Because risk deflection is not my job.
My job is to fulfill my fiduciary obligations to my clients to the very best of my ability. That means recommending pros who have proven their worth to me countless times in the past, rather than crossing my fingers and hoping my clients receive competent service. That means attending inspections to physically see any defects, so as to better advise my clients and argue their cases. That means attending the closing to ensure that the settlement statement jives with the negotiated terms of the contract.
Doing the eeny-meeny-miney-mo thing with a referral does not serve the client, and neither does calling in “neutral” to the appointments that demand an ally. Such laissez faire Real Estating is designed only to mitigate the agent‘s risk. While it is understandable, given the litigious nature of our culture, it’s just not how I roll. You need a lender, I give you the name of the best lender I know. You need a home inspector, I give you the name of the most thorough one in the rolodex.
I would argue that recusing oneself from the crucial junctures and decisions of a transaction is not only negligent, but self-defeating. As the surest invitation for catastrophe is to stand aside and watch the transaction happen, the best defense is, and always will be, a good offense. Fixing potential problems, rather than hiding from them, has kept my clients happy, and me out of legal hot water to date. Active involvement serves the interests of all parties.
I wear my big boy pants to work every day. I put them on with the knowledge that certain forces will always be beyond my control. Secure in that understanding, I’d much rather stand behind the repercussions of my actions than my inactions. Standing on the sideline, not attending inspections & closings, carefully avoiding opinions … seems to me that ascribing to the Caspar Milquetoast model of risk avoidance is, ironically, the surest route to the ruin that one would desparately scramble to avoid. Decreasing the standard of care for the client is akin to an RSVP for trouble.
And trouble never sends its regrets.
Need a Referral to a Local Professional? Give me a ring. I’m not afraid of my own recommendations.