Shortly after my boyfriend and I moved to Dallas, we decided to buy a piece of rental property. The idea of owning a duplex, where we lived in one half and rented out the other, was really appealing.
For a variety of complicated reasons, our best option was to pay cash, and luckily we had some funds from an inheritance.
There’s a unique feeling that comes when you spend every penny you have on one, huge purchase — a nauseous kind of exhilaration, like slapping your entire 401(k) down on the craps table and yelling, “Put it all on the hard eight.” Yet in this case, the bet seemed secure. Dallas is a solid market, and we carefully researched the area before buying.
The duplex we selected needed expensive repairs, but all the problems were disclosed and reflected in the price. We decided to buy the place and then take out a home equity loan to cover the fixes, a plan that was discussed at great length with our real estate agent. Because neither of us knew Dallas or had ever bought rental property, we trusted her expertise.
Unfortunately, that turned out to be a mistake. As I learned later, there’s a law in Texas that prohibits anyone from borrowing against a multifamily dwelling if they live in one of the units. None of the national lenders I dealt with were aware of it, but all of the local ones were — in other words, it’s common knowledge if you live here. So, in spite of excellent credit and 100 percent ownership of an income-generating property, we are unable to get one dime for repairs. I’m talking electrical. I’m talking foundation.
Do I hold our agent responsible for this mess? No. As a buyer, I should have made sure we qualified for a loan before making the purchase. But would I hire her a second time, or recommend her services? No again. As a professional in the field, she should have been aware of the law and warned us.
The entire mess actually gave me new insight into the pool and spa industry. Pool builders and, to a lesser extent, service techs and retailers, have a duty to protect their clients’ investments. Sometimes that investment is hundreds of thousands of dollars. Homeowners have only the vaguest understanding of our product, and won’t know the applicable codes or soil concerns. They haven’t heard the latest in the plaster-mix-vs –aggressive-water-chemistry debate, and they aren’t aware of the relationship between pool pumps and pipe size.
Moreover, if that knowledge is the foundation of a pool company’s responsibility to its customers, then communication sits right above it. I like to think that our real estate agent wasn’t aware of the Texas law, but it’s possible that she knew and didn’t mention it due to forgetfulness or greed. In any case, the way information is conveyed is almost as important as the information itself. A casual conversation isn’t the same as an email. “Here, sign this” isn’t the same as carefully discussing the terms of a contract. And selling a pool isn’t the same as creating a happy customer.