The Never Ending Move

by admin on July 14, 2010

Two years ago our family moved 2,200 miles across country to a small town in the Midwest. This is a VERY small town that does not get a lot of people moving there, but for the most part the people are friendly. Unfortunately, sometimes too friendly for our taste.

We moved from California where etiquette is slightly different from the Midwest. On the West coast, you call before you stop at someone’s house. In the Midwest, you drop by and that is perfectly acceptable. Being from California, one of the things we were looking for with our new home was privacy. This is treasured in Southern California where the houses are very close together. In our last house, my neighbor would talk to me from her bathroom while I was on by back deck. So privacy was an issue.

We found the perfect house. It’s on a couple of acres of land on a dead end road. One way in, one way out. We are the only house on the road. The rest of the land is farmland. Therefore, we have no neighbors, unless you count the corn. We purchased the house from the “Smith” family. Because we were moving long distance, escrow closed on the house before we started our move. The Smith family was having trouble closing escrow on their new house so they asked if they could stay in their old house until we arrived. Against my better judgment we agreed. We did not want to start off on the wrong foot in this small town. We were specific about two things; we told them the day we were arriving and that they must be out by then. Also, we were bringing several dogs and would need use of our barn immediately.

We arrived late at night in February. The house was indeed empty and Mrs. Smith had cleaned every inch of it. It was beautiful. We bunked the people and the dogs down for the night. The next morning we went to the barn to prepare it for our animals. Mr. Smith had left the barn full. Everything they had in the barn was still there. Mowers, tools, toys, bikes, everything. This was the beginning of our relationship with the Smiths.

After we contacted them and asked them to remove their items from our barn they started showing up at the house at odd times. The first time was 9:30pm on a Sunday night. Keep in mind that Mr. Smith works from home and they have 11 children to help. The next time was again sometime around 8:00pm. The thing is, they never called first even though we asked them to. They would just show up at random times and take some things from the barn. It took weeks for this to end.

This finally tapered off and stopped. Until one day, about a year later, I walked outside to again find Mr. Smith in the barn. He was looking for something he’d left. He just drove over, opened the barn doors, walked in and started looking around. Totally unannounced. And yes, Mr. and Mrs. Smith have our phone number. We didn’t see anyone again for a few months. Now two years have gone by since we purchased the house. This spring an unfamiliar car came up to the house. A young man explained that he had been friends with the Smith children. Had practically grown up on the property. In fact, he had made two wood outdoor chairs that were currently sitting out near our back garden. He was here to pick them up. Two outdoor chairs that had been left 2 years ago. Chairs which we were obviously using. He loaded them up in his truck and was gone.

Now, it’s Fourth of July weekend this year. We are quietly enjoying being home and are doing all of those outdoor chores you do on a long weekend. Lo and behold, here come some of the Smith children on their bikes. They just wanted to visit the house. They had to ride 4 MILES across town to do this. The thing is, I wouldn’t have minded if someone had called and said the kids wanted to pop over. I probably would have said sure, no problem. But I would have been sufficiently warned to make sure my dogs were put away and that I wasn’t wearing my old gardening clothes.

The question is twofold. One, when does it become our house, and two, when should they stop showing up on the property to pick up belongings they have left behind. This winter will be three years. Isn’t that enough? 0708-10

It became your house and property and the contents thereof the moment you signed all the legal documentation.   You got taken advantage of…pure and simple.  And you allowed yourself to be taken…repeatedly.   Your failure to have a backbone due to a fear of man (what will the community say if I get tough?) resulted in people beyond the family taking advantage of you.

The first few times I would have been tolerant.  But after that, I’d have confronted whatever Smith happened to be trespassing on my property with an ultimatum that any further unauthorized excursions onto your land and poking around in your outbuildings will result in a call to the sheriff’s and legal action.   I live in a rural area and unknown noises coming from the barn are grounds for me to walk out there with a loaded .22 rifle or the shotgun.   Had you been me, Mr. Smith might have been staring at the end of rifle barrel until I figured out who he was and why he was fritzing around in my barn.  Bottom line, if your sale contract did not contain an extensive list of items on the property that did not convey in the sale, the Smiths have no legal right to them once they have been left.  It is only by your good graces that they can retrieve what they consider to be theirs but there is a limit to that graciousness that no one should presume upon.

Your reputation for being a push-over was further confirmed when some unidentified person arrived on your property 2 years after you’ve moved in to lay claim to a set of chairs he alleges to have made.   To that request, the response should have been something along these lines,  “Well, that’s nice to know the history of the chairs but if the Smiths had wanted to keep them, they would not have conveyed with the sale of the house.  I sincerely hope you can make another pair for yourself.”   Or offer to sell them to him.

As for the kids coming to visit unannounced, I’d say suck it up.  It’s part of Mid-West culture to drop by for a few minutes to visit and as long as you don’t entertain the kids with beverages and sweets but stick to your task you were engaged in before they arrived, they’ll get the idea that visiting you isn’t all that fun.

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

AuntIda August 10, 2010 at 10:18 pm

In my opinion, the OP started out doing the right thing. Moving to a small town from a far away state, it’s polite to give the locals a chance. However, when it became clear that the Smith’s weren’t going to remove their belongings in a timely manner, OP should have called his/her realtor (and, BTW, they can still do that). A good realtor will intervene on behalf of the new owner in a matter such as this. If the realtor can’t or won’t help resolve the issue, contact a real estate attorney (which costs, but it’s worth it). An attorney can send one letter to the Smith’s outlining their obligation to immediately remove their personal effects (at new owner’s convenience) and what the consequences of not doing so will be. By “coming on strong” with no trespassing signs, gates, guns, threats, etc, the new family in a small town is burning some bridges they may regret later.

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Me January 8, 2011 at 7:48 am

I’m chiming in with the Midwesterners who were annoyed at the stereotypes. Everyone who knows where I live also *knows* that they are never welcome to just drop by. If I hear a knock at my door and I’m not expecting it, I simply do not answer the door. Only one person violates my rule and I have firmly told her that she is simply not allowed to show up at my home without prior permission.

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anonymous May 23, 2011 at 8:36 am

I personally didn’t even bother to read the rest of this person’s post after that whole “everybody in the midwest stops by without calling first”. I found that rather annoying. What does this person know from ettiquette if they lump everyone together like that? I’ve lived in Milwaukee and people are quite respectful of others privacy. I’ve never experienced such an invasion. I’m not saying it didn’t happen to the op, but for them to say EVERYONE in the midwest does that after one such occurance is highly offensive, biased, and unreasonable. Sorry.

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NostalgicGal December 3, 2012 at 10:40 am

The house I grew up in, we bought after the previous owner passed away, the matriarch of the clan. It had two enclosed sheds (front and back) full basement and walkable attic (you had to use a ladder but it was fully stand up). Both sheds were crammed, as was the basement, and attic, with her stuff. It was agreed as the funeral happened shortly before we bought the place, the family could come get the stuff after we moved in.

We waited, for a full year, and some overtures were made to one of the sons that lived in town on ‘when are you going to come fetch’ and nothing. Finally words were passed that it was a year, come get.

They didn’t. So dad borrowed a ‘graintruck’ and we spent a full weekend clearing the house. Most of it was just old papers-bills and such, old past the ragbag clothes, etc, and we filled that truck box. A few things we kept, about what you could set on a couch (an old mangle, a slightly damaged cheap violin, a couple of jewelry boxes, etc). There weren’t pictures, I do remember that.

I had started school and then some… and finally the older than me daughter of that son, approaches ME at recess one day, asking about ‘can we get the stuff’? Stuff, what stuff? I go home and relay this to my parents. After four and a half years they finally thought they should come get the stuff. My parents were not happy about the son sending his daughter to ask me to ask my parents, as well. I was told to tell them, we threw it out. We waited for a full year and we threw. We tried to contact them several times and then we threw.

I finally understood a few years later why the family was ‘a bit miffed’ but by the same reason, it had been more than enough time to do the mourning and come fetch. As it was it took us two days to clean it out; as many as was in that family they could have done similar, taken a weekend and moved it. At what point is it reasonable? I’d say the two years for the chairs is over and above, and since there was no death in the family, a few months and reasonable hours and a weekend should have been all it tooke for those previous owners to CLEAR and anything left is now the new homeowner’s. (yes this was a ‘small town’ and we’d moved to that town a few years before and rented before buying that house)

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