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Urban Legends of Real Estate

Sep 7, 2008
It seems like today, no one is free of the annoying friend who keeps on forwarding them urban legends or glurge (Little Timmy who is dying of cancerous AIDS won't get his dream vacation to Disneyland if you don't send this to 43782195704 people!). And, if you're in the real estate market, chances are that people are more than eager to send you real estate-related urban legends. Some of them are true, some false, and many are in between. Enjoy!

Snopes.com is our friend in these cases. Most of the time, if you get a worn-out forwarded message, Snopes.com will have the answer as to whether it is true, false, multiple truth values, undetermined, or of unclassifiable veracity. However, perusal of Snopes has netted me some interesting real estate related urban legends that bear examination. In many cases, truth is stranger, more touching and interesting that fiction

One legend which is definitely unclassifiable has it that people selling houses can speed things up by placing a statue of St. Joseph on the property, usually buried. St. Joseph is the patron saint of home sellers, as well as the home in general and a host of other things not exceptionally closely related to real estate, like Canada, pioneer, fathers and people in doubt. Although, I suppose that if you were the father of a pioneer in Canada who was doubting the home sale would go well, you would have a leg up on your St. Joseph-burying competition. According to Snopes, "realtors across the nation swear by it". Hey, it couldn't hurt!

A story running around about President George W. Bush (then the Texas governor) claimed that he "refused to sell his home to blacks". In 1995, Bush did indeed buy a house with a racial covenant that stated that only white people were to own and live in the house (conveniently, the covenant allowed the presence of colored servants). What the email doesn't mention that the covenant was left over from 1939 when this was still the norm for many properties. In 1948, covenants that excluded potential owners based on race were outlawed, so this was a non-issue from the very start. The section deed that the parties involved in the transaction see would not have covered this, so it is very likely Bush had no idea that this covenant even existed.

Good credit really did take a walk on the wild side when a realtor, frustrated at the amount of junk mail he was receiving, wrote, "Never Waste A Tree" on the application and mailed it back to the company. To his surprise, he got a credit card in the mail, issued to "Never Waste Tree". After sharing the joke with friends (and the world, through Snopes), he cut it up. Snopes noted that a few bags of fertilizer would have been symbolically appropriate.

Truth certainly doesn't help the next story making the rounds - the story of the beer can house is verifiable. The email is usually sent with some amazing pictures of a house drowned in beer cans. A Realtor alerted their property manager to look a townhouse that the Realtor had been inspecting. When he got there, he saw beer cans covering the entire house. The tenant had been reliable with the rent, which is why he was able to indulge his 24-can-a-day habit for the last 8 years. According to the news station that covered the story, the empties brought in approximately $800 at a recycling center.

Another house, touted as the "smallest home in Brooklyn" has made the Internet rounds several times. The only problem is that this home is not in Brooklyn. It is in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and even has its own website: thelittlehouse.ca

One legend with a basis in fact is the "57 cent" story. Basically a pastor sees a little girl crying outside his church because she couldn't go to Sunday school, which was full. The pastor led her inside and found a place for her. Some years later, the child dies and the pastor handles the final arrangements. When her body was taken to be buried, an old purse is found with 57 cents and a note saying the money was to go towards the building of a bigger church so more children could go to Sunday School. The paster uses this note and money to inspire his congregation to raise money for the construction of a larger building. A Realtor [sic] heard the story and donated a piece of land worth thousands (this was at the turn of the century). In the end, Temple Baptist Church was built with the capacity for 3300 people.

The fact are that there was a little girl who a pastor, Dr. Russel Conwell, took pity on because she was turned away from Sunday School. She did want to save money for a new church. However, she died a few weeks after the incident took place. There was no purse and no note. The pastor simply told the church trustees about the story. He then talked to the owner of the property (not a REALTOR(R) from what we know, just the owner) who offered to sell the land for ten thousand dollars, taking as his first payment the 57 cents. In this case, the truth would actually have been an improvement on the fiction that someone cobbled together out of this story.

There are many more house-related urban legends out there. If you're in the mood for more, check out Snopes.com. And, if someone you know sends you an email relating an amazing occurrence or a bit of glurge, you can always check it out there, too.
About the Author
The Koitz Group offers elite real estate services in the greater Bethesda/Chevy Chase and Washington DC area (and they have a website that covers it all!). Visit the Koitz Group's Montgomery County MD real estate guide or Bethesda real estate guide, packed full of information, search tools, and links to other fine neighborhoods in the DC Metro area.
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