Mystery Solved: The case of the creepy owner

21 Apr

So it looks like I’m one signature away from having my condo under contract. Woo-hoo! Let’s keep those fingers crossed.

This entire process has reminded me of my days as a realtor in DC, days that – previously – I had tried hard to forget. There’s no joy in remembering the 11pm phone calls from panicked clients, the conversations with shady agents, or the contentious settlements where people heatedly called the other party derogatory names.

However, in the midst of all these ugly stories, one bizarre anecdote re-surfaced that – at the time – I dubbed, “The Curious Case of the Missing Bathroom.” If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes mysteries (or better yet, an Encyclopedia Brown story), you’ll get a kick out of this…

My team had a two level townhouse we were selling in Old Town, Alexandria. Through a drawing of straws, I ended up working the open house for my colleague who was officially the listing agent. It was my first time in the house, and I set about familiarizing myself with the property.

It was my understanding that the owner had moved to NYC but hadn’t yet returned to get all of his stuff, so I was a bit surprised to enter the kitchen that Sunday afternoon and see evidence of recent occupation. There were dirty dishes in the sink, cooling coffee in the coffee pot, and a Blackberry on the microwave.

Did the owner have a friend crashing here? Was there a squatter claiming the place as his own? I called the numbers we had on file for the owner and left voicemails asking about the current status of the property. Was there someone I needed to alert to let them know we were – as discussed – hosting an open house? No response.

I went upstairs, somewhat concerned that I might find someone asleep in one of the bedrooms. Before heading up, I called out loudly, “HELLO!” a bunch of times. Nothing. I turned on lights in the bedrooms and bathroom and returned to the main level.

I started cleaning up the kitchen, getting the place ready to show. Bitterly, I did the dishes and put them away, dumped the coffee, wiped the counter, organized the shoes, stashed the Blackberry, etc. “Since when am I a cleaning lady?” I thought to myself.

Then the people started showing up. It was a pretty busy open house so I just had time to greet people, give them a brochure, answer a few questions, then point them into the place to discover it for themselves. Eventually the initial traffic thinned out and just one curious couple remained, probing every corner with evident interest. They went upstairs for a second time, then came down and approached me with a question. “The brochure says two full baths. How do we get into the second bath?”

I was perplexed. In my haste of prepping the upstairs, I hadn’t thought anything about the locked door that I took for a closet off the master bedroom. I explained that it wasn’t my listing and that I wasn’t as familiar with it as I should be. I further explained that I knew when we first listed it the owner had a cat there, so I speculated that perhaps the cat was still in residence and perhaps confined to the master bath. We went upstairs together to take a look.

We tried the door, but the handle was still clearly locked. I knocked and scratched, hoping to elicit a “meow” from the other side. Nothing.

The couple ended up shrugging their shoulders and leaving… leaving me there, in that house with a locked door and – as I thought back through my open house prep of an hour prior – evidence that there had recently been someone in it. All of a sudden, I got goosebumps.

Was someone locked in the bathroom upstairs?

Surely not. It had been an hour.

Creeped out, I decided to take advantage of the nice day and step outside and sit on the steps to greet open house attendees. When the next young couple showed up, I immediately descended upon the husband in hushed tones, “Listen, this is going to sound crazy, but I think someone is locked in the bathroom upstairs. Can you help me try to open the door?”

Smelling an adventure, he was game. A few minutes later we were up there, pounding on the door, making it clear that we were going to get a clothes hanger and pick the lock if we didn’t hear anything.

Right about then, a voice from the other side of the door: “You don’t need to do that!” (All three of us – me, the husband and his wife – almost jumped out of our skins.) “Can you just give us 15 minutes and we’ll leave?”

“Who are you?” I shouted back.

“The owner – Dan,” he replied.

And so – it turns out he had come to town with his fiancee for the weekend, went out the night before and forgot we were hosting an open house. They had just slipped into the jacuzzi tub to recover when I had arrived to set up for the open house.

When I had originally come upstairs to turn on lights, they heard me and – still not remembering that there was an open house slated –  figured I was an agent showing the property and would leave soon. So they remained silent.

Except I didn’t leave. And not only did I not leave, I kept sending other people up, who also tested the handle to the door and tapped it curiously, trying to figure out what was on the other side.

Had I not forced the issue by threatening to break in, had they planned to hang out in there, in a tub full of cooling water for the entire three hours of the open house? Somehow they made it through the first hour without crying uncle, so perhaps they were game? In any case, it was bizarre.

Negotiating through the still-locked door, we agreed that I would lock the house and wait outside for 15 minutes so they would have a chance to get dressed and vacate. I sat on the curb in front of the property, calling the office to ask if anyone there knew that the owner was a FREAK. The people I told the story to were just as shocked as I. “Get the hell out of there,” my friend Casey advised.

Finally, fifteen minutes were up and I still hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the couple, so – cautiously – I unlocked the door, knocked loudly and called out their names. Nothing.

I ventured in and found that the Blackberry and shoes were gone from the kitchen and the back door (previously locked) was slightly ajar. A quick sprint up the stairs and I could see that the bathroom was open, wet towels on the floor. Whoever had been here was gone.

“Weird,” I thought. And then just hoped that it had, in fact, been the owner.

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3 Responses to “Mystery Solved: The case of the creepy owner”

  1. Babs April 22, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    That’s hilarious! See, it’s a good thing you didn’t take that bath or nap the other day when the agent hadn’t shown up yet because of course the moment you had, they would’ve appeared!

    • pithypants April 22, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

      Hopefully I would’ve been less socially awkward and simply shouted, “Give me a minute!” rather than getting all creepy and quiet. Because somehow, in my 600 sf condo, I think they would’ve noticed a missing bathroom! 🙂

  2. Michele May 14, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    I remember this story! Hey after they left their dirty towels on the bathroom floor did you also do their laundry?

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