Monday, March 17, 2008

Are You a Guest or a Host?

I had another adventure this weekend. It wasn't a vacation like last weekend, that's for sure.

My friends, who moved to Virginia, had bought a preforeclosed house in Temecula before we met them (because if we knew them at the time, we would have tried to talk them out of it). They were trying to save the house of a couple with a young child. The agreement was that my friends would buy the house and the couple would rent it from them (for the amount of the mortgage payment, which was interest only) until they cleaned up their financial act, at which time they would buy it back for what my friends paid for it. My friends gained very little from the agreement up front, but thought that it would be worthwhile to help out other human beings. (These are the same people who saw someone fall off a freeway overpass, exited to turn the car around, arrived at the scene, and gave the man CPR long enough to sustain his life until the ambulance took him to the hospital.)

Yes, believe it or not, people like that do hang out with people like me. I know it's surprising, but it's true. If I knew them before they entered into this agreement, the first thing I would have told them was never to mix business with charity. Unless you're running a philanthropic organization, you need to be in business to make a profit. If you want to give someone a charitable contribution, then don't expect your donation back.

Unfortunately, they found this out to be true the hard way. The couple had recently filed for divorce and told my friends that they would be vacating, which they did. With the drop in market value out here, it's devastating to them. Their objective now is to get a tenant in there as fast as possible. They have a property manager who received an expensive estimate from a cleaning crew because the tenants left so much stuff in the house, garage, and backyard. So my friend called to ask if my teenage son would like to earn some money by merely moving the items from around the interior and exterior of the house to the garage, so that they could replace the carpet, hire a painter, and have the house professionally cleaned. No problem, I said.

My son and I pulled up to the house on Saturday and there was a fancy car in the driveway, so I called my friend to ask if anyone was supposed to be living there. No. (This kind of freaked me out because a house that we owned in the same neighborhood was broken into while it was vacant and someone was sleeping inside.) When I rang the doorbell, no one answered, so I used the key to unlock the door and hesitantly peeked inside. I called and called and it appeared as though the house was, indeed, vacant.

Now I had to find out who the car belonged to. I noticed the neighbor next door moving one of his vehicles, so I thought I'd start there. This was our very snarky exchange (I was really annoyed):

Me: Excuse me, sir, but do you know whose car . . .
Him: Yeah, that's my car and the owner was here this morning and gave me permission to park there during my garage sale.
Me: Uh, the "owner" is my friend and she lives in Virginia.
Him: No, I've known the "owner" for five years and she gave me permission to park there.
Me: Do you realize that the previous owners were going into foreclosure, so my friends bought it two years ago, and they've been renting it back ever since?
Him (with long face and sassy come back): No, I didn't "realize" that.
Me: You don't have permission to park there. Now please move your car (with twisted "I'm so annoyed by you" face).

A minute later his wife ran out with the keys and apologized for parking in the driveway. We talked and I realized that her husband was just as confused about the situation as I was when we started our little discussion (the "renter" was there this morning to drop off items for their garage sale). He came out and we joshed and everything was good with the world now that we were both on the same page. Evidently, they had been taking out the trash, having their gardener mow the lawn, and fixing things for the house next door, thinking that they were doing their friends, "the owners", a favor. They felt burned, but said that they would continue to fill the trash cans every week until the piles of rubbish lined up against the full length of the wall were depleted.

Speaking of trash--it was time to enter the house. It was in shambles. There was stuff everywhere. Much of what was left behind was still in their original packages unopened. Since the PM had given my friend the heads up about it days before, she had contacted the woman's divorce attorney and the husband himself (the state of California is extremely particular about the steps to follow when disposing of a tenant's abandoned possessions). Each claimed that they did not want anything left behind and they would sign forms attesting to that. Therefore, my friend wanted me to give the salvageable belongings away before she hired someone to haul them off.

What a pigsty! The backyard had not been maintained for years. The house was filthy and needed new blinds, screens, carpet, and other repairs. The garage door and opener were broken, as was the back gate. They left stuff in cabinets in the kitchen, bathroom, linen closet, office, bedrooms, backyard, and garage. OK, I almost can understand the totally irrational individuals who blame the banks for their foreclosures and then trash the place before leaving. But these people were hurting my friends who had saved them from uprooting their daughter and having to move from their home--not to mention that their credit didn't have a foreclosure on it, either. They were the ones who had a favor done for them, yet they repay my friends by leaving the house looking like a trash heap.

There was so much there that the couple apparently didn't want or need, which would be a treasure for someone else. THESE PEOPLE HAD FINANCIAL PROBLEMS!! Yet they couldn't stop themselves from buying, and subsequently leaving behind, many new material possessions. Not only that, but many necessities like soap, laundry detergent, toilet bowl cleaner, dishwashing drying agent, shampoo, make-up, frozen items and other food that rotted after they left, etc. were still new, but left in the house. Didn't they have to go out and buy some more unopened packages of those? I guess that they also didn't need their money (yes, lots of coins that they had saved!), towels, hangers, unopened bottles of wine, an office desk (still in it's plastic wrapping) and chair, a couch, bookshelf, utility tools, brand new weight set still in the box, movies still in wrappers, cases of cleaners and food, and so much more. It's really unbelievable!

Even if these items will be useful to someone else, didn't they stop to think of what a hassle and expense it would be for the owners, who, did I mention, were doing them a favor, to dispose of it all? I understand that the financial stress and anxiety from the divorce may be overwhelming, but does that mean they have a right to treat others so poorly?

My son spent five hours in there, worked his tail off, and was only able to clean out the small downstairs area and get everything into the garage. It's still filthy, but that will be taken care of when the house is professionally cleaned. The PM is bringing a military wife through tomorrow because she will be leaving the area in a couple of days. I hope she has the vision to see past the mess and to what the home will look like when the cleaning and repairs are completed.

With 20/20 hindsight, this is a message that my friend sent to me (yes, she's profound, too!):

I remember how hard S. and I have worked every time we have moved to leave the house in really good condition. S. says that it is the difference between people who are guests and people who are hosts. People who don't think about how their actions effect other people or the world around them are guests. They don't think to help out or do their share. People who are hosts are the people who end up doing the lion's share of contributing to the common good. The renters are so busy blaming each other that they don't see how they are hurting other people. Well, thanks for reading. I am pretty frustrated at this point, and I knew that you would understand on some level. On the other hand, you would have never been stupid enough to try and help people like them. Your vision is better about stuff like this. Sometimes our rose colored glasses get in the way. I guess I always try to believe the best in people will come out -- lesson learned hopefully.

So I ask myself, do my daily interactions with others indicate that I am a guest or a host in this world?