The adventures of a real estate flipper.

We bought another condo — good location and an excellent price. The problem? The renter still lived there. The evening after we won the bid, I called him from my car. It was a first-floor condo, so we parked right outside his front door. When he answered his phone, I introduced myself and told him I’d need him out in a few days. I didn’t have the key, so I told him where to leave it when he left. He was cool; no problem, be out ASAP.

A couple of days later, we went by again. No answer to our knock, no handy key. No answer on the phone. We talked to neighbors, and they told us that he had a day job and went to school at night. They said he was a nice guy, so I left a reasonably stern message on his phone and a two day deadline.

Two days later, the key was available and he was gone.

But the stench wasn’t.

When we entered, we were first assaulted by an acidic odor of urine and feces. We saw 10 – 15 swirly ribbons of fly-trap tape hanging from the ceilings, heard the constant buzzing of house flies, and felt the soft, wet carpeted floors beneath our feet – they were actually wet! We could tell he left in a hurry because all he left were some electronics that told us he was a gamer, some clothes and a few pieces of destroyed furniture.

And, of course, a load of stink!

Apparently he had a couple of pets, and apparently they weren’t let out very often – if ever. It wasn’t possible to stay in there more than a minute or two before the smell ran us out. It was so bad that, within minutes of entering the condo, I could feel my clothes, hair, and even skin being penetrated by the sewerage-like stench that surrounded me. Walking through that condo was like walking through a chamber of vaporous urine. The feces on the floors added to the sense that I was in an odoriferous nightmare. And, as I said before, the carpets were wet – like soaked sponges. SHIT!

And this was in an above-average condominium complex. Heck, there was even a swimming pool twenty feet behind his back porch!

Pool behind his condo!

So, we left. The next day we came back. We opened the front door and windows and the two 8′ sliding glass doors on the back of the condo to begin the airing out process. Anyone who passed by looked disgusted and veered at least 6′ away from those windows.

And then we had to work up the courage to pull all the carpets up (and the entire condo was carpeted) and get them to the dump!

I don’t remember how many weeks we spent discarding furniture, clothes, and assorted possessions, and then pulling up those carpets – that were literally drenched in urine – and scrubbing the concrete floors. Eventually it was possible to enter the condo without immediate revulsion — that is, if all windows and doors were open and there was a strong breeze flowing through. Since scrubbing the floors over and over again didn’t completely remove the stench, we scrubbed all walls. That didn’t do it either. After we painted the walls once, we were able to sit in a room for a short time. That gave us hope, so we painted coat after coat. We painted EVERYTHING! Then we tore out the kitchen cabinets and counter tops and scrubbed those floors and walls and painted twice, and were finally able to sit in the kitchen. Ditto on bathrooms.

Then we began repairing the condo.

The rest of the story is bla, bla, bla, boring. but what I’ve told you should be enough. What’s the lesson?


The good news is that we made a lot of money on that one. Our Northern friends will pay outrageous amounts of money to get a 921 sqft. condo that is within 5 miles of the water (and everything on James island is within 5 miles of the water!). Plus, it was clean, had a new kitchen and bathrooms and nice, clean carpets throughout. It even smelled clean. And, of course, the breeze was cool and the location was hot. We put it on the market and got a few offers immediately.


A budding elementary school teacher from New York had looked at the place and called her father to help her get financing. It was July and she was to begin her career here in Charleston that August, so the process needed to move quickly and smoothly.

Unless it is unavoidable, we don’t use a realtor. When I am writing the contracts, I usually spend some time with a prospective buyer and we hack out the contract together, but this was going to be different.

When we sold this condo, even though I handled all of the paper work with the buyer, I never actually met him! We worked out all contracts on Docusign, and handled all conversations via phone or e-mail. That first time was a trip! If you don’t know how to use Docusign or a similar program, you should learn.

What any long-distance business transaction requires is trust and confidence. My buyer needed to know he could trust me, so, whenever there was the slightest hint of concern on his part, my mantra to him was, “Consult your real estate lawyer.” I wrote up the contracts and made all revisions we deemed necessary. Within a week our lawyer talked to his lawyer and closed.

Like one great man once said, “Trust . . . but verify.” I made sure he could do both.

Next, “Always keep it legal!”

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