How does your Austin lawn look in the 100+ degree drought?

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on July 4, 2009 · 20 comments

We just had 12 16 days of 100+ degree heat in June 2009 in Austin, and we’re in the middle of a severe drought. As I drive around, showing and previewing homes in Austin, I see a lot of brown lawns. Even well watered lawns are suffering with brown spots, fungus, sun burn, thatching, grub worms, etc. This is just how it goes in a hot Austin summer. Most people know and understand this.

So imagine the shock and surprise that Sylvia and I recently experienced when the lawn shown in the slide show below, from one of our recent listings, was declared to be “dead” in numerous spots by an ultra picky buyer who, along with assistance from their Realtor, successfully extracted $650 from me and Sylvia under the threat that our seller would be sued otherwise. The amount demanded was purportedly so they could replace a pallet and a half of what they claimed was “dead” grass. The slideshow below was taken the morning of closing. You be the judge as to the condition of the yard being delivered to the buyers on closing day. If you just bought this home and drove up to move in on a 100 degree day, would you be upset and would you threaten to sue the seller for neglecting the yard?

(Original Slideshow removed upon request. Remaining photos show only the worst areas of the lawn but not the actual home

A pallet of grass covers 400 square feet of lawn, so a pallet and a half is 600 square feet of dead grass that you’d need to observe in these photos in order to agree with the amount of grass in question. That would be roughly ten 6ftx10ft areas of “dead grass”, or six 10ftx10ft areas ( 6 bedroom size areas). Do you see 600 sqft of grass that’s even brown in color, much less dead?

Yes there are some brown areas, but they are not dead. No competent landscaper would claim that this yard suffers from 600 square feet of dead grass. Yet the buyer’s and their agent were able to obtain two bids from landscapers for about $650 each for the replacement of 600 square feet of dead grass. I’m wondering if either of the landscapers actually visited the property. I showed my landscaper these photos and he laughed out loud and said “I wish half my yards looked that good”. Unequivocally he said he would not recommend replacement of any of this yard, that it was all normal for what he is seeing all over Austin and that they are fighting this battle on most of the yards they service.

Why didn’t we just say “no thanks, the grass looks fine and normal. It looks in fact exactly like the other yards in the neighborhood, if not better”.

Well, we did. But the agent and his buyers were relentless, refusing to accept a “meet you halfway” offer of $300. Then refusing an increased amount of $500, even though they had at first provided a bid for $487 (which they later said was a mistake).

Two days prior to closing the agent informed me that the buyers had in fact been in contact with an attorney and were considering their options and would in fact proceed with closing if they don’t get paid but would sue the seller afterward if their demands of a free mowing and $650 were not met.

Our seller, in California, had already signed and mailed back the closing papers, though he knew the buyers had been making a fuss over the yard.

This presented a difficult situation for me and Sylvia. Do we succumb to the ridiculous demands of this agent and his buyers, just to keep the deal moving and protect our seller from having it fall apart, or possibly being sued? Or do we stand on principle and politely refuse.

The latter did not work so Sylvia and I agreed to credit the buyer $650 from our commission at closing.

This is the sort of thing that makes our occupation very frustrating at times. Dealing with unreasonable people, unreasonable agents and unreasonable demands. But sometimes one has to accept unreasonable circumstances and just move forward. It would have been untenable and unacceptable, from our perspective, to drag the seller into a situation like this, from out of state, possibly killing the sale, delaying the closing, or creating legal problems.

So we simply promised the seller we would handle it and not to worry. Then we ultimately made sure the buyers got what they wanted so the matter would be settled. The deal is done, the seller has his funds, and from his standpoint, it’s over.

So what next? Just forget about it and move on, or do we hold the other Realtor accountable for the violations of the Realtor Code of Ethics that he committed? For his incompetence in managing his clients. For his dishonestly and incompetence in falsely representing over 600 square feet of the yard to be dead when in fact there isn’t even 600 square feet of brown area that could be measured. For his failure to ensure that all parties are treated fairly, no matter who he represents. These are requirements of all Realtors in accordance with our Realtor Code of Ethics.

I’m still thinking about it.

Oh, and are you interested in seeing the yard 2 days before closing, prior to being mowed, that the agent claimed was so grossly overgrown that it represented a violation of the HOA rules? (another dishonest and incompetent misrepresentation of fact by the agent)

These were taken with my iPhone so you’ll unfortunately see my finger in some of them. If this was your neighbor’s yard, would you report them to the HOA for neglecting to mow and water? If this was your new home, closing in two days, would you be threatening lawsuit?

Behold! … a yard worthy of HOA violation letter and lawsuit.
(Original Slideshow removed upon request. Remaining photos show only the worst areas of the lawn but not the actual home

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sam July 5, 2009 at 7:56 pm

Hello Steve,

I not sure I would have handled this situation differently from how you and Sylvia handled the situation. I concur that this was an unreasonable circumstance. I would neither report to an HOA or file a lawsuit (a wee bit extreme) on the above noted lawn, based on the photos. You never mentioned that the property was under a HOA violation, lien, or sanction? Could it be because there was no such action? Just maybe the lawn meets HOA compliance? I’d politely request a letter from the HOA to make a determination based on the photos.

I’m no attorney, but was the grass in the same condition when the buyer’s agent initially showed it to their principle and upon date of final review (closing)? If there was a difference then the property may not have been delivered in the condition under which it was contracted to be purchased by the buyer then they may have some basis for argument.

Your lawn guy may be considered an expert witness if this issue were to go to court. Regarding the other two lawn bids? Did you receive a copy to verify the estimated amount and confirm how they determined or arrived at the 600 sq. ft. area and $650? Also offering to settle for any reason may be seen as an admission of fault in a court (if it went to court). I do agree that your actions to protect your seller from legal issues and continue the sell make sense, but a court may see it differently.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I do not go around telling people I’m going to sue them. That just invites a potential counter, preemptive, or offers preparation against my law suit. Unless of course they were bluffing to extract a result. However, one must take such statements seriously. I’m wondering if the buyer’s agent was permitted to disclose that his principles were in fact in discussions with an attorney?

The lawn looks more than fine for the Austin area climate, based on the photos, but I’m no expert. Just curious were these buyers from out of state or local? Do you know why they believe that 600 sq. ft. of the lawn needed to be replaced?

The only difference I think I would have made would be to ask, “Really? What is the attorney’s name and number in case it is needed.” My reasons for handling this situation in a similar or same fashion: 1) It’s not worth going to court if I can spend $650 to stay out of court for both seller and myself. 2) It does my seller no favor if I kill the sale.

How about consulting an attorney for future sales to include a provision that grass is affected by the climate and may not be in same condition on closing date throughout the summer in Texas? Not sure if that would work though.

Let me know what you think?

-Sam

2 Julia July 5, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Oh that is ridiculous!! In this day and age, we should be more accepting of more natural yards. Lets think about doing things that are *truly* green…. like not mowing your grass with a high polluting machine every other week. Like not using important water resources on ensuring every blade of grass is a bright green color.

HOA’s can be quite a pain. I’m so glad I don’t live in a neighborhood with an HOA. I’m even happier that I am living in Austin and those picky snobby aggravating people are not my neighbors.

I wish you would share the name of the other realtor. :)

However, I imagine you would not. You are quite professional in this post. This is very admirable considering the aggravation you surely feel.

Julia

3 Julia July 5, 2009 at 11:59 pm

PS – Please follow up with this in late August of 2010 with pictures of the same yard for comparison. I’ll bet you it’s in worse condition then.

4 Apartments Barcelona July 6, 2009 at 4:06 am

I too would be interested in catching up with the future view of this lawn. Please keep us posted :)

5 Alan July 6, 2009 at 9:11 am

Yeah, that seems like a bit much. Just curious, Steve, how you would feel if you find that they never actually replace the grass?? Do you see that fairly often where buyers ask for money to fix a specific thing, but then never fix it?? It honestly sounds like a strong arm ploy to try to extract every last dollar from the seller (or in this case, you and Sylvia). Unfortunately, you were dealing at a disadvantage in this dispute (out of town seller and all). I probably would have done the same thing on the deal. But, I would also try to pursue the issue further with the other Realtor.

I am an investor/flipper (not a real estate agent/broker) and in general do not have a good opinion of most realtors. It seems like the vast majority are incompetent, there are quite a few that are unethical, and then there are a very few that are good to work with. It sounds like this realtor was either incompetent (got played by the buyers) or unethical (knew exactly what he/she was doing). Of course, we have not heard the other side of the story. There could be reasons for them to do this, but we are hard pressed to come up with any.

Love the blog. Keep it up.

6 Sam Chapman July 6, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Sounds like the buyers and their agent are idiots. My own lawn doesn’t look that good!

7 Mel July 6, 2009 at 3:59 pm

I’m glad that these people aren’t my neighbors and that there’s little chance of them becoming my neighbors since I live where the lawns have been brown for months in this record-breaking critical drought.

However, I’d love to know the address so that I could report them breaking watering restrictions which they are bound to have to do to keep the lawn greener than is shown in your photos.

Such selfish waste of our shared resources at a time when central Texas is the most drought stricken area of the country is sickening.

8 Steve Crossland July 6, 2009 at 4:42 pm

> were these buyers from out of state or local? Do you know why they believe that 600 sq. ft. of the lawn needed to be replaced?

Don’t know. Never could get an answer as to how they were coming up with 600 sqft.

> Oh that is ridiculous!!
Agreed!

> I wish you would share the name of the other realtor.

Can’t do that.

> I too would be interested in catching up with the future view of this lawn. Please keep us posted.

> how you would feel if you find that they never actually replace the grass?

Well, since I don’t think it needs replacing I’d feel like they made a rational decision not to do so.

> My own lawn doesn’t look that good!

Mine neither.

Thanks for the feedback and reality check. I needed to make sure I wasn’t missing something.

Steve

9 Julie July 6, 2009 at 6:08 pm

The ironic thing is that the “overgrown” yard is a bit long *because* it was being watered! Were it not, the entire yard would be brown. Its current state is a clear indication that it’s being tended. I work pretty hard on my yard, and it looks almost exactly like this. With the temps we’ve been having, there’s almost no way to prevent little burned spots.

AND, if I can go on a bit, keeping the yard long, and not mowing it too short, when you do mow is good gardening! It’s better for the grass, the soil, the helpful critters that live in the yard, etc.

What a mess. I’m so sorry to hear when things like this happen.

10 anon July 7, 2009 at 1:43 pm

The lawn doesn’t look that bad. I’d bet that they loosely estimated the total amount of grass to replace, assuming that it might get worse before it’s replaced. A smart person would probably wait until next spring for new sod anyways.

I assume your seller was one of the following:
1. was using this as a rental property (yard not fully fenced)
2. was unable to move to Austin
3. moved back to cali?

11 Angie July 10, 2009 at 12:56 pm

The problem I see with this scenario is the buyer threatening to sue. Given the condition of the lawn seen in the photos, I consider this threat tantamount to blackmail. At the very least, it is unethical.

My husband and I have witnessed a lot of unethical behavior lately. In fact, our experience in buying a home in Austin has been so awful, we’ve decided to put our move on permanent hold. I guess I’ll blame all this crazy behavior on the bad economy…desperate people acting out.

On another note, I am surprised these people are moving from California. The natural lawns out here go dormant in the summer (meaning, brown), and moreover, lawns in general are kind of frowned upon because they demand too much water…a lot of people just let them go during the summer because county water restrictions, which are very common, don’t allow for much watering anyway. So it just seems a bit ridiculous to me for a Californian to get so upset over a few brown spots on a summer lawn, during a drought. Give me a break.

12 Sylvia Crossland July 11, 2009 at 7:40 am

Actually the buyers are from another neighborhood in Austin. They heard the HOA in this neighborhood was very particular about lawns and they worried excessively. They were also upset that the sprinklers were not running at the proper setting at some point, but that was corrected. There has never been any letter from the home owners association saying it was in violation, and when I drove around the neighborhood there were many lawns that looked much worse. We had several continuous days of 100+ degrees and our June was said to be the “hotest on record”.

13 Alex July 16, 2009 at 5:46 pm

I’ll bet the realtor and the buyers were YANKEES!

14 nebby July 17, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Before I read your later comment Steve I was thinking “I bet they heard the HOA is a pain in the ass in that neighborhood”. Can’t say I really blame them about that. When an HOA goes bad it is a frightening thing to behold. It also struck me that it looked like the watering system was malfunctioning. Those brown spots should not be there if you are watering with a yard wide system capable of keeping the rest of the yard green.

To the person ready to turn them in to the water gestapo: get a life. The watering restriction are time based not quantity. There is no need to break any laws to keep a lawn green.

15 Mikel Eggert July 21, 2009 at 11:03 pm

The watering restrictions do not include hand watering – those that truly want a green lawn during the hot months in Austin can easily hand water for a few minutes a night to keep their lawn green. Also, $600 for 1 1/2 pallets of sod installation is outrageous! We normally charge $350 for 2 pallets.

16 HOA Manager Charleston July 24, 2009 at 6:21 am

Great idea for a blog. There are some great topics to discuss in there. I’ll be sure to check back!

17 Ronnie Bredahl July 29, 2009 at 1:23 am

The grass looks awesome given Austin has already enjoyed over 40 days of 100+ degree weather. As Realtors, we are fortunate to be able to pick our clientele, however, we can not always choose the other party. If karma prevails, the buyer will over fertilize throughout August and fry his new sod.

18 Steve Crossland July 29, 2009 at 7:33 am

Hi Ronnie,

We don’t wish bad “karma” on the buyer or the yard. That said, $650 will be plenty to cure any long term deficiencies in the lawn that might remain heading into fall.

Steve

19 Marsha Thompson September 27, 2009 at 5:09 pm

I suggest that you go back to them now at the end of this horrendously long hot summer and find out how they kept the lawn green and growing. These people are in for a rude awakening if they think that all lawns in Austin are pristine every summer. If they want perfectly green, tell them to put in painted rocks or astro-turf.

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