Now about that wombat

Times Staff Writer

Baby-sit a boa. Tend a tortoise. Coddle koi. Vanquish phantoms.

Sometimes, that’s what it takes to clinch a deal on a house these days. Buyers and sellers are agreeing to some odd conditions that go way beyond the usual contingencies of inspections, mold and termite remediation, and furniture and appliances that will stay in the house.

“It’s obscene to see how far buyers will go to get a house,” said Raymond Schuldenfrei, manager of Re/Max Sunset in Hollywood. The tales make it to the cocktail circuit when the chatter turns to wacky home deals.

A Hollywood Hills seller, for example, recently offered his five-bedroom home with a swimming pool for $1.5 million. There was a catch, however: A nesting tortoise was comfortably ensconced on the property, and the seller demanded it remain on-site, undisturbed, until the hatchlings arrived.


Although the buyers, who were planning an immediate remodel, were nervous about caring for the reptile during construction, the seller was adamant and said so in the escrow contract, said Schuldenfrei, who represented the seller. No tortoise, no sale. So the buyers planned the construction timetable around the tortoise, and the former owners picked up the whole lot after they hatched.

“The buyers knew there was competition [for the house], so they were willing to make concessions, even though it interfered with construction plans,” Schuldenfrei said. “They wanted the place badly.”

Perhaps not as badly, however, as a San Fernando Valley buyer who agreed in writing to allow a seller’s hibernating pet boa constrictor to stay under the house until it awoke, ostensibly hungry, from its long winter’s nap, said Allan Erdy, owner of a Sherman Oaks escrow company who handled the deal. When the serpent appeared, the seller was called and the reptile was whisked away.

“Some weird stuff gets written into contracts,” Erdy said. “And sometimes outside of contracts.”

A purchase contract spells out who represents the buyer and seller, the sale price, terms and conditions, and timetables. It includes counteroffers; the Transfer Disclosure Statement, which details the condition of the property; property inspections; and more. It also details the conditions, or contingencies, of the purchase.

Sellers tend to be in the driver’s seat today when it comes to contingency items, escrow agents say. If the homeowners are considering more than one offer, buyers sometimes feel pressured to come to the table with a large down payment, loan approval and few conditions for the purchase. Some sellers, however, don’t hesitate to add some quirky items of their own into the contracts, and buyers are loath to complain.


Minny Ng, a Beverly Hills escrow officer, oversaw a Brentwood home sale that included the sellers’ contingency that the buyers agree not to disturb or move a beloved oak tree on the property. The sellers spelled out in the contract that the tree could die only from “old age, disease, a natural disaster or acts of God,” Ng said. The buyers agreed to the terms.

Diane Pearson, a Hancock Park escrow officer, recalled a contingency that called for the buyers of a San Fernando Valley home to alert the sellers if their homing pigeons, which have been known to return to an old roost after a move, showed up within a year of the sale. The buyers agreed.

Not all atypical contingencies are laid out in print.

“There often are 10 buyers for one house, so they must put their best feet forward,” Pearson said. To ensure a quick, clean deal, both parties sometimes resolve the unusual issues on their own outside of the contract.

At the other extreme, some parties create two contracts. Martin and Joanne Perellis have listed their 5,100-square-foot French country estate in the Hollywood Hills -- complete with a lagoon, wine cellar, tea room, doghouse that comfortably sleeps five Saint Bernards, aviary, corrals and caretaker cottage -- with Westside Estate Agency in Beverly Hills for $12.8 million. The property has commanding views of Warner Bros. Studios, Universal Studios and the surrounding hillsides and is home to the pair’s 350 rescued animals, including llamas and lovebirds.

The Perellises would like to sell the estate to animal lovers who will agree to provide the round-the-clock food and attention the animals have come to expect, Martin Perellis said.

“For the animals, it’s like being on the concierge floor of the Ritz-Carlton,” Perellis said, referring to the bountiful food and spacious, ultra-clean living quarters that the animals inhabit. “If someone agrees to keep the animals here, it would be wonderful. Then I can put new animals on my new property.”

Although the sale of the estate is not contingent upon the purchasers taking the animals, a buyer willing to do so would be subject to two contracts, Perellis said. One would handle the humans’ dwellings and another would cover the terms of the animal upkeep, including a clause allowing the seller to inspect the animals over a six-month period after escrow closes. In the event the animals do not receive proper care, he said, they will be taken away.

“If the new owners don’t want the animals, they’ll go with me.”

In some cases, it’s the home shopper who adds the conditions. In one sale, said escrow officer Ng, a buyer demanded that the sellers’ koi, which came with the house, be relocated to another pond while the house was fumigated, to ensure the fishes’ health after the close of escrow. The sellers moved the fish and returned them, as requested.

Occasionally a buyer won’t commit to a sale unless pets come with the house, which was the case with one buyer who insisted the sellers’ dog be included, said Brent Bonine of Carlsbad-based Buffini & Co., a real estate training and coaching firm. After eschewing several suitable homes, the buyer finally jumped at one, offering full price. The main selling point was the owners’ golden retriever. The sale was contingent upon it being included in the contract, which it was.

Not all sellers are willing to part with their pets, however. Studio City owners refused to include their cat in the purchase agreement, countering an offer to include the animal with these nonnegotiable terms: “Regretfully the cat will not reside at the property after the close of escrow and will move with the sellers,” Erdy said. The sale went through anyway.

And what about a haunted house? Nancy Closson, owner of West Coast Escrow in Los Angeles, supervised a sale in which the prospective buyers required that ghost-busters rid the home of purported poltergeists, which were disclosed because they were the subject of neighborhood and former tenant lore. Proof of the ghost-busting was written into the escrow instructions, which required the sellers to pay for the service through escrow. When the ghosts were gone, the new owners moved in.

Negotiating pets and poltergeists in and out of real estate transactions can heighten the tension, but agents say they’re rarely deal breakers. It’s all part of transferring property.

“Every transaction has its moments,” said Keith Fisher, an agent at Prudential California Realty, John Aaroe Division in Sherman Oaks. “Everyone’s making their contingency plans, so we’re dealing with all levels of their emotions. But it usually works out.”