Strange But True

Strange-But-True: Into the Snake Pit

The Sessions' thought the 5-bedroom house on nearly two acres would be their dream home. Little did they know, the home’s current reptilian residents had other plans.

They slithered behind the walls at night and released foul-smelling musk into the drinking water. And they were so numerous that Ben Sessions once killed 42 in a single day.

Shortly after buying their dream home, Sessions and his wife discovered it was infested with thousands of garter snakes. For the next three months, their growing family lived as if in a horror movie. More than a year after they abandoned the property, the home briefly went back on the market, and they fear it could someday attract another unsuspecting buyer.

garter_snake_400That's when they realized their home was probably sitting atop a hibernaculum, a place where snakes gather in large numbers to hibernate over the fall and winter. 

There had been warning. When they bought the house, a document the couple signed had noted a snake infestation. That unscrupulous real estate agent assured the Sessions' that the snakes were just a story the previous owners invented to abandon their mortgage.

It turned out practically everyone in the tiny town of Rexburg, Idaho, knew the snakes were there. The property even had a nickname among the locals: The Snake House.

The Sessions left in December 2009, the day after their daughter was born and just three months after moving in. Because of the paperwork they had signed, the couple had little recourse but to flee. They filed for bankruptcy and the bank foreclosed.

Then astoundingly, the home briefly went back on the market in its current condition. After the Animal Planet network featured the Sessions' story in its "Infested" series, the listing was removed...

Strange But True: Giving a Condo to a Veteran Harder Than Expected

The owners of luxury condominium Eagles Point at the St. Croix, in Prescott, Wis., wanted to show their support for Minnesota troops. So they decided to donate a beautiful condo to one lucky veteran. A year later, they still have no takers.

They've tried to find a veterans' organization or other group to help them choose a veteran and arrange logistics. They've contacted more than a dozen organizations - from First Lady Mary Pawlenty's "Military Family Care Initiative" to the Minnesota Military Appreciation Fund to the national Troops First Foundation. They even tried the Minnesota Lottery. No one has come forward to help.

"The most common response we get is, 'It doesn't fit our mission,'" said Ken Miyamoto, sales manager for Eagles Point at the St. Croix, in Prescott, Wis. "We get all these pats on the back, but no one will help us do this. It's been really frustrating.''

Miyamoto and project owner Tom Meehan were watching news of the war in Iraq when they thought of the idea. They wanted to support the troops. They had hoped not only to help out a veteran, but to set an example to other developers to launch a bigger trend.

One of the primary concerns from the military and veterans groups is the possibility for hidden costs, either to the organization or the lucky recipient of the condo. Meehan and Miyamoto admit they're not familiar with the tax ramifications, either. All they know is there is a great place in the 43-unit complex waiting to fill a veteran's needs.

The floors, walls, cabinets and woodwork would be custom finished. Several Twin Cities trades groups have agreed to donate their time to make that happen. Meehan and Miyamoto are hoping that more organizations will step in to help out as well.


Strange But True: Home For Sale, Lot Not Included

There is a 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom rambler for sale in Chaska. Ron Olson is even willing to deliver it to a lot of your choice, as long as it's close to Chaska.

Ron is a contractor who runs an excavation company, acquired with the custom-built house after he was hired last fall to demolish it on a lot in Chaska MN. The home had suffered some smoke damage after some paint rags caught fire during the finishing process. The buyers didn't want it though, so the builder offered to tear it down and build a new one. Rather than haul it to a landfill, Ron decided to recycle the house, which would have sold for $600,000 at its former location.

"It's really a waste to take a perfectly good house that can be cleaned up fairly easily and throw it away like it's garbage," he said. "Ethically, I don't think we should be doing that."

The house is currently sitting on a trailer on Bavaria Road, waiting for a home... Uh... to be moved.


Strange But True: The Igloo and The Ice House

The cabin fever caused by winter's snowy weather and cold temperatures seem to have inspired some creativity. An igloo in Ohio and a house encased in ice in Detroit are drawing national headlines.

First, Jimmy Grey, of Aquilla, Ohio, has been out of work for almost a year. To keep himself busy, he took advantage of the heavy snowfally to build an extreme igloo in his family's yard. The "man cave" has 4 rooms, 6-foot tall ceilings, and an entertainment rooms with a flat-screen TV, cable, and surround sound. He says when he has friends over, cold temperatures mean the beer never gets warm.

Next, two artists who have encased one of Detroit's thousands of abandoned homes in ice, hoping to draw attention to the foreclosure and housing crisis that has battered the nation. Photographer Gregory Holm and architect Matthew Radune, of spent weeks spraying water on the home for the Ice House Detroit project. The city's foreclosure rate is among the country's highest. View pictures of this eerily beautiful ice encased home. You can also read the Ice House Detroit blog written by the artists.

They aren't conventional, but they certainly are strange and unique. Stay tuned for the next "Strange But True."...

Strange But True: Own a Piece of Minneapolis Skyway

An 83-foot piece of the Minneapolis skyway has been taken down from the sky and put up on the market. It could be yours for just $49,500.

This section of skyway was built in the late 1970s and spanned across 5th Street. It connected J.C. Penney and Powers department stores, which closed in the mid-1980s. Powers was leveled in 1993, and instead of taking down the skyway, it just sort-of dead-ended on the other side of the street. When light rail came, the skyway segment needed to go.

Minneapolis architect Ben Awes and his City Desk Studio partners offer in a Craigslist ad an array of possibilities for the 1,380-square-foot structure, all 140 tons of it sitting behind TCF Bank Stadium: office, bridge over a creek, ice rink warming house, etc.

"The one we are most excited about right now is a Minnesota State Fair booth," Awes said Thursday, two days after posting the ad with a starting price of $49,500. "Can't you imagine the Skyway Pronto Pup?"

It's made of steel, glass and concrete and it has duct work and lighting still in place. Some suggestions offered by the CraigsList ad include skating warming house, hunting lodge, or a cabin.

"Frankly, considering what cabins can cost on the North Shore," Awes said, "you can have the ultimate modern building on a world-class location."

There sure have been a lot of strange real estate stories lately. Really hope we get to find out how this skyway will be used in the future. This is the fourth time this particular section of skyway has been up for sale. Check out the article for the Craigslist link.


Strange But True: Home to be Raffled Off for Charity

For $50, a raffle ticket, and a little bit of luck, a 7,400-square-foot, 7 bedroom mansion in Athens, Ohio, could be yours. And a new car, and utility and taxes paid for 5 years.

Sometimes referred to as "the castle house," the 80-year-old estate is being raffled off by owners, Dr. Ernest de Bourbon and his wife, Jennifer, to raise money for local nonprofit May the World Dance, which helps poor children with obesity and related health problems. The contest, billed as the "Ultimate Life Makeover," is designed to revolutionize the life of the winner, who will be announced July 4.

The winner -- to be chosen through a drawing -- will receive the title to the house, a new car valued at less than $20,000 and money to pay the income tax on the house. In addition, five years of utility bills and property taxes will be covered, provided that the winner lives in the house for those five years and maintains the original integrity of the home.

"It is a life-changing event, which is what we wanted it to be," Dr. de Bourbon said.

Tickets are obtainable by buying $50 in goods or services from Artemis Laser & Vein Center in Dublin, Ohio, by donating $50 to the charity, or by providing four hours of service to the charity. Minnesota residents willing to relocate to Ohio would probably just want to make the donation. And if you win, could we be your seller representative? Just sayin'. ;)

More about this amazing house:

The home, which the Athens County auditor values at about $500,000, was completed by prominent Athens businessman D.R. Zenner in 1930. It presides over an east Athens street like something out of The Canterbury Tales.

In fact, the Chaucer stories are depicted in a series of stained panels on the home's lead-glass windows. Otherwise, the house is all dark oak, heavy timbers, limestone and arches.

The living room features a mantle imported...

Strange-But-True: Minneapolis Assessor Contests His Home's Valuation

Many people were upset with their home's assessed values last year. Even Minneapolis' tax assessor wasn't satisfied with his property tax statement.

Minneapolis City Assessor Patrick J. Todd maintains his northeast Minneapolis home was valued at far more than it was worth when he bought it. He appealing to the Minnesota Tax Court to contest the value of his home, which was set by the office he heads. You read that right.

"It's one of those properties where the owner never called [the assessor's office] to say the value was too high," he said.

That's an understatement. He bought the 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom home as investment property in July 2008 for $90,000. On January 1, 2008, the home had been assessed at $166,500 with a tax bill for payable 2009 of $2,239.

The reason behind the discrepancy is easy enough to explain. City assessors don't usually set foot on every property every year. Assessment is done through Computer-Assisted Mass Appraisal, which bases values on neighborhood and sales.

The 61-year-old rambler was built of concrete block and still had the original furnace, plumbing and electrical components. The 804-square-foot house had a single detached garage, no basement and no central air conditioning. This simple house with no real updates didn't fit the property model on which assessments are based. The home owner, having lived in the house since 1951, failed to alert the city that it was valued higher than it should have been.

Because of the sheer size of Minneapolis, it would be impossible to do a property by property assessment.

"We're trying to do the best job we can," Todd said. "If you don't agree with us, you've got to call us."

To read more about the case, check out the Star Tribune Article.


Strange-But-True: Instead of Tearing Down, Donate Your Unwanted House

When the Schrank family decided to sell their Prior Lake home and property, they were horrified to find that the new buyer wanted to destroy the house and build a new one in its place. The Schrank's are now donating the home to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.

But it had to be moved to its new site before a new family can take residence in it. That was accomplished last week by Otting House Movers based in Lakeville:

The 30-Ton house, 64-feet in length, 32-feet in width took up both lanes of traffic, which created quite the chore Wednesday.  Crews had to cut branches from the tree-lined streets, Xcel Energy took down low power lines and some street signs were taken apart.

It took 4 hours to move the house 1.5 miles.

"It's always exciting to get a house donation, especially as rare as a donation that involves a house move," Sharon Rolenc said, from Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.  "It will go to a family in very high need of affordable housing."

Habitat for Humanity say they have fulfilled less than 1% of house-moving requests.  The Schrank's house met their standards because it is energy-efficient and the move was close in proximity.  Because the house was donated, the new homeowners will get a discount as well.  A family will be selected in the Spring.

For people who are considering a tear down to build a new home, it may be worth consideration to call the local Habitat for Humanity and find out if it is possible to give the house to a new family.


Strange But True: Skeletons in the Basement

When most people decide to sell their home, they take some time to spruce up the place for when potential buyers visit. They clear out the clutter, dust, sweep out the dirt, vacuum, and generally make it more inviting. It makes the home much more likely to sell. A house in Louisianna just might not ever be sold because of the sellers failure to clean out some of the skeletons in their closet. Or in this case, the basement.

A real estate agent showing a house in Gibson found about 100 human bones in a corner of the basement:

James Kenny, a forensic investigator with the Terrebonne Parish Coroner's Office, says the bones found Saturday were so old that dirt had saturated the marrow inside them. He says they probably are remains of Native Americans buried long before the house was built.

Kenny says he learned that the previous residents would often find bones while mowing the lawn or doing yard work, and would put them in the basement.

Half of the split-level house is on top of a circular mound, which parish officials suggest may be an Indian burial mound.

Now Louisiana state scientists will determine what will happen to them:

“Those bones have been out there since the 1800s,” said Gary Alford, senior investigator at the coroner’s office.

Gia Imbornone, a granddaughter of the home's previous owner and neice of the current owner who is trying to sell it, had a simple explaination for why the bones hadn't been handed over to authorities before:

“My grandma was a pack rat. She had those bones, and she kept them,” said Imbornone... “She just didn’t want to get rid of them because she thought it would be wrong.”

Even so, nearly everyone has at least heard of the Poltergeist movies. Some brave soul may want to buy this home, but it may take a while!

In the meantime, when listing your home on the...

Strange-But-True: Battle of the Bricks

It's been an especially long time since there was a Strange But True post. And admittedly, this one is a little weak, but it's still worth mentioning because it could have ended up a much bigger deal than it is.

The Battle of the Bricks

The city of Minneapolis tried to force Basim Sabri to construct his proposed 77-unit condo development along the Midtown Greenway between Grand and Pleasant Avenues with an all-brick exterior.  Furious at what to him seemed an arbitrary attempt to hold him to a different standard than other developers, Sabri mailed each city council member three bricks to "bolster is argument that an all-brick exterior was impractical."  Then he sued.

The result is that he will still use brick in the development, but he is also permitted to use other materials in specified areas, mainly stucco.  The condos will be built utilizing the brick shell of the former Midwest Machinery building and two new stories. 

What caused the flap in the first place? Why was the City trying to dictate the exterior of the building in what seemed like an unfair way?  Improperly filled out paperwork.

The trouble started when it came to this new section.  Sabri wanted to use stucco as an outer shell for those two stories, while the City of Minneapolis wanted to insist that it be made of brick. 

It was discovered that contradictory conditions had been placed on the project in two different parts of the approval process.  In granting a conditional use permit, the City Council said that the new areas could be stucco. But three months later, in actually approving the site plan, the council required that the addition be brick.

Having this settled out of court was best for both parties.  If this would have gone to court and the City of Minneapolis won, it could have set a precedent giving the city...