This article was first published in the Spring 2020 Edition of Appraisal Buzz Magazine.
“In the Trenches… Appraiser Stories” is among one of the favorite sections for our readers. Appraisers share their crazy stories ranging from the unexpected “guard dog” animals to testifying for arson.
We are currently accepting stories for our Fall 2020 Edition of Appraisal Buzz Magazine, so email firstname.lastname@example.org for your submission. These were several of our favorites, and we are excited to see more for this upcoming year!
The Home of the Witch
As an appraiser for well over four decades, I have had to value dozens of historic houses, some of which were supposedly haunted. One of these was the home of Grace Sherwood, the infamous “Witch of Pungo.” She was a colorful character, to say the least, and way ahead of her time for the 1690s. She was prosperous, wore trousers, rode astride horses, danced naked in the moonlight, and was well-versed in herbal remedies. However, if the pigs sickened and died, the hens wouldn’t lay, or the tobacco crop got washed out by a storm, it was obviously the work of some witch. When a dispute arose with a neighbor over a property line, it was inevitable that she would be accused of witchcraft and hauled into “court.”
In those days, witchcraft trials involved being trussed up, thumbs tied to opposite big toes, and the defendant being thrown overboard into waters previously consecrated by a priest. If the defendant floated, it was proven to be a witch. Conversely, if they sank and drowned, they were innocent. Not only did Grace survive, but she swam around the boat mocking her accusers as well as those on shore. Proven to be a witch, she was thrown in jail until the enlightened Governor Spottswood granted her a full pardon and a hundred acres for the troubles. Grace faded into history, but legend had it that her home in southern Virginia Beach could never be damaged by fire.
Flash forward many centuries, as I had been tasked with appraising the property. Arsonists set a fire on the front porch. The local volunteer fire department, returning from a call-out nearby, happened by at two in the morning and the fire was quickly extinguished. The arsonists returned again a few days later, this time igniting fires at numerous locations throughout the two-story structure. This time though, it was destroyed, but since it was now federal property, a federal arson investigator was called in.
In the crawl space, the investigator found a singed, signed, and dated – the previous day – application for unemployment insurance: An incriminating clue if there ever was one – with the perpetrators name and address clearly legible. It was the investigator’s later testimony that the paper was part of one of the trash piles that had been ignited by the arsonists, but that this had mysteriously fallen through a crack in the floorboards into the crawl space where it survived completely intact. When arrested, the miscreant quickly flipped on his co-conspirators, but since the value of the dwelling was greater than $5,000, it was now a federal felony.
Now, I have testified in dozens of court cases on local, state, and federal levels, but this was one of the shortest trials I have ever been a part of. The conspirators were found guilty on all counts, though the remains of the dwelling were demolished soon thereafter. Was the spirit of Grace Sherwood still around? Try to shove a piece of paper through a crack with just two fingers….
– AP Grice
The Mix-Up that Worked Out
About fifteen years ago, I set staff appraiser Gary Miley (now sadly deceased) on a residential appraisal assignment in Granite City, IL one morning. He phoned me after the inspection was completed to confirm that fact. About an hour later, I get a call from the borrowers asking where the appraiser was.
It turns out that Miley went to street address 1009, when the actual assignment was for street address 1099, and somehow the information had gotten confused. Hard to believe, but the folks at 1009 were also expecting an appraiser that very morning, so Miley inspected their property.
As soon as I figured out what had happened, I phoned all parties involved and explained the mix-up. Thank goodness the owners of the incorrectly inspected property were good sports about it!
The Part I Left Out of the Report
I was assigned to do a small home on a side street. I had a specific appointment time and showed up on the dot. A three-year–old child answered the door, so I asked her if her daddy was home. She said he wasn’t, that he was at work, but she said her mommy told her to let me in. I asked her where her mommy was, and she pointed at a bedroom and said in there. I went to the door and knocked. The mommy then told me to come in. I opened the door and she was lying in bed with the covers up to her chin. I could tell there was another person in bed next to her. As I told her who I was, the man next to her pulled the covers down below his chin also. She told me to inspect the house and shut the door when I left. I shut the bedroom door and told the little girl that I thought she said her daddy was at work. She said, “he is, that’s our neighbor.” I finished up and left quickly. I didn’t find anywhere in the URAR report form to put that tidbit.
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