House-hunting horror trail

Challenge: Their search for the perfect home led Toby and Jeffrey Block to some experiences they would as soon forget.

May 02, 1999|By Mary E. Medland | Mary E. Medland,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If most of the world would agree that the course of true love never runs smooth, then virtually everyone who has ever purchased a home would stand up and shout out loud that the road to homeownership isn't all that easy either.

Finding the perfect home is one of life's great challenges.

Still, the saga of Toby and Jeffrey Block's search for their perfect home pretty much takes the cake. Although the couple won out in the end, the search was made longer by such things as ice storms, noisy upstairs neighbors, a messy divorce (not the Blocks'), and even a touch of murder.

For the first two decades of their marriage, the Blocks lived in a Baltimore County condominium, building up an eclectic collection of art and antiques. But when their domestic Eden was destroyed by the arrival of an unbearably loud neighbor, the two went on the lookout for their first single-family dwelling.

High on a country hill, the couple spotted a beautiful Colonial in the Timonium area. The view on that early September day in 1995 of the surrounding land was spectacular -- the leaves were still on the trees and the weather still warm. They made an offer, which was accepted, and moved in.

Just in time for winter -- and the abundance of ice storms that came with it.

The Blocks pretty much found themselves stranded, unable to get out of their driveway for several days.

It was not an auspicious beginning. "But there were other problems, more permanent ones, as well," said Jeffrey Block. "The kitchen wasn't big enough, the rooms were chopped up, the traffic on Timonium Road was increasingly loud and busy, and there were so many trees in the back that the swimming pool was constantly filled with leaves."

That did it. The Blocks went back on the road to find a new home in the spring of 1996 after another winter in the home. But with a more clear-cut picture of what they wanted.

"This time, we had a specific plan," he said. "We wanted a house that was architecturally unique; large rooms and big kitchen were a must; a pool and a quiet community were important; the location needed to be near my office; and we wanted at least four acres of land." If that doesn't seem like an especially difficult list, it nevertheless took the couple a year to find the right place.

For starters, there were some, well, communication problems with the Blocks' first real estate agent.

This individual, whose relationship with the couple ended after precisely one day, seemed to have it in his head that the Blocks were in search of a rowhouse with a back yard the size of three or four postage stamps, corresponding rowhouse-size rooms, and that the couple were deathly afraid to go anywhere near water.

The next real estate agent showed more promise.

At first.

"This second real estate agent was very hip, very cool, and very professional but very distracted," he remembers. Nevertheless, the Blocks did get to see some houses they would not otherwise have been privy to.

"This agent would take us to homes in the $1 million-plus range," he said. "It was very awkward I mean, there'd be a butler answering the door; maids and cooks would be everywhere in all these monstrous rooms."

When the Blocks reminded the agent of the amount of money they had to spend -- which was not $1 million -- they'd be taken to see another $1 million place. "The agent would say, `I know what you told me, but I'm sure we can get this home for $800,000,' " Block recalls.

Although the couple were rapidly coming to the conclusion that this person just wasn't going to work out, they hung in.

Voila!

They found a Victorian-style home, yet a very modern Victorian, with a great front porch.

Then came the home inspection, which turned up a few problems.

Big ones.

Such as the foundation. It needed work, as did the roof and the basement. There were problems with the water system, and the company that had done the plumbing was pretty much going out of business.

When the seller refused to pay for the necessary repairs, the Blocks withdrew their offer.

A few weeks later, an attorney contacted the couple and pointed out that, alas, they couldn't get out of the contract.

Ultimately, a settlement was reached.

"At that point, we stopped our search for a while," says Jeff Block. However, the adventure was to continue.

The Blocks saw an ad in the newspaper, called O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA and had the luck to find the person who would lead them to their dream home. Eventually.

"Finally, we had this angel real estate agent appear out of the mist," Block says. "Nina Frankian took us to this beautiful, isolated, contemporary home near Greenspring Avenue."

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