For the past seven years Jandare Sanchez and her 24-year-old daughter Fran say they have spent $18,327.80 on monthly mortgaage, tax and insurance payments for a house in which neither has ever lived.
It is unlikely that they will ever live in the small house that Jandare Sanchez thought was a bargain when she bought it for $19,950 in December, 1969. About $15,000 of the principal on the mortgage remains unpaid, Fran Sanchez said.
The house is located on a half acre of land at 6207 Old Dominion Dr. in McLean, the wealthiest area of Fairfax County, where the median price of a single family home is $77,00.
The house has become an expensive and immensely frustration nightmare for which no one claims responsibility.
The Sanchezes said they have gone into debt and have spent at least $10,000" on fees for several lawyers who have represented them. They have appealed to a host of professional organizations, government agencies and officials, only to be told there could be no restitution for a house that apparently was unfit for habitation the day it was sold because of severe termite damage and a contaminated well.
Fran Sanchez said she may sell the property because the land under the house is now worth about $35,000. Even if the Sanchezes are able to sell the land for that amount, they would end up with more than an $8,300 debt for their house-buying venture, because of the amount they said they have paid on the mortgage, for taxes and insurance and lawyers' fees and the amount still to be paid on the mortgage.
The house, condomned by Fairfax County in 1973 for health hazards, many involving the water supply, is vacant. A target for vandols, it is now little more than a gutted, decaying shell. The circumstances surrounding what Fran Sanchez, the current owner, wryly calls "the crusade" are in considerable dispute.
In 1969, Jandare Sanchez bought the house which was owned by Lewis S. and Sally S. Grandstaff, believing it was free of termites and that the well water was potable, or safe for drinking.
Fairfax County does not require a potability test as a condition of sale. However, the Veterans Administration and the Federal Housing Administration require a satisfactory potability report from a local health authority before approving loans and a certificate stating that the house is free of termites and termite damage. These certificates are routinely transmitted to the VA and FHA by a bank or mortgage company.
The purchase agreement signed by the Grandstaffs and Sanchez specified that the well and pump be in "operating condition" at the time of settlement and that the house be free of termites and termite damage.
Jandare Sanchez received a 20-year low-interest FHA mortgage based on a VA appraisal of the house, from the Virginia Mortgage and Investment Co. of Arlington. Sanchez's real estate agent, Constance Foley, then of Laughlin, Inc., Realtors, had secured a termite inspection certificate from Joe Gallagher, who was at the time employed by Western Termite and Pest Control.
In January, 1970, prior to moving in, Jandare Sanchez lifted the rugs and found extensive termite damage.
Foley recalled. "The stairs and floor were just eaten away. I called Mr. Gallagher and asked him how he could have signed the certificate and he said there was so much furniture . . . that he really couldn't do an inspection."
Foley said, "That poor woman took a terrible beating. I know I did everything right as her agent."
According to Gallagher, Western had a clause in its inspection certificate waiving inspection of those areas "not visible and readily available." However, in 1976 a Fairfax Circuit Court awarded Sanchez $3,000 in damages against the termite company.
Shortly after the discovery of the termite damage, Sanchez was contacted by officials of the Fairfax County health department who told her that bacteriological analyses of water samples taken in November and December, 1969, prior to settlement, revealed intermittent contamination of the well. The county recommended connecting to the public water system. Several sources said the hook-up would have cost about $2,500 at the time.
The seven-year controversy surrounding the house hirges on the potability report, which was in reality a partial report based on a one-day sample. After receipt of a positive bacteriological test, the county requires at least two consecutive negative bacteriological tests.
Somehow this one-day report was passed along to Virginia Mortgage, the VA, FHA and Laughlin Realtors, all of whom said they believed it was a complete county-approved potability report. The circumstances surrounding the transmission of the incomplete report became the basis of a series of lawsuits.
According to court records, Sanchez alleged that the Grandstaffs had defrauded her by obtaining the one-day report and giving it to Virginia Mortgage, which then passed it along to the VA and FHA, which in turn approved the loan.
Sanchez testified she specifically asked about the condition of the well during her purchase settlement and was told by the Grandstaffs it was in "perfect condition."
William Berger, supervising sanitarian of Fairfax County, who testified in the case, recalled that Grandstaff asked for and received a copy of a one-day report.
In an interview, Berger said, "I told him then that one test didn't constitute the county's approval. Sometime in early January I received a call from (Virginia Mortgage) who wanted to know where the certificate of county approval was. I said the well was not approved. They were in a spot because they'd already approved the loan."
Brian Mullen, then Sanchez's loan officer at Virginia Mortgage, said, "I got a certificate saying that the well had been checked by the county. There were some question later about the authenticity of that document. But whatever that document was we presented it to FHA and they accepted it."
Lewis and Sally Grandstaff, the sellers who now live in Emmitsburg, Md., refused to comment on the case. "This has caused me too much distress over too many years," Mrs. Grandstaff said. Court records show that they admitted obtaining a one-day potability test result, but denied they misrepresented what it meant.
They also said that Laughlin Realtors knew that the one-day report did not constitute county approval and said Sanchez never mentioned the quality of the well during settlement.
In a final order issued January 26, 1976, Fairfax Circuit Judge Lewis D. Morris ruled that Sanchez had failed to prove fraud and dismissed the case against the Grandstaffs. Jandare Sanchez shortly thereafter moved to Paraguay.
Since the court decision, both Jandare and Fran Sanchez have sought help through other channels, including the Virginia Bar Association; the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, FHA's parent agency; Fairfax County Supervisor John Shacochis (R-Dranesville); the office of Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.) and numerous consumer groups. Fran Sanchez characterized most of the responses they received as "a real runaround."
An investigation by the ethics committee of the Virginia Bar Association revealed no misconduct by any of the six lawyers who handled the lawsuits at various times.
"I've given up on lawyers," Fran Sanchez said bitterly. She claimed that her mother never received any of the money from the successful suit against Western Termite and Pest Control because an attorney took it as his fee.
Fran Sanchez said the consumer groups told her the case is "hopelessly complicated. They said they wouldn't know where to begin."
"Mr. Shacochis said maybe I'd learn from my mother's mistakes. He investigated to see if the county was responsible and told me he was satisfied it wasn't. He also said he was shocked," Fran Sanchez recalled.
"I really feel (for) them, but there's nothing we can do to help her," Shachocis said. "The old principle of caveat emptor still applies."
An aide to Rep. Fisher is investigating the case. "Something has really gone wrong. Someone didn't do a thorough inspection. The situation that exists now should never have existed," the aide said.
Why have Fran and Jandare Sanchez pursued what has been a losing battle for so long?
Fran Sanchez looked thoughtful and replied, "I guess the thing just snowballed. I think my mother felt she'd spent this much, so she may as well just continue." CAPTION: Picture 1, McLean house stands vacant and vandalized seven years after Jandare Sanchez bought it for $19,950.; Picture 2, The interior of the Sanchez home in McLean shows the effects of the vandalism that has occured since sale. By Ellsworth Davis - The Washington Post