The auction bell has rung, and Sarah and Jason Kriess now own their Fircrest backyard.
“We can build our fire pit and enjoy our backyard,” Sarah Kriess said Tuesday morning, “and throw a backyard warming when it’s not 40 degrees out.”
Kriess was the sole bidder in an online auction at which the two parcels that make up the couple’s backyard were listed for sale by Pierce County’s facilities management department.
The couple spent just over $2,500 to buy the land outside their back door that they had thought they already owned.
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“It’s an expensive lesson learned, but it could have been way worse,” Kriess said. “Now we can look back and laugh at it.”
The Kriesses have tried to find humor in the convoluted story about how the backyard was not included in the March purchase of their Columbia Avenue home.
The yard’s history includes a 1989 land condemnation, a 2012 foreclosure and the death of a former owner.
We can build our fire pit and enjoy our backyard, and throw a backyard warming when it’s not 40 degrees out.”
Sarah Kriess, Fircrest homeowner
“This morning I talked to my husband, and he said ‘Well, thanks for buying back our backyard, babe,’ ” Kriess said. “I said, ‘You can repay me by mowing it all summer.’ ”
Sarah Kriess learned of the online auction Nov. 18 from a mailed flier advertising two parcels for sale. The parcels were the couple’s backyard.
In the days that followed, Kriess contacted her real estate agent and title company to ask how it was possible no one knew the backyard wasn’t included in the sale of her house. Everyone was perplexed.
A title search shows the state Department of Transportation condemned part of the backyard in 1989, then sold it a decade later to a woman who owned the house. That woman never requested a boundary line adjustment from the county, which would have consolidated the backyard parcels with the lot containing the house and prevented this from happening.
A bank foreclosed on the woman’s house in 2012 and sold it that year. The woman remained owner of the backyard.
The woman died in May 2015. A month later, Pierce County sent a letter to her last known address stating the backyard would sell at a foreclosure auction at the end of 2015 unless missed taxes and fees were paid.
The taxes were never paid, and the land was listed. After no one purchased it, the county’s facilities management department took ownership and listed it again in Monday’s public auction.
The state Department of Transportation condemned part of the backyard in 1989, then sold it a decade later to a woman who owned the house. That woman never requested a boundary line adjustment from the county, which would have consolidated the backyard parcels with the lot containing the house and prevented this from happening.
The title company is still investigating, but “it doesn’t sound like they’re going to cover anything,” Sarah Kriess said, adding a company representative put the onus on the Kriesses, saying they should have looked at a parcel map to discover the discrepancy with the backyard.
The Kriesses aren’t inclined to pursue litigation, figuring the fight would be more expensive than the land.
“I think at this point we’re like ‘We bought it’ and chalk it up to a very expensive lesson learned,” Kriess said.
The Kriesses’ story was picked up by newspapers and online news sites across the country. A local television news station interviewed the couple, as did the Oregonian newspaper in Portland.
“People seemed amused by our situation,” Kriess said. “It’s bizarre that this story went as far as it did. I guess people like a quirky ‘so glad that didn’t happen to me’ story.”
Kriess said it was frustrating to see social media comments from people who blamed the couple for not knowing their backyard wasn’t included in the sale of their house.
“People assumed we didn’t do our research. There should not be this expectation that we were not diligent,” Kriess said. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know. Now we do, and we hope other people will learn from our hilarity.”