Blog: R.E. Tales
Hey, not every place is pretty.
There was a local fellow who was an accomplished liar and for years kept trying to buy his own farm, dairy preferred. He had no money; usually the story was one thing or another about how his grandmother would provide what he needed. Over the years, he wasted a lot of other people's time, as well as his own, but eventually managed to get a tiny place with a small barn for heifers. I assume he got this place the conventional way, by saving his money. He kept it nice, I will say.
Thirty years ago, I had a couple on their honeymoon who’d decided to start their new life together on a farm. I showed them a place and they agreed then and there to buy it. We signed the contract right away and I got his $10000 deposit check. And it bounced. I called him and learned that he’d recently switched accounts and had thought there was enough money left in the old one to cover this. And apologized, saying he’d get a new one out to me right away;. Days later,; he said he wanted to show the place to his father and said he’d bring it in person. Then he called, saying his father had suffered a panic attack on the way up (he didn’t want his darling to leave home), and they had to turn back. Shortening the story, it was one plausible excuse after another and we eventually saw the light and put it back on the market. But the story does’t end there. Fifteen years later, we got a call from his no longer new wife, apologizing for all he’d put us through. They’d split up over his accomplished lying. I wonder what lies he given her?
We are experiencing a similar situation now, but with its own wrinkles, lots of them. Jim and Sally needed to retire. Jim wasn’t emotionally ready, but Sally’d had enough. So much that she’d moved in with children leaving Jim alone on the farm until he was ready to join her. Right now with the low milk prices, dairies are kind of toxic, no one wants one, and this has been made especially worse since the milk handlers want less producers, not more. It’s a strange juxtaposition: prices are rising on all real estate, things sell quickly, yet no one wants operating diaries. That used to be 2/3s of my business.
So I was delighted to receive a call from Trent. He told me he wanted to buy their place. Fine, we want to sell it. He offered full price then and there. “Don’t you want to see it first?”, I asked. “No, I am a livestock hauler and go by regularly. I know the place and don’t need to look at it. Plus I am too busy at the moment.” O…K…
I drew up the contract and sent it to him, and got it returned, signed, and very quickly. I then took it to Jim and Sally and discussed it. It was a cash sale, simple, quick and easy. Trent had provided me with a statement from his bank saying that he has $5.9 million in assets there, in which $855000 was immediately available. It doesn’t get better than this.
As this is highly unusual, I’d discussed this with Trent a bit beforehand. Here’s his story. He had just sold a 1000 acre stocked and equipped farm in Pennsylvania to a cousin and banked the money, letting it sit there until he found his own place. Then I learned his last name, Feneman. That was a very familiar name to me. There are Feneman’s in the next county over, highly respected, successful in life, mostly dairymen. I knew some of them and knew of others by reputation. You never hear a bad word about that family. The one I knew the best was his uncle. I hadn’t been aware there was a branch of the family in Pennsylvania, but why not? So that explained something. Later I learned he’d inherited his place from his grandfather, who had a dozen or more farms in that area of Pennsylvania. It all made sense.
These were among the things I discussed with Jim and Sally, in person and over emails and phone calls. One of their concerns was over him getting a milk market. They had one, with Agrimark, which utilizes a Canadian-style plan with a base for production. The base can be earned, but you get drastically less for your product while you establish the base. A more practical approach would be to purchase it from Jim and Sally. They were willing to throw in the feed since he’d offered full price, but the base was too much money to just give away. “Did he understand this?”, they asked me. I couldn’t say how well he understood it but could say that he’’d been so informed. And if he knew the dairy business, he’d understand.
So they signed. Trent had agreed to supply a $20000 check for earnest money, but I didn’t have it yet. This always makes me a trifle nervous though it is not uncommon.
Trent had wanted to buy the cattle too plus whatever machinery they wanted to sell and he arranged to visit Saturday afternoon to see these things. That made me feel better as now he’d have a chance to visit the buildings and see the land. I do NOT like selling things sight-unseen.
He arrived right on time, driving an older pickup, with his wife (girlfriend?) and kids in tow. And was a lot younger than I expected, still in his 20’s, he said. Jim and Sally’s place has a lot of fairly new buildings, including the home, but little effort is made to make things pretty or keep anything particularly clean. I worry about that. But Trent didn’t. He was fine with everything. And didn’t want to take the time to go inside the barns or even visit the home.
He explained his haste. It seems he had planned to buy the Flint farm and that had fallen through. I hadn’t known it was for sale. Flint’s mother had worked for us years ago and, ironically, had made two sales of property which I had listed - the farm Jim and Sally owned and the Flint place. Anyway, the story was that he had bought a some machinery from White’s Farm Supply and the Flints had made unreasonable demands upon him, one of which was that he was not to deal with White’s.
They went on to discuss prices on cows and youngstock. He agreed to everything without bargaining, except he said they’d offered the cattle at too low a price. He’d pay an additional $200 each. What? No one says this. I got the impression that Trent was naive, not used to having money, and now had so much that thousands here and there meant nothing to him. In the back of my mind, I now saw red flags in too many places and I was happy to remember that in one of my first emails I’d said something to the effect,”If something seems too good to be true, then it probably isn’t true.” Afterwards, I would go back to that theme in private communications with Sally.
That day, we discussed the sale of their base and said we’d have to talk with Agrimark to find out exactly what it was and what it was worth. Later, we told him $76000, to which he instantly agreed. This was too easy, why8 not? We’d had so much trouble with most every deal that it wa time for something to go right consistently.. Life had suddenly got very good for everyone. We thought.
One of two things Trent asked for was to park some machinery there he’d bought from White’s. That was not ideal, but they were good with it. The other thing was the chance to start working here before we had the closing. He stated he had cattle of his own in a farm in Pennsylvania and they were not being care-for to his satisfaction. He was anxious to get them were he could do that himself. (Yet he lives 2 .5 hours west of us.) I did not like this one bit: it is never a good idea to have to such contact before the sale; worse, Jim can be mercurial and has a temper. Plus adding 30 cows would be a 50% increase in Jim’s workload and he was short of feed already. Their lawyer nixed that idea, as I’d expected and hoped for. Since I have mentioned lawyers, Trent didn’t have one. I gave him some recommendations and urged him to select one immediately so he could review the contract in the time frame provided. That never happened.
Before he left, Trent gave me the $20000 check, then asked if there was a local gas station that would take a check. He was low both on gas and cash. I didn’t know of any and gave him $20 to get home on. Since I rarely use credit cards and never use ATMs, I did not think to ask why he just didn’t pay for gas that way. The wife (girlfriend?) and kids stayed in the truck the entire time. Strange; weren’t they even interested enough to get out?
The next day he asked me about another farm we had nearby ($525000), saying that since Jim and Sally’s house had only 2 bedrooms, that it might make sense to buy another farm with a bigger house and operate the two together. Then, a day later, he inquired about a place we have in Washington County, 2.5 hour’s drive east, could we show him that? That was getting totally crazy.
Things went fine for two days. Then my bank called me. They could not honor the check; no such account existed. Red flags and suspicions - heck; this was serious. I called his bank, which was large and not local, and not surprisingly, it took significant negotiation of their phone maze, but eventually I reached someone who confirmed the routing number/account number was not in their system. He was not very helpful in other ways, but I hadn’t expected to be that lucky.
Then I called, or tried to call, the bank executive who’d given him the proof of funds letter. The branch had never heard of such a person. A second call a day or two later was more revealing. As I was discussing things, the fellow at the bank mentioned Trent’s name. Only I had not yet told him who it was we were speaking of. Then he inadvertently said something that implied that Trent had another account. That was at least hopeful. Later on, I realized that the executive’s signature (largely illegible) did not look enough like the name as it appeared as printed. And one letter varied in the printed versions, a typo - but which was correct?
Friday night Trent called, apologized about the check, and said he’d send out a replacement check right away. That was two weeks ago; the mail sure is slow these days. Later, I did him the courtesy of letting him know it did not arrive - and got no response to my email. Always before, he had been extremely quick to communicate.
Meanwhile, I got on the horn with White’s Farm Supply and eventually got into a long talk with the salesman. His story was that Trent had come to him to buy two tractors and a baler, $130000 worth of machinery. They don’t often get the chance to make sales like that, especially to someone Trent’s age. This made the salesman’s day. But he had the money, Trent said, and gave them a check then and there with instructions to deliver it to Flints on such and such a day. Later, they discovered the check was no good, same story as mine. But that was after they’d delivered it to Flints, only to be turned back and make the drive back - fully loaded.
Sally, alarmed now since I’d been been in regular touch with about all these events, did some of her own due diligence, and learned Trent had been arrested for Grand Larceny. To be fair to him, arrested does not mean convicted. I did the same thing, visiting our friend Google. True, there was a radio station report that three months earlier he had been arrested. But I learned nothing more. So I called the Sheriff in that county. A couple of calls later (they were obviously not anxious to speak with me), I learned I wanted the sheriff in the next county over, not the one in which the radio station was located. I called the other Sheriff and found out it was a State Police investigation and got the name of a deputy who was on the case - back in the original county Sheriff’s. I called him today but had to leave a message. No call back (yet).
Later on, I had a phone discussion with Sheriff Lincoln from Steuben County, who has been investigating Trent. Apparently there were 4-5 bad check incidents from out that way as well, mostly for trucks and truck repairs. One truck purchased and recovered could not be returned to the rightful owner until the old owner paid a $1400 bill Trent had incurred for brake repairs. Another was quickly “sold” to someone else, recovered, but cannot be released to the real owner until the title reverts back to him. The proof of funds letters are each different, manipulated according to the intended purpose.
Lincoln has been trying to find him. Trent is never a found at his address, but a neighbor says he is there, late at night, once every so often, at week or longer intervals. Nor does he take the Sheriff’s calls. This is interesting: at the building where his address is, there is some sort of rehab or similar program of which he was a part, only he has not attended in weeks.
We had some rainy weather, so I took advantage of it to make some visits. First, I went to the Feneman who I knew best. He was glad to see me and began to talk cows.. and talk cows… and talk cows. But I did get to ask about Trent. Deleting the expletives, he claimed that Trent was no real relation of his. The story he told was that two Feneman brothers came across on the Mayflower. His side came from-the brother who went to New York while the other brother went to Pennsylvania. I doubt that was historically correct but the gist was that he had zero use for Trent, right from the start. I felt Trent was likable enough so was taken a bit aback at the venom displayed. It seems he’d met Trent twice. The first time was when Trent arrived and introduced himself to his “uncle”, then wanted him to sell him his farm and carry terms (the uncle is 88 years old now and does not do much of the farming himself any longer - but still does some). There was a blunt refusal. Then, weeks later, Trent reappeared, wanting to rent the farm instead and put in his own cows. Another blunt refusal.
Then I went to visit the Flints. It did not look like a farm that would be for sale: they had lots going on, new buildings, a farm store, a younger generation now owning and loving it. They knew Trent - too well. Their side of the story was that he’d approached them to be a junior partner and would bring in $500000 as his share. They agreed. After all they’d still be majority owners and who can’t find a use for $500000? Trent’s story had been that he was buying them out at $500000. As for not allowing him to deal with White’s, they laughed at that one. White’s was fine with them. In fact they’d delivered Trent’s machinery there but were told not to unload it as they no longer had any agreement with Trent and didn’t believe he has the money.
Why didn’t they think he didn’t have the money? Well, he bought a bunch of their cows and had them delivered to a farm in Pennsylvania. Then the check bounced and they had to get a truck and trailer to Pennsylvania to get them back, at their expense. What I don’t understand is why Trent would move cattle to another farm if he was supposedly buying theirs. There’s probably an explanation; I just didn’t think to ask for one.
One story I heard was that he was romantically involved with one of the Flint owners, a young lady who was single, badly crippled from an accident long ago, the sort of person you might think would welcome advances. In my conversation with her, this did not come up. She is pretty smart.
But I did learn a number of other things. One, he’d given a bad check to Cazenovia Equipment and another to Hudson River, a local machinery dealer. Two, he’d tried to buy a farm in Washington County from two bothers who were desperate to sell out and eagerly grasped at the straws he offered. There is, she said, a lawsuit going on about that bad check.
The thing I learned that was most interesting is that she said he was bi-polar. That could explain a lot. One of the ways bi-polar can manifest itself is a manic stage where you feel you can do no wrong and are willing to take great chances. Did the fact he never replied to my email about not receiving the replacement check; indicate he’d now entered a depressive stage? Or did it mean he knew the jig was up with us? And how did Miss Flint find out he was bi-polar? While it should be nothing to be ashamed of, folks don’t normally announce something such as this to acquaintances. Though I could have, I failed to ask about that.
Getting back to Jim and Sally: after telling their bank that they had a cash sale, they had to go back and tell them the sale was off, back to normal. Here’s what she learned from that call:
‘…My son was talking to some people over in VanHornesville area yesterday and they were telling him about someone trying to pull a scam like Trent tried on us over in that area.
Then I called to let our bank guy know we wouldn't be selling right away - and I gave my report to one of the women who answers the phone and she said they have a client that fell for the same type of thing - but the cows and equipment made it onto the farm and they've been trying to get him out for the last month. she didn't tell me the name of the people, but she was very interested to hear about our experience and was going to share it with the other loan officers.”
That was probably not Trent. But it shows there are others out there.
Some blogs are designed to amuse; others can be an immense help. All are interesting.
After 40 years, I've learned a lot, & acquired unforgettable experiences. Follow these long enough and you'll eventually get the whole book. (Names probably changed, for obvious reasons.)