On February 2, Jo and Lonnie Harrison decided to have a weekend getaway at their cabin situated on 10 acres of land in Madisonville, about 90 miles northwest of their home in Houston, Texas. But when they arrived at their vacation spot, something very important was missing — the home itself. Only cinder blocks and pipes remained.

Jo immediately called the Madison County Sheriff’s Office and told them his one-bedroom cabin was gone, which he didn’t think officers would actually believe.

“‘You know this is really going to sound strange, but I need to report a stolen house.’ They were like, ‘A house?’ I said yes,” said Jo Harrison to ABC 13 as she recounted the call. “We have 10 acres and had a little cabin, and the cabin is gone. We really would like to have our house back.”

The couple said they bought the cabin as part of a land purchase last year, and their last visit was in November 2017.

Sergeant Larry Shiver of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office took over the case, and after some digging, Shiver realized the home hadn’t been stolen, but it had been repossessed by a company in Temple, Texas, because the previous owners had never paid it off, and then stopped making payments.

“It was part of the deal, but the problem was it wasn’t specified in the writing,” Shiver told ABC 13 in an interview. “Yes, we feel sorry for them. That’s why we’re looking to find the house. They had belongings in the house. Plus, they put time and effort into the house.”

A property search doesn’t show evidence of a building on the land.

The Sheriff’s Office is now looking into filing criminal charges on the previous owner since they did not “properly represent” the property.

For the Harrisons, the ending is bittersweet — they now know what happened to their home, but Jo says they have no chance of getting the cabin back.

“Reality is that the house is gone. We work very hard,” she said in a follow-up interview with ABC 13. “It’s just astonishing that you work hard. You do the best you can with what you have, and that someone just takes it away.”

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) acting general counsel Ralph Holmen says buyers like the Harrisons need to perform a title search and have a lawyer on their side to address any problems that may arise.

“For any real estate transaction, a competent title search is recommended and might disclose any problems,” Holmen said in an emailed statement to Inman. “When purchasing land, especially one with existing structures, always consult a lawyer or the state real estate commission to see if a title to such units is recorded and, if so, check the records.”

“It’s also good practice to get a representation from the seller that he or she owns any units free and clear of any claims,” he added.

Email Marian McPherson.

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