I purchased a villa in a Florida golf community this past September. The villa is on the ninth fairway of the South Golf Course, and is close to the center of many of the community activities. We have been spending time, and lots of money, getting the place just the way we want it. Being a retired CPA, I guess you’re never quite able to shake that need to document everything down to the penny. Our property taxes and insurance are paid from an escrow account, and I keep watch to see that the taxes are paid when they should be, and the balance in the escrow account looks reasonable. It also has to agree with the figures I keep on Quicken.
In November, as expected, a disbursement was made for property taxes, reducing the amount in the escrow account. At the end of each month I check to be sure the balance is increasing. When I checked at the end of February, the balance had jumped up by well over $2,000. I looked into the detail, and the property taxes that were paid in November were refunded. All of a sudden I had this sinking feeling that my property taxes were not paid, that the escrow company had sent the money to the wrong bank, and they were just now getting it back. I went to the Highlands County Tax Collector website, looked up the property, and it said the taxes were paid. I drilled down farther and was able to see the receipt. It showed a payment on November 20, 2012. That was a day before the escrow company had sent my payment.
Then it dawned on me. The villa we bought was one that the company that owns all the amenities at Highlands Ridge built as a model. We had looked at it two years ago in the “Parade of Homes”, and again a year ago when the price was reduced, but still not low enough. The owner of the holding company is extremely wealthy, and owns the amenities in many communities around the country. My guess is that the county had changed the payer for the villa, and that bill went to the escrow company, which they paid. The county didn’t change the information copy they send to the owner so the owner can include the property tax deduction on their income taxes. The company got the bill along with a stack of other bills from other properties they still own, and paid them all.
I knew what I had to do. I wrote a letter to the on-site property manager, explaining the situation, and telling her I would bring down a check when she found out, for certain, that the holding company had paid the bill by mistake. This is where the “I’m an idiot” comes in. It’s a little surprising how many ways you can think of that make you feel foolish for volunteering to reimburse them. Thoughts like, “Let them find it, it’s their mistake”, or “Mrs. XXX (not her real name) has more money than she can ever spend. You need it more than she does”. Even the ones that try to rationalize why you shouldn’t tell them like, “They probably like you so much for buying the place that they paid the taxes for you as a gift. Don’t embarrass them by returning it”, or “You’re probably going to get somebody fired for a screw-up like that. Saving their job is important in this economy”.
It’s the classic “devil on you shoulder” routine. I guess the angel on the other shoulder won out. As I tell people that thank me when I’m doing volunteer work, I’ve racked up a few minuses on my scorecard throughout my life, and I’m trying to get in a few pluses to offset them. You never know when you’ll be called to “settle up”.
Just (I’m An Idiot That Can Look At Myself In The Mirror) Jack