Don’t Judge a House Deal By Its Cover

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Author: Drew L Gerber

For 30 years, L. Drew Gerber has been inspiring those who want to change the world. As the CEO of Wasabi Publicity, lauded by the likes of PR Week and Good Morning America, he sparks “aha” conversations that lead to personal and business success.

“We go in there to sign the papers and exchange the money,” Andrea, our interpreter, said.
What? Where? In a bar? I was confused.
We’d parked across the street from the municipality building in Bačka Topola, the capital for the
region where we were buying our Serbian farmhouse (or as the previous owners called it, “the
country villa”). So naturally, I thought we were about to make things legal.
Andrea explained that we would sign the paperwork and exchange the cash and then we’d
have it stamped by officials. The whole scene seemed like a movie. It was disconcerting enough
to have come to the closing with cash, especially since the sellers wanted Euros instead of
Serbian dinars or Hungarian forints. It basically meant we’d needed to withdraw the money,
have it exchanged in Budapest, hop on the train, and then hope we weren’t questioned by
customs or border control as to why we were carrying so much cash.
Andrea could tell from my facial expressions that I was a confused, so she indulged the
American and explained how the process works. But her explanation didn’t help much and I still
felt a little uneasy as we entered the tiny bar.
I’m not sure what the old Serbian crones thought when we entered, but they looked as
perplexed as we felt.
We all crowded around the bar table and looked at each other awkwardly. Andrea said the
attorney would arrive shortly with the papers, and then she left because she said she had one
small change. I was hoping the change was in our favor, but we’d never really know because
the contracts were in Serbian.
While the couple we were buying the house from, the Banciks, were lovely – it became
increasingly strange sitting across from each other, not talking. Thank God Oscar, a friend who
works for us and fluently speaks Hungarian, Serbian, and English, was waiting outside. I asked
for him to come in and interpret.
Whew! Finally we were communicating with each other. It was nice to get to know the people
who owned the house before us. Istvan had actually grown up in the house and it had been in
his family for generations; that made the whole situation more comfortable.
The attorney eventually arrived and, in a matter of minutes, the papers were signed. We handed
over our envelope stuffed full of cash and they handed us what seemed like a thousand house
keys. Then we were off to make the deal legal.
Judging by the process so far, I figured it would be a “wham bam thank you ma’am” deal when
we arrived at the office and there was no one standing in line. But no, it wasn’t going to be that
We were required to pay the taxes and some other fees (I’m still not positive what they were
for), and of course we couldn’t pay them there; we needed to go to either a bank or a post
office. And it would take the workers 2.5 hours to stamp the 6 signed contracts. Ughhh!
With time on our hands, Oscar asked the Banciks if they’d like to go to Stara Moravica and
show us around the house. They agreed, so we all piled into Oscar’s tiny car and we were off

We could see the boyhood twinkle in Istvan’s eye as he showed us around his childhood home.
It was such a lovely experience, as if they were passing the baton. He showed us how to turn
on the water and the electricity, and showed us his mother’s antique Singer sewing machine
and the wood shelving unit they used in the cellar to keep things cool before the new fangled
refrigerator invention.

It was like being transported to another time.
It touched me deeply when they expressed their happiness that we were buying the house
because they knew we’d love it and give it a new life. It was clear to me we were connected at a
very profound level by this home.
It never stops surprising me how people in this part of the world, while they do things differently
(which often seems crazy to us), display a general level of trust in their fellow human beings.
So in the end, what started out feeling like a drug deal from a movie actually turned out to be
the biggest score of all – the changing hands of a grand house and the beginning of a new

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