SMITHVILLE, Texas (KXAN) – Jacqueline and Ron Howard’s life changed in 2018 when they were given the opportunity to become property owners.
They said for nearly 40 years a close friend owned two neighboring plots of land off a remote gravel road in rural Smithville and had offered to sell them the lots for $500.
It was an opportunity they couldn’t turn down.
“This is where we were going to build our forever home,” Jacqueline Howard said.
Shortly after finalizing the purchase of their new land in 2018, the Howards began working with Titan Factory Direct Homes, where they would ultimately buy their manufactured home.
For the next two years, until their loan was approved, the Howards say they spent weekends camping on their land while they worked tirelessly to clear trees, brush and thick vegetation in preparation for where they would eventually have a house.
“There was nothing out there — no electricity, no water — just God’s country,” Ron Howard said.
They purchased their new home from Titan Factory Direct in July 2020 and filed all the necessary paperwork with Bastrop County to start the next steps, according to Bastrop County records.
The first step was to have a land survey conducted. Records KXAN obtained confirmed the survey was completed in August 2020 and was provided to the Howards, as well as Titan Factory Direct and its contractors.
Over the next three months, Bastrop County approved the building permits for the home. The local water utility approved a new water meter and septic system and the electric utility approved the installation of an electrical pole at the remote location.
The Howards’ home was installed in November 2020, and the family was able to start the next chapter in their lives — one home improvement project at a time.
‘Forever home’ no more
That chapter came to an abrupt halt nine months into living in their “forever home” when a man they said they had never met knocked on their door.
“Your home is on my property,” the man told the Howards.
When questioning the man, the Howards said he showed them a Bastrop County Central Appraisal District (CAD) map, indicating the two plots of land they owned were actually next to where their house was built.
The Howards home, water, utilities and septic were all put on the wrong property.
KXAN spoke with the man, who confirmed the events the Howards described and asked that his name not be used.
To make matters worse, the couple said the man informed them that their home crossed a second property line owned by someone else.
Placement of the home
Scared and feeling like they didn’t know where to turn, the Howards reached out to KXAN.
KXAN obtained records filed with Bastrop County, the Manufactured Housing Division of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), as well as the land survey that was conducted on the property.
Those records, including the land survey, show the Howards own lots 283 and 284, but their home is currently on lots 281 and 282.
Jacqueline Howard told KXAN she visited the property with the previous owner three years ago and was shown the lot where the home was eventually built. KXAN spoke to the previous owner listed on deed records. She confirmed that account and added she never knew it was the wrong property.
Two years later, in August 2020, a land survey was completed in order to move forward with development. According to the Howards, no one other than the surveyor was present at the time it was conducted. The survey highlighted the proper plots of land, yet everything continued to be built and installed on the wrong property.
KXAN reached out to TDHCA’s Manufactured Housing Division, the state agency responsible for regulating the manufactured housing industry in Texas, to find out if such a situation falls under its jurisdiction.
TDHCA’s attorney said the agency “…lacks any jurisdiction over this issue” and it cannot “regulate the placement of a manufactured home.”
“I am afraid there isn’t anything in our law that requires the installer to crosscheck any deeds or property records,” wrote Amy Jones, TDHCA’s general counsel. “In fact, manufactured homes are often installed on property not owned by the homeowner, i.e. leased property.”
KXAN reached out to Bluebonnet Electric and Aqua Water Supply, the companies that installed utility services on the property, as well as Bastrop County Development Services and Titan Factory Direct.
According to Bluebonnet Electric’s website, the process for installing electrical service may require a deed of landownership for easement. In the Howards’ case, a new easement was not required and therefore a deed of landownership wasn’t necessary to install electricity. KXAN spoke with Will Holford, a spokesman for Bluebonnet Electric, who stated “there was an existing easement for electric lines providing power to Mohawk Drive. Bluebonnet replaced an existing pole and installed an electric meter and security light at the location as requested by our member.”
According to Aqua Water Supply’s website, it requires a survey plat with field notes of the property to start service. Jacqueline Howard said Aqua Water Supply received the plat survey, which KXAN confirmed through easement records filed with Bastrop County. KXAN spoke with Dave McMurry, General Manager at Aqua Water Supply, who provided the following statement:
“Jacqueline and Ron Howard’s property is located in a platted subdivision in which the developer installed the necessary water infrastructure. For this reason, the water service connection did not require a road bore, line extension, etc. and was just a simple meter set. In this situation, Aqua sees the customer’s deed as proof of ownership but does not research the property with the county. Aqua’s Customer Service then provides the customer with a meter stake to place in a location where they wish the meter to be placed on the property. Aqua installed the meter in that location. Aqua does not conduct a survey to install the meter and without any other frame of reference, is relying on the customer’s knowledge of the location of their property.”
Additionally, according to the Bastrop County Development Services application, proof of ownership and a copy of a survey or plat are required to begin development, construction or septic installation on the property, but it is unclear whether it has additional procedures to confirm the location of services prior to installation. KXAN spoke with a representative from Bastrop County Development Services and is awaiting a response as it looks into the matter.
The Howards said they asked Titan to confirm the location of their land prior to installing their home and were reassured the land survey was all they needed.
When reached by phone, Titan’s general manager told KXAN they were working with the property owners but declined to provide further comments.
Future of the property
The Howards said Titan came to their property last Thursday and confirmed the issue but did not have an explanation for how this happened. According to the Howards, Titan is currently working with the actual property owners to see if trading properties is an option, so they don’t have to uproot their lives.
In the meantime, the Howards halted home improvement projects and hope they can remain on the land they’ve spent years improving.
“We’ve spent so much time and money on this land,” Jacqueline Howard said. “We don’t want to move.”