Did real estate agent play while owner was away?

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 13, 2010 - 9:40 AM

A Maple Grove couple allege that while they were in England their real estate agent used their home for "sexual escapades."

Steven Skar: He’s the agent named in the lawsuit.

Adam Bunge, an attorney, and his wife, Sarah Bunge, a Lutheran pastor, put their Maple Grove home up for sale and headed off to London this year for a four-month "work holiday."

While they were gone, they allege in a lawsuit filed last week, their real estate agent used their house and possessions for "unauthorized sexual escapades," staining their sheets, couch, carpet and other surfaces.

Coldwell Banker Burnet spent more than $7,000 to clean the home and replace sullied furniture, sheets, towels, the couple's robes and her negligee. But the family says they were repulsed by the intrusion and can't stay there anymore.

"It feels like we have been violated in every sense of the word," Adam Bunge said in an interview.

The suit also alleges that the agent, Steven Curtis Skar, or someone on his behalf, accessed credit card information on the Bunges' home computer and bought things online. Skar denies the suit's allegations, according to his attorney, Francis Rondoni.

Coldwell terminated Skar over the allegations, said Pat Ginsbach, a group leader with the agency and Skar's former supervisor. And just a week ago, the state Commerce Department revoked Skar's real estate license, saying he engaged "in non real estate-related activities for over four hours without permission, knowledge or consent of the homeowner, resulting in various repair and replacement costs." Skar waived his right to a hearing, according to a department memorandum.

'Gross, nasty' scene

Bunge said he first learned of a problem when his next-door neighbor e-mailed him in England, "saying there was some weird stuff going on at our house the night before." A group of neighbors had noticed a bedroom light on and knocked on the door to investigate.

Skar answered and explained that he was cleaning for an open house the next day and would be gone in 15 minutes, the neighbor told Bunge. Skar left the house with another man, according to neighbors, Bunge said.

The neighbors sensed something wasn't right. With Bunge's permission, a neighbor and one of Bunge's relatives entered the house the next day and found the mess, which they reported to him. He called Coldwell's Ginsbach, who drove to the house with her husband.

Ginsbach said that in 35 years in real estate, she'd never seen anything like it. A brown leather sofa, two nearby chairs and two end tables appeared to have been recently stained or soiled. A stairway rug was similarly soiled, as were the sheets in the master bedroom.

"It was gross, nasty," said her husband, Marvin Silverman, a retired real estate agent.

Used towels were strewn around the bathroom. An open bottle of lotion was in the kitchen.

Bunge said that in addition, $1,300 was charged to his American Express account by someone using his home computer.

Ginsbach said that Skar denied any unauthorized activities, insisting he'd gone to the house simply to clean. Coldwell fired him May 10.

The Bunges' suit against Skar and Coldwell, filed in Hennepin County District Court by St. Paul attorneys Kelly Hadac and Daniel Haws, says Coldwell acknowledges the "unauthorized sexual escapades" and spent $7,482 to change the home's locks, hire professional cleaners and replace all soiled items.

Maple Grove police Capt. Keith Terlinden said his department is actively investigating allegations about what went on at the house, and "we will not name a suspect at this time."

Had to move

Attorney Rondoni said in an e-mail that Skar "denies that any sexual relations took place at the plaintiffs' home and also denies that any financial information was taken, used or accessed in any way." Rondoni said the Commerce Department made no findings of sexual activity or financial irregularity.

"Many others had access to the plaintiffs' home," Rondoni wrote. "The sensational nature of the plaintiffs' allegations are better resolved in court rather than played out in the media."

Leonard MacKinnon, marketing director for Coldwell Banker Burnet in Minnesota, said, "We don't comment on pending litigaton."

Bill Gerst, vice president of public affairs for the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, said, "This association has 7,800 agents, and this would clearly be an isolated incident." Christopher Galler, chief executive officer of the Minnesota Association of Realtors, said the group has a code of ethics more stringent than state law.

Bunge said Skar is a brother-in-law of one of his wife's cousins, a Duluth real estate agent who recommended him. Bunge said Skar seemed to be "a nice guy."

Since returning home in June, the family has tried to sleep in the house but found they couldn't stomach it. Instead, they've stayed with friends and relatives and are closing on a new house next week. "It doesn't feel like it's our home anymore," Bunge said.

The lawsuit alleges that gay sex occurred in the house, but Bunge said the kind of sex isn't an issue.

"I don't care what anyone does in their bedrooms," he said. "My wife and I have marched in gay pride parades in Chicago. She was in her Lutheran pastor collar. I would have been repulsed if this was a heterosexual couple doing the things that they were apparently doing in my marital bed."

Staff librarian Sandy Date did research for this report. Randy Furst • 612-673-7382

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