Scott City, Mo. "In every offer, there's always something to be negotiated," said their real estate agent, Greg Lincoln. In this case, that something happened to be a beagle-mix dog named Rocky.
Jared, 20, and Whittnie, 19, were married last spring. They looked at more than 30 houses before settling on the quaint home in this southeast Missouri town, about 100 miles south of St. Louis. The place made an instant impression on them when they toured it. So did the home's sole inhabitant: Rocky.
"We thought, there honestly can't be a dog here if there's no one present," Jared said. Then, Rocky came bounding toward him.
One thing about Rocky - he's not shy. He is no bigger than a football, but covers the distance from his doghouse to the gate in a matter of seconds. He nuzzles guests and stares up at people with big round eyes. Rocky seems to smile in the way certain dogs can, with his pink tongue hanging over his lip.
"He's the most lovable dog I've ever seen," Jared said.
The story of how Rocky came to occupy a 2-bedroom house by himself began three years ago. That's when a retiree named Carlos Chitty decided to get a dog.
Carlos, 93, and his wife, Ruby, 88, lived at the house for years. They never had kids, and life got pretty quiet after Carlos Chitty retired as owner of Carlos Grocery in downtown Scott City.
"My wife said, 'Why don't we ever have any company?'" Chitty recalled. "I said, 'Didn't you notice that all our friends have passed away and we're still hanging around? That's why.'"
Chitty saw an ad in the paper for free dogs. He said he drove to a home at the edge of town, where more than a dozen dogs were up for adoption.
Again: Rocky's not shy.
"Man, that little dog came running across the yard. He about licked my face off," Chitty recalled.
Twelve years ago, Ruby Chitty was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Carlos watched her personality slowly slip away. By the time Rocky came around, Ruby didn't remember Carlos, or really remember herself, Carlos said. But Rocky was always there.
"I could talk to him. He would ride in my car. We were really buddies," Chitty said.
Earlier this year, it became clear Carlos couldn't take care of his wife any longer. "We'd just gone as far as we could go," he said. They moved into a nursing home. Rocky wasn't allowed.
Friends and family took care of Rocky for a couple of months before the Essners saw the house. The couple didn't want Rocky to be evicted, so they wrote him into the contract.
The couple seems to be living up to their end of the deal. Rocky spends fewer nights outside and sleeps inside the house's entryway on a big pillow. Jared Essner installed a night light by the pillow recently because he thought it was too dark at night.
Carlos Chitty visited Rocky last weekend. At the retirement center, his dresser includes four pictures: Two portraits of Carlos and his wife, and two portraits of Rocky.
Chitty said he wouldn't have given up the dog if he didn't have to. But it meant a lot to him when Whittnie Essner told him Rocky was still his. The couple were just dog-sitting.
"I thought, well, if anybody has the dog, I'd want you to have him," Chitty said he told her.