Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A house hunting rant

Okay, so before I start on my rant, I'll catch you up on what has been keeping me occupied.  I found a house that I liked.  It looked like it was in great shape.  It was in my price range, albeit at the higher end of the range, but that was fine since I assumed it was in great shape and didn't need any major work done.  The lot was perfect--flat, sunny, fenced in.  It was 15 minutes away from work. It was on a street off of a major road--so it had the convenience but not the noise.  New floors (laminate), newer windows, newer roof, decent kitchen, bright rooms, good closet space.

Then I had the inspection. Oh, my lord.

The siding on the front and the back had to be replaced.  The front part of the siding was Masonite (I thought it was clapboard).  The parts where the paint and finish wore off turned out to be soggy.  Masonite is basically glorified cardboard.  Once the finish wears off (if it's not repainted, and this wasn't), that's it. The back--which was shaker shingles--was cupping and cracking and splitting.

Siding protects the outside of the house from the elements, including water.  Water can damage a house.  The inspector was very thorough.  When he asked me if I had any questions or if I felt he missed something (something he asked after we went through each section of the house), I pointed to the spot near the door.  "Oh, that's probably nothing," he said, and bent down to tap it with his screw driver.  The screw driver went right through the spackle.  "Oh, that's not good."  He pointed out that it was in a spot where the Masonite had worn away and gotten wet. The owner knew this was an issue, since he'd spackled it.

The deck was deemed unsafe--by both the inspector and by the contractor who went out to give me an estimate for the costs of repairs. There were no footings, it was pulling away from the house, and the inspector was able to make the thing shake with one hand.  Dear lord.

I got estimates for how much this work would cost--it would cost me $14K-$15K, and that's assuming there was no extensive water damage.  The owner would not come down, insisting that the deck was fine (if his tenant got hurt, he would have lost that house, but whatever, I'm a silly female) and that replacing the siding was just home improvement.

No, you eejit.  It's home maintenance.  Obviously, the deal fell through, despite the efforts of all other parties to convince me to pay the originally agreed upon price shy of $2K to take the thing off his hands. The buyer's agent and their project manager said with a straight face that the deck was fine--um, I  had two independent professionals look at it and they said it was a hazard.  My bank was clear that they would not give me a mortgage if the deck was deemed unsafe (it would be an underwriting issue), and an appraiser would take note of the state of the deck. I had this in writing.  I was told by all other parties involved that no one ever heard of banks doing that.  I had to point out, repeatedly, that I had this in writing (they all saw it), and that my bank was doing it, so their insistence that this was unusual didn't matter.  (I later Googled and found out that yes, it does happen). I finally got sick of debating, realized everyone was digging their heels in and assuming I was stupid, that we'd never come to an agreement, and I walked away.  I would never feel comfortable in that house.

Now for my rant.

If you own a home and you want the market value when you sell it, you need to maintain it.  I am not talking about putting in granite counters and jacuzzis and mahogany floors.  I'm talking about making sure your pets don't pee all over the floor to the point where the air is thick with the smell.  I'm talking about making sure your attic crawlspace does not have a hole where a squirrel dug its way through.  (Both things that I have encountered when I looked at houses.)  I'm talking about finishing the work you started.  I'm talking about making sure the major work is up to date.  Why? Because deferred maintenance--especially when the maintenance prevents water damage--can affect the condition of the house. And even if someone is willing to take a project on, their bank may not be willing to finance it.

No, really, that is a thing.  Reputable banks--not these sleazy mortgage companies that sell your mortgage to another company only for it to get lost and for people to not know who holds the mortgage--have been leery of this kind of stuff since the bubble burst.  They do not need customers taking on a mortgage and making huge repairs with more potentially expensive repairs possible if water got in and damaged the structure.  They will be likely to default.  Then the bank is stuck with a house that will be impossible to sell in foreclosure.

Not to mention the fact that it's a bit rich to expect someone to pay the market price for your home when you haven't maintained it.   I'm not talking about a leaky faucet here.  I'm not talking about small things the inspection turns up.  I'm talking about things that will incur five-figure costs.

I know people who have come into hard times and who cannot do major work on their homes right now.  But here's the thing: they're realistic about their situation.  If they put their homes on the market, they'd be clear that the buyer would need a rehab loan if the home needed extensive work, or they'd price it accordingly.  They'd feel awful about it, but they'd also know that the average buyer wouldn't have the money to pay market value for a home that needed a lot of work done.

Even if my bank would have given me the green light, I couldn't afford to pay what the buyer insisted the house was worth and the costs to bring the house up to a good standard of maintenance. Further deferring the maintenance would mean that there would definitely be water damage (or more water damage).  If the deck collapsed, there would be medical bills and potential lawsuits for me to contend with (unless it happened when only I was on it).  I'd also feel awful for subjecting my friends and family to an unsafe place.   That was not stuff that could be deferred. Changing out an ugly counter or putting in new bath fixtures to replace perfectly good but dated ones is stuff that can be deferred. 

Also, sellers and real estate agents? It's never a good idea to assume the buyer or prospective buyer is stupid.  Don't do that.


  1. OMG, M., is that you? I had no idea you had a blog! (Kidding, but one of my friends has had remarkably similar problems househunting this past year.)

  2. Good for you, Pamela, for walking away!!! The market needs more rational-thinking buyers. Too often, people "fall in love" with something about a house and can't think clearly to walk away. And shame on the sellers who put their wrecks on the market, hiding problems, that some unsuspecting person will have to deal with later!

    Can you imagine if everything we bought was like this? If every 3rd apple you bought was wormy and rotten in the inside, but looked great on the outside? Or if your new pair of jeans looked great in the store, but the first time you wore them in the rain, the seams split because they were just glued together with Elmers? And if stores went out of business the day after you bought something?

    Home-buyers need to become more savvy, and the deceptive sellers need to held even more accountable than our law currently allows.

    Can you tell, I just hate, hate, hate to be cheated out of my very hard-earned and saved money?

  3. What a frustrating experience! On the flip side of the realtor coin--my dad sold real estate for years (a second job to help pay the bills) and he was always very up-front about a home's faults and would encourage the buyers to check into them--sometimes the buyers would ignore his advice and buy the wreck of a home, anyway, and then be mad at him later, even though he had told them right up front that he thought the buyers were making a big mistake. (He had a remarkably good eye for these sorts of things back in his healthier years). Sometimes people only see what they want to see. I personally think that tv shows (such as on HGTV) do a big disservice to the whole real estate market. People are obsessed with how a home looks but not how well-built and well-maintained it is, or how functional the floor plan is. You can always replace carpeting and fixtures, but a new furnace? Roof? Repairing water damage such as what you noticed? You start getting into a lot more money on items that can't be put off "down the road" like you can with cosmetic changes. First-time home buyers would do themselves a huge favor by finding a knowledgeable person to accompany them when they start to seriously consider purchasing a home. I don't think that all home inspectors are created equal, either, so the more eyes looking at a house, the better.

    Hmm, a little rant of my own?

  4. Banks do turn down loans when a house is in that state of disrepair, over-priced, and the owner may not have money to pay for repairs. I worked for a first-time home owners program. You would not believe what people wanted to buy just to get a house. The banks, the city program, and federal program I worked for all had to stand firm to keep people from making horrid mistakes. People wanted to buy houses at full price and replace the roof later. Nope. Not at the full asking price.

  5. Do you have an agent? I don't know how things are in your state, but in Texas, buyers can have their own agent who must place their client's interest first in any real estate transaction. I did real estate for a couple of years, and I and most agents I know were serious about helping buyer clients. One of the things we were trained to do was to "give the client a reason NOT to buy the house," to point out issues that the buyer, who is naturally more emotional about everything, wants to consider. In my opinion and based on what you've shared, you definitely did the right thing in walking away. Have faith that the best house for you is out there! You'll find it.

  6. The inspection process always makes me feel like the house is falling apart! I hate that part.

  7. You did the right thing by walking away. Why would you settle for something that might cost you more money and headaches in the long run? There are housesellers and realtors that would prioritize the immediate sale of the property without considering the benefit of the prospective house buyer. The trick on house hunting is to see through all the glam and glimmer they show you, and look at the condition of the essential stuff. And it’s a good thing that you’re savvy enough to avoid those misdirections. I hope you’ve found the right place in the end!

    Jeffery Ramsey @ Inner City YYC