Monday, August 12, 2013

Another one bites the dust. . .the house search continues

Maybe it was a bad idea for me to sell the condo and move. Ugh.

So. I found a house. Now, before I go on, I will fully admit that my price range is challenging.  I also am realistic about what I will get for that price range. I just think that you should maintain your property if you expect to get market rate for a small, simple house. I don't expect granite counters and hot tubs and mahogany floors, okay? I don't even expect a garage.  But I want the siding to be in good shape, as it protects the house.  I want the foundation to be in good shape.  The roof should be in good condition. If there is a deck, or steps going into the home, they have to be secure and safe.  The home should be structurally sound. If it needs work--if the roof needs replacing or the siding is kaput--you need to price the house accordingly (and realize that people like me will be nervous about potential water damage).

So. I found a house! Yay, right? YAY.  The house was very simple--slab foundation, tiny kitchen, no storage to speak of. However, it was in my price range, had a decent yard, and the owners had done extensive work on it and pulled the proper permits (I check these things).  The roof was new (except on the addition that had been put on years ago, that roof would need to be replaced in about five years). The siding was new (or most of it was); the siding that wasn't new was in decent shape. The windows were new or newer--they were in good shape. They had redone the inside, which certainly increased buyer interest.  New floors--tile, laminate, and hardwood.  The kitchen, while tiny, was all new.  The bathrooms looked to be in good shape.  It's just me and the cat! I could make it work!

I hemmed and hawed.  It was next to the power lines, and some people get freaked out by that (I was worried about resale issues).  The thing is, I'm not worried about it--my next door neighbor would be on the quiet side.  (A conversation with the next door neighbors confirmed this--they didn't even get people on dirt bikes or ATVs since the utility company put up gates and locks.) Slabs don't sell well in New England; we are a people who love our basements.  However, I have moved to the Cape, and we are a people here who tend to take on water in our basements, depending on where the house is located.  Also, the slab made the house well within my price range.  I mean, look, I don't need a basement, and other people in the US (and a few areas in Massachusetts) live in slab homes quite happily.

I took a carpenter friend to see the house for a second look.  I had learned my lesson from last time.  If there was a huge issue, it would jump out at him (though I fully expected the inspector to find things, I figured my friend would catch anything that could be a deal breaker).  He hated the location but couldn't find a thing wrong with the house.  I met the neighbors, they were really nice, I thought, this could be a go.

So, after hemming and hawing and chewing my nails down to nubs, I made an offer.  The seller and I danced and danced and finally came to an agreement.  I was so excited! I was positive the inspection would go swimmingly.  Oh, the inspector would find a few things--no house is perfect--but I would finally get a house and own something again. I'd meet my neighbors and build garden beds and plant flowers and have a party and get creative with storage (and blog about it here)! It would be awesome.

Well. One thing the home inspector advises people to do, and my lawyer advises me to do is to also hire a pest inspector.  Do you see where this is going?

Cape Cod has one of the highest incidents of termite infestations in the country. Guess what the pest inspector found?

And it wasn't a case of "oh, they just found their way in but haven't done much damage yet, so the baits will work a treat."  It was "these critters have been in the crawl space under the stairs (or under the foundation there) since the house was built, have eaten the support beams, oh look they've chewed the bottom of the closet flooring, oh, they may be in the stairs. . .and by the way, it's really difficult to get them out of slabs." Apparently, if you can't drill into the floor to poison them (which you can't in a slab, as the pipes are in it), you need to use the bait traps.  Those take years to work effectively.  This house had over 30 years of termite damage. The baits would have been fine if it was a year's infestation. 30 plus years? Not so much.

The home inspector would not have seen that, and couldn't legally say anything even if he did (besides, "This could be termite damage, I advise you to follow up with a pest inspection.")  My friend didn't see it.  I didn't see it.  I thought I knew what the mud tubes looked like.  I was wrong.  Also, it looked like someone had scraped off the old (gulp) tubes--or they fell off.  The exterminator knew what he was looking for.  The critters ate one of the support beams almost hollow. The support beams. And the three creaky stairs. . .I hate to think what that could have meant!

So. I walked away. And cried bitter, bitter tears.

My real estate agent thinks my price range means it will be a challenge to find the perfect house.  However, I am not looking for perfect. I am looking for safe and well-maintained. I think I made a lot of compromises this time. A small place with no storage and a tiny kitchen on a slab next to the power lines in a decidedly unfashionable part of town (which, let's face it, is where all of the homes in my price range are). I am hardly asking for the moon, here.  And from what I gather from other people, $500,000 homes can have termites, and many of the more expensive homes have issues.  I am really tired of the idea that not being able to afford something extremely high end means you deserve a plate of dog poop.

I don't know if the seller knew about the termites. They got it for a song a couple of years ago, and their kids--all contractors--redid the house. Even with our haggling, they stood to make decent money. But if my home inspector didn't catch that and my friend didn't catch that then I doubt they would have caught that (and their protest that the town didn't tell them when they closed the permits made me roll my eyes.  The town officials are not pest inspectors or exterminators. They are there to check the specific work the permit was for).

The moral of the story? If you are going to buy a place, get a pest inspection.  Any pest control company/exterminator should offer the service. Make sure you do not have wood boring pests.  You do not want to pay $100,000 or $200,000 or $500,000 for termite pet food.


  1. That just sucks. Better to find out ahead of time, then to buy an infested home that would become a money pit. : (

  2. You must be VERY dispirited !! Hope you find somewhere that suits soon... but what a lucky escape you have had this time.

  3. So sorry! I agree, I don't get why people don't maintain their property. I don't think anyone has to fall into the HGTV trap of replacing every fixture to suit the latest trend, but homes should be well-maintained and structurally sound, if at all possible.

    I happened to notice odd wood shavings on our basement floor several years ago--turned out to be termites. We caught it before they did any damage. You have just reminded me that we probably need another inspection, as the treatment needs to be updated every 7 years or so.