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Misadventures in Home Buying

That’s not the house. It’s a photo of H.P. Lovecraft’s house in Providence, Rhode Island, by Will Hart.

It’s a trick that’s probably older than money itself. Arrange for a transaction, but keep something hidden. Spring it at the last minute when the buyer is committed and maybe even backed into a corner. That’s what happened to us.

Without giving any identifying information at all, we were right on the verge of closing on a house. This is a big big money commitment anywhere, but particularly here in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country.

So here’s your first lesson:

Open every single cabinet and look inside. If you can’t open the cabinet, make them open it for you.

Looks like black mold to us.

We went through the whole rigamarole of contracts, inspections, followup inspections and specific requests for repairs and documentation. When we were thisclose to actually handing over a check here’s what we found. This was in a cabinet that had been full of junk, and blocked by more.

Lesson two:

Say you were buying a car, and the seller promised to fix the four flat tires before you drove it away. You show up and the owner tells you he didn’t fix them, here’s $500 and go find a tire shop. Would you accept that? Are you prepared to find out that the wheel bearings need to be replaced, too?

Here’s the electrical box. Right next to it was a sub-panel made by the Federal Pacific company. Experienced home buyers plus any electrician anywhere knows that those are a no-go.

What’s wrong with this picture?

We had a follow-up inspection on exactly this point. Our electrician noticed there’s no master shut-off here. Which means, it’s essentially un-maintainable. Seller promised, in fact seller insisted, that seller was going to take care of both of them. This is something we asked about repeatedly — we wanted to see the receipt from the electrician.

We found out the day of the walk-through that seller hadn’t done anything at all, and that it was going to be up to us. Seller was just going to offer a credit. A credit that didn’t cover the estimated tax and permit fees either. Plus who knows what other code violations the town inspector was going to uncover before signing off on the work.

Lesson three:

Look at everything. Look behind everything. If something is hidden behind stuff, assume there’s something being hidden.

We knew the place was full of cruddy peeling wallpaper and we were quite ready to fix that all up. We even had a contractor ready to roll in the next day and start work! But, hidden behind the furniture — way behind the furniture — was this:

Does this look anything like “safe” to you?

Again, we knew about the wallpaper. But this is not installed per the manufacturer’s specifications. A radiator on stilts? Please. Also: The house is supposed to be delivered “broom clean.” Again, please.

Lesson four:

Don’t accept any bullshit.

The typical real estate contract lays out what kinds of appliances and devices are to remain with the home. Ours is no different, and any stove or range was to be left with the house. There’s a cool antique gas stove from 100+ years ago. You can see the pipe where it’s hooked up. Were were told it works, and was part of an old-fashioned “summer kitchen.” I know that this kind of thing is of real value to restorers of historic homes who want everything to be period-perfect.

Imagine our surprise to find this very stove at this very address being advertised “for sale” on an internet sale site. I’ve got a photo but that might be too identifiable.

Lesson five:

If you don’t have the documentation, it didn’t happen.

Finally the moldy cherry on the cake. The termite inspection. Which we asked for repeatedly over the course of two months. Which the seller again insisted they would do themselves. Which documentation never seemed to be forthcoming. Which phone calls to the inspector re:this revealed he’d never even been scheduled let alone done it.

And guess what?

Sorry, no photos available. We were long gone by then.

You can do better

I know you want that house, and you want it badly. Not that house specifically, I mean the house you fell in love with. You’re willing to overlook a few warts because with some TLC you can make it right.

But beauty is only skin deep; ugly goes all the way down to the bones.

I could go on for at least this long about the debris, trash, and general crud.

You’ve got to be strong and you’ve got to be willing to walk away. And the earlier the better, because if you get too committed you’re at a real disadvantage when the nasty surprises come your way. We’d been talking for weeks about walking away, but we always felt things would work out. It was a mistake.

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