True Story: I Accidentally Bought A Money Pit House

Afraid you bought a money pit house? Read this for tons of home buyer tips and a cautionary tale.
Laura’s house now + some of the repairs
It’s every home buyer’s worst nightmare, isn’t it? Buying a house that turns out to be a total money pit? Sadly, that’s exactly what happened to Laura – including a dead animal in the dryer, unethical lenders, and a contractor who accidentally piped carbon monoxide into the kitchen!

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I grew up in Richfield, Minnesota and spent some time in the Army. Now I’m a retired disabled veteran.  I’m actually an amateur costumer and I volunteer in the costume department for a local high school.  I’m 45.

What was your first impression when you looked at this house?

I really liked the house.  It was in a good neighborhood, had a big kitchen for it’s size, and lots of future potential.

It also had new siding, windows and roof.  My realtor was in class the day I saw it with an associate of his, and I texted him immediately and said I wanted to buy it.  There was a bidding war and I won.

What did the inspector tell you when they looked at it, before you closed on the sale?

I had an extremely thorough inspector.  He found what he thought were old water issues, drain issues, and some other small things.  We asked the sellers about this, and they told us that they had had issues in the past, and had them fixed several years ago.

They did not put this on the disclosure form, but because they told me about it before I bought the house, I trusted them.  I’d bought houses before and never had these kind of problems.  I’d always been very honest when selling homes, so I trusted them.  In hindsight I wouldn’t do this.

When did the issues with the house start?

Days after we moved in.  I found a big pile of boxes we still needed to unpack sitting right next to water.  Every time we had a storm with over .62 inches of rain, we would get water.  It was pretty obvious that this was an on-going problem.

The person who quoted me for the drain tile in the basement found that one of our gutters was not attached, and the downspout was upside-down.  UPSIDE-DOWN.  Not even kidding.  We only noticed it because we were standing outside in the rain at the time.

Could you give us a bullet-pointed list of all the things that have gone wrong with the house?

* Water damage in the basement requiring drain tile, regrading, extended gutters, and I had to rip out everything and bring it back up to code – walls, electrical, etc.

* Dead animal in the dryer.  Really.
* Ants in the kitchen, two summers in a row.  Neighbors told me they always got ants.
* 60amp electrical service with a 100amp panel on the front, hiding it.  Had to get a brand new system, around $1600.
* Unethical lender for our remodel in 2016, who lied to me multiple times.  Set a date for closing and when the date arrived, told me not to go, as there was some additional paperwork I needed.  I went down and talked to his boss and found out I hadn’t even cleared underwriting yet.
* Bad contractors on our 2016 remodel.  The one contractor was completely in over his head and framed walls wrong.  Almost poured concrete onto my drain tile because he didn’t know what it was.  Didn’t cover anything with tarps – there was dust EVERYWHERE.
When the roof was gone and we only had a tarp, he re-routed the furnace piping into the upstairs, essentially pumping carbon monoxide into the house.  I basically babysat him.
* Subcontractor did not properly tarp the roof, and we had a massive storm, and the tarp failed.  I had $40,000 worth of water damage, as well as $8,000 in water mitigation.
* Contractors did not support the house before adding the dormer weight, and the house settled twice.  I had problems with doors that needed to be fixed.  Luckily it’s fine now.
*Contractors fought over who was responsible for the damage to the house.  Their insurance still hasn’t settled with mine, and it’s been over a year.
* Had to fire the HVAC guy because he refused to abide by the FHA contract.  Held up the remodel and cost me an additional $2K to go with a new guy.
* Trusses for the roof were ordered wrong, and it cost us about 3 weeks in workable time.
* Main contractor underbid the project by about $15K.
* Wound up replacing the main doors in the house due to dry rot.
* Main contractor sawed through the joists on the deck, and we walked on it all winter, not knowing it could have collapsed at any time.
* Asbestos!  Had to have that removed.
* Went through arbitration with the sellers of the house.  It was a horrible experience.
* I know there is more, but I’m drawing a blank.  If it could happen?  It probably did!

At one point, you had to move into a hotel, right?

We did!  My daughter has asthma and I am allergic to mold, and there was only one remaining habitable bedroom in the house after the storm damage, and our insurance agent relocated us and our two dogs to a hotel for a month.  Not as fun as it sounds.

All in all, how much money have you spend on repairs and updates for this house?

Gosh – the storm damage was around $40K, but covered by insurance.  The original water damage from 2015 in the basement was around $15K, but we did a LOT of the work ourselves, probably saving $10K in labor.

The remodel, once you add in the additional work that needed to be done, probably was close to $70K.  So a lot of money.  We did end up adding two bedrooms and two bathrooms to the house, and increasing the square footage by about 1000 square feet.

Have you ever been tempted to throw in the towel – declare bankruptcy or let the bank foreclose?

There were actually many times I thought I would have to.  It was sort of – Where is the money going to come from to cover this?  Will my insurance cover this?  How much more can I actually take? 

My friends did a Go Fund Me for me, and that helped a lot.

Is there any silver lining to this experience?

Well, the house looks pretty nice now!  I did discover who I could really count on in a tough situation.  I also learned how to do all kinds of things-  flooring, installing doors, ceramic tile, trimwork, insulation, etc.  I know that I can endure a lot, and make it through.

However, I don’t have great memories of this house.  I’m actually considering selling after all of this, even though almost everything is brand new!

What tools/resources/websites/books have helped you navigate this?

You Tube for tutorials on how to do things.  All the websites from the Consumer Protection Bureau.  Lots of friends in the real estate and construction business.  HGTV.  A lot of Mel Brooks movies for when things got really bad!

What advice would you give to any of us who are looking at buying a house?

1.  Get an incredibly thorough inspection. If someone has left something off their disclosure form?  RUN AWAY.  Be realistic about what you can do in terms of remodeling, and what you can deal with.  Have an actual plumber and electrician come out to look at the house, in addition to an inspector.  If there is anything suspicious?  RUN AWAY.

Also, pull the permit schedule for the house from the city, as well as any liens that might be on the house.  Better to know what really happened before getting involved.
2. Get an ethical lender that you trust.  Ask multiple people for referrals.
3. Make sure you have a very knowledgeable real estate agent who has your back.  Mine was fantastic.
4. Document EVERYTHING.  Every receipt, every communication, etc.  I took photos every single day of the damage and the remodel.  It helped me when we drywalled over an electrical outlet, when we needed to see where the plumbing was, and in my arbitration when I could show the extent of the damage.
Lastly, know that you can do everything right and things might still go wrong.  I did all of the things above – I vetted everyone, I got an inspector, etc., and I still had a lot of bad stuff happen.  Just remember that none of it is your fault – you made what you felt were informed decisions.  Sometimes bad things really do happen to good people.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Laura. I bet we all learned something! Have any of you guys ever made a bad real estate purchase?

P.S. Another cautionary tale: My identity + $3,462 was stolen

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  1. Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    Wow, I can’t imagine how you felt – and you’ve bought houses before, so you’ve had experience. The dead animal! I would’ve broken down! I’m so glad you have things sorted now, and thank you for your advice!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  2. Sarah

    It sounds like the house was a lemon, yes, but worse–none of the workers you hired knew what they were doing! That would be the most frustrating thing. The majority of the bullet points were human error. Kind of makes me wonder how many contractors get away with murder and no one knows about it-you were on the ball.
    We had a lemon of a house as well, though spent a fraction of the money (thank goodness the roof was brand new…I can’t fathom your roof/water damage!) but it still soured our home-buying experience. Now we’ll go into our next one with eyes wide open.

  3. Laura

    Hello! I almost feel bad for the house, lol. It was more the fault of the sellers and the contractor than the house being a problem, but it sure seemed that way at the time!

    If the sellers had been honest from the beginning, and had fixed the water problem, it would have been fine. And the main issue with the remodel was the main contractor – who was referred to me through a friend, who trusted this person. The contractor brought with him all of his subs, and each one was a problem. I found a different contractor to fix everything, and it was like night and day. You really DO get what you pay for. If it seems too good to be true? It absolutely is. If you have any concerns about someone? Address them long before you sign a contract. Now the house looks great, and is about 80% new. Not at all worth what I went through, but I am finally happy with it. Thanks for hosting my story, Sarah!

  4. Ted Jessa

    Made a recent purchase of a house. Family members warned not to buy it. Had the place
    inspected, etc. Problems began three days after moving in. Too long for details now.

  5. Jonathan

    Yeah I bought a money pit. Asked my girlfriend’s step father to inspect it because he was supposedly a professional. I knew it needed a lot of work but felt like I could learn but had no idea of costs. I included him in the equation mainly so my girlfriend who had no money and was not contributing anything financially but I was giving half the ownership would feel like she was contributing something. He basically just kicked the tires bullshitted me by $500K about the value then lied to his daughter. I got completely stuck in it relationship lasted two weeks took me 4 years to fix. $174K in time labor and materials 4 years of my time $100 grand in mortgage. Total chaos. In the gd Bay Area. Got sick, exhausted had a heart operation lost the house moved away and started again. Figure I lost a decade and about $300 grand in lost opportunity financially (if you ignore the medical bills) I broke even as I sold jsut before the market crashed. Moral or the story. Pay for a ***ing inspection. Don’t trust guys whose truck you would not drive. Don’t date princesses. House was beautiful after all the work I did. Worth a million now. I could not afford to rent it. It’s like a lost limb.

    • Mike

      You are the only person I know that can come close to my story my hat’s off to you for being able to deal with it

  6. Broken Down Bob

    Money pit… heh afraid I fall into this scenario as well.

    Bought a house, knew it had some issues. Went without a realtor (thought we knew what we were doing). They didn’t disclose everything, and kept pushing out when they’d leave. Finally I told them we agreed, were supposed to move in weeks ago and they finally left the place.

    Then the fun began. Too much to list like many I suppose but to name a couple:

    – gutters didn’t work, overflowing and plugged. Couldn’t figure out why. Had a plumber come, found out I have a sump pump that doesn’t work. charged $1k+ to fix the sump pump
    – garage door never worked, sellers would never give me the combo, found out the keypad never worked with the door. Easy fix but seriously why?
    – before bought house inspector found some sketchy stuff in the house. also couldn’t figure out why they never fixed it e.g., furnace input was disconnected and sucked air out of attack, upstairs sink only had cold water, rot in front deck pole. Sellers argued nothing was broken, it was all fine… finally fixed the pole and reattached the furnace, and water thought it was ok
    – fast forward, found out rot was just “patched”… entire pole had to be pulled out and replaced. Furnace sort of works but doesn’t have great air flow (assume this is why it was disconnected to begin with). Water has a weird hot/cold issue.
    – then notice that some cracks in walls were patched, not correctly. Issues with floor, ceiling, etc…
    – see that fireplace has issues, doesn’t vent probably, and smoke goes back into the house
    – wood floors start having issues, not done right
    – driveway has issues
    – electrical goes down, city comes in to fix power but still suspect fuse box issues
    – think we might have mold somewhere… crawlspace might have too much moisture

    Think in total we’ve had over $40k in expenses to fix many of these things. Many still require additional work.

    So yah, we bought a lemon. Took me many years to admit it but it’s true. It’s given me a different (hopefully stronger) perspective on life but yeesh it really sucks. The thing that I still have trouble with is to understand why the sellers could be such slime balls and not disclose these issues, and hide the ones we found. Complete scum of the earth.

  7. Kim

    This story is comical! Most of these issues where after you bought the house. 3 months after buying my house I’m told the structure was failing & it would cost more to fix it then I paid for it. I’ve spent over $20k & lived in my home less than 2 years. The home inspector was found negligent by the home inspectors board then quit to become a realtor. This is just a tiny portion of my story. I will have to file bankruptcy by summer as the damages are more than I can pay. This was my first home & im a single mother.

    • Pam

      I just bought a condo. I immediately discovered expensive issues and problems denied on the disclosure. I am not sure what to do. I wonder if I should cut and run. Lose the closing costs and real estate fees again but I have to update some basic things first. Nothing really works right. The inspector was pointless. Before buying if I’m ever able to do it again I’d rather get real tradespeople in to inspect a house. I fear this mistake is going to destroy me right before I retire. With my accounts now worth half what they did a month ago due to COVID 19 and people panic selling I’m really upset. I don’t have the energy for this. But there is something about owning a place and being able to paint and decorate that I like. Not sure if I could have avoided these issues with a better inspector.

  8. L E

    I’m afraid it’s looking like I’ve made a terrible mistake and have purchased a lemon of a house Nov, 2019. I had a home inspection done, it’s an old 50’s house. I had looked at many other homes in my price range and they didnt compare. This house checked off the 3 major boxes for me; location, floor plan and affordability. As a single mom, I was sick of wasng rent money and living in a tiny apartment where my child couldn’t have friends over. Looking back, I think I was desperate to leave that apartment and wish I would have taken more time. I did get an inspection and new that it needed a new roof and front windows among a list of other things. But now the list seems much more daunting and insanely expensive.
    I’ve already put in $8000 and have lots more to go. By the time I’m done I wont be surprised if I easily reach $20,000. My worst mistake was buying a “Power of Sale” home. So it was sold “As Is” with no disclosures made and no legal recourse for me. I wish I could have bought a nicer home, but with 1 low income it is all I could afford.
    I wish I could sell it now, but with Covid, I’d probably lose money. As much as I hated renting, I didnt have to pay to fix things. I hope my feelings change, but so far I am depressed about this.

  9. zack smith

    Improvements are really important and staging as well will help in getting the best possible price when selling your home. After the improvements, it is also good to get a professional photographer to take photos of your home that will highlight the areas of your home and help to attract potential buyers. Awesome blog by the way and thanks for sharing.

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