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.
What's it like to do Teach For America? Would you ever want to become a classroom teacher in a low-income area ... after five weeks of training? That's exactly what Samantha did! This is her story. Tell us a bit about yourself! My name is Samantha. I'm from Michigan,...
What does it mean to reinvent yourself and your life at 50? I know sooooo many people who feel trapped in their lives or career and they're not even 35! I LOVED this interview Judy and I think you will, too. Tell us a bit about yourself! Hi! I'm originally a New...
How would you navigate life if you lost your leg, hand, and eyesight to a surprise infection ... while you were pregnant? How would you cope with re-learning how to walk, parent, be a partner after something like that? That's exactly what happened to Carol in 2008....