Friday, January 29, 2016 / by Bill Berning*
Many homes hold secrets locked inside, be it a structural issue or a previous unfortunate bug infestation. Know what you are getting into from the start so you don’t get disappointed later.
At first glance, most homes seem fine – but without taking the time toreally get to the bottom of each home’s history you will never know for sure if it has suffered water damage or been the victim of shoddy repair work. Dig up all the dirt you can before buying, and you will end up with a purchase you are proud to own.
You enter the foyer and your heart starts beating faster. Your pulse quickens as you take in the wood parquet floors and elaborate crown moldings. Only three steps inside, and you have already fallen in love with the house. You have found your new home! If this was a movie, you would hear the music swell…but like people, houses can keep secrets. As a savvy home buyer, you need to take the time to read the seller’s disclosure, and sometimes even dig a little deeper, to make sure that you know everything about your prospective dream home.
You do not have to be in the real estate business long before you have heard countless stories about people making unfortunate, even startling discoveries while viewing a home.
Shhhhhh…Be Very Quiet
In one such instance, there was a lovely couple from Boston who was ready to experience suburban life. The couple and their realtor were going to visit a house situated on a quiet street. The road featured mature shade trees, lush green lawns, and roadside rhododendron bushes. When they reached the house, they all got out of the car, and stood for a moment to admire the unmistakable curb appeal. When all of a sudden, out of the silence, the realtor heard a tremendous roar coming from beyond the backyard: not a little roar, but an ear shattering roar of clanging metal. Immediately, she turned to her buyers to comment on what she had just heard. She was quite surprised the noise level was so high, as the tracks were set very far back from the house.
“That’s quite a noise. How do you feel about it?” she asked.
“What noise?” they replied.
“Didn’t you hear the train?” she answered.
“Oh, a train went by? We live next to trolley tracks, so we just tune out that type of noise. We didn’t even notice it!” they said.
The Realtor was shocked.
In this case, the house appeared to be in a very quiet location; it was not. The important point here is: be sure to read the seller’s disclosure before you decide to make an offer on a home. There won’t always be a figurative train riding by to alert you to hidden house issues.
What’s In The Walls?
A second story comes to mind of a home that had a very unusual secret…one that it was able to keep for exactly 17 years! The home was an admired older building in an upscale suburban town. It was constructed of original weathered stone, and featured a lovely turret. The home looked like a castle, and was admired by local realtors and townspeople alike. One year, when the house came onto the market, there was a realtor who was quite excited about viewing it; she hoped she would soon have a customer who would appreciate its unique style and history. The owners of the house had since moved away, and the house was completely vacant, thus no appointment was necessary. The home’s landscaping was a bit overgrown, but it only added to the storybook charm. She entered the home and proceeded toward the living room but was forced to stop dead in her tracks. There on the living room floor were hundreds of cicadas! Most were dead; others were either in the process of dying, or were lumbering around on the original hardwood floor!
For those not familiar, these strange looking insects emerge en masse every 17 years from the ground, stay out for a few weeks, lay eggs, and then die. When they first come out of the ground, they are housed in a hard brown shell – reminiscent of something from the movie “Alien.” After about a week, they shed their shells and morph into chunky flying insects with transparent wings. They can sometimes blanket areas of entire towns – and in this case, they did!
The cicadas were primarily in the living room and den, but stray ones were found visiting the kitchen and lower level. The realtor quickly previewed the rest of the home (it truly was a work of art), then left and promptly called the listing agent. She never did find out what happened with that home, but think about the surprise the new owners may have, in another 17 years after their new purchase. Hopefully the cicada situation was disclosed, because surely the house would never tell just from a cursory inspection what lived inside those old walls.
Secrets, Secrets Everywhere
A less dramatic, but equally important secret a house can keep is that it has an extremely high heating or cooling cost. This can be the result of older windows and doors, poor insulation, or simply by what directional exposure the house has. In the same token, water damage – although difficult to hide for long - can also lurk beneath the surface, waiting to come to light down the road. Always be sure to ask the current owner for copies of the last 12 months’ heating and cooling bills, and be sure you check places like bathrooms and laundry rooms for any visible water damage. You don’t want to find yourself spending your first winter in your home wondering how you are going to pay the huge bill from the oil or gas company or how you are going to replace the floor in your mud room.
Keep in mind that in most states, a seller’s disclosure only covers items that the seller knows about from personal experience. Your real estate agent, attorney, or state real estate department will be able to inform you as to what kind of disclosures are required of home sellers in your area. Your realtor will also be able to guide you to other local agencies that will give you additional information, including maps of local toxic waste sites or information about whether an underground oil tank has been removed.