Honey, I’m home!

We had thought at one point to make our offer on the ‘new’ house without inspection contingency.  We knew there were others interested in it, and felt that if we just took it ‘as is,’ it might differentiate our offer should others be received.  Ultimately, there were a couple things about the ceiling and the floor that made me wary, and when the offers came in to the seller, we decided to make ours stand out by offering more money.  I hoped that the misgivings I had about the wonky ceiling and the “House of Mystery” floors might help us negotiate some concessions on the purchase price upon inspection.

As the contingency period waned and we got closer to owning two fairly expensive homes, the pressure mounted.  Where were OUR buyers? I did not want to spend the 45 days in escrow wondering how I was going to solve this “little” issue.  We didn’t want to use the inspection contingency to back out of our purchase if we just felt too frightened at the financial realities.  I thought there were two, maybe three parties interested in our house, suspected that our rapid and significant drops in asking price might be sending a message that we were desperate and could drop even more.

We met the home inspector on a gray and chilly afternoon, the beautiful fall weather

Ever wonder what 300 amps of electrical circuits on a 100-amp breaker box looks like? THIS!

beginning a turn to rain and cold.  I had a dust mask, tape measure, powerful flashlight, pokey tool, and wore my weekend working/gardening/fishing/Sasquatch Rasslin’ clothes.  I was ready to Inspect.

The house was frigid.  I don’t mean cold…I mean, the house was five degrees colder than it was outside.  We turned up the thermostat, and the s-m–e–l-l…my wife and I looked at one another, one of those shared glances that old married folk can sometimes speak through.

Up on the roof, trying to avoid falling through the scallop-y depressions between the oddly-spaced rafters, I could tell it wasn’t ‘re-roof.’  It seemed more like New Roof System.  The post-and-beam construction I’d expected wasn’t there, and in its place were 2 x 12’s on 24–and in some areas, 30+ -inch centers.  The voids and cracks made it obvious that the “wonky ceilings” in the room below were actually sagging roof, and the readily visible moisture in the window casings likely not condensation but the migration of moisture through the roof and into the walls below, while the mostly unvented interstitial space between roof and ceiling essentially braised in its own juice.  The whole roof structure, 2 x 12’s and what seemed like 1/4″ plywood skip-sheeting, could not have weighed more than a few hundred pounds despite its vast 1900 square foot surface area.  I doubted the structure below could support the thousands of pounds of structural beams and cross-members it seemed to need.  While considering how much this ‘fix,’ might cost, I made a mental note to include the services of a structural engineer. 

The interior of the house revealed other details much more alarming than charming.  We had viewed the house twice, at fair length, on bright and sunny summer days.  An hour and a half after starting the furnace, we could still see our breath and the odor was worsening.  The electrical was crazy–and dangerous–and the plumbing just plain strange.  Floors sloped in different directions, some bounced like mini-trampolines.  There were two structural walls missing.  Virtually every drywall intersection had caked-up spackle, what I recognized as an effort to keep the walls and ceilings in contact with one another.  By the time we went back outside to access the utility shed and the crawlspace, I calculated the necessary repairs somewhere between $125,000 and $200,000–depending on how much we’d need in engineering services.

Hmm…the floor feels a little ‘springy’ right here…wonder why?

The utility shed explained the odor in the home and the dismal heat rise.  Many of the ducts were not connected to the registers, and what little air was being forced into the home was a rich olfactory stew of outside air, uncovered crawlspace scent, molds, mildews, and moisture, with a little carbon monoxide from the rotted-out and rusted-through furnace thrown in.  The crawlspace revealed the house to be three separate structures cobbled together, not with the splines, camlocks,  and carriage bolts of contemporary modular buildings, but with the roof sheeting and whatever subflooring was present acting as the structural joiners.  This whole affair was precariously balanced on 2- and three courses of unmortared cinderblock on top of an eight-inch-wide by five-inch-deep “footing.”  Only about 25% of the structure was on any type of meaningful foundation or pad, and much of what ought to “marry” a building to its moorings was left, instead, to gravity and friction.  The reason the floors were bouncy is because the brace and beam structures were braced only against each other–less like joists than diving boards. 

We saw this house as perhaps as quirky as a home built in 1952 might be, but something

Generally speaking, I like it when a foundation is interconnected and resting on, well, SOMETHING

that with some paint and updates could be livable while we enjoyed the hundred and twenty-five feet of front yard leading down to ninety feet of tranquil lakefront.  The western exposure would give us plenty sunlight for gardening and outside fun, the twin two-car garages provide me excellent shop space, the large flat paved areas perfect for basketball or bike riding.  Possibly the most important thing: the putative 1952 construction date left the property with no setbacks, no development barriers, no RESTRICTIONS. 

Instead, the overall effect was bizarre.  The cosmetics of the home were not dissimilar to what we would expect from a home of that age.  But at least two parts of the home pre-dated the construction date, perhaps by a decade or even two.  The whole thing seemed to be held together by a fragile surface tension: remove one thing, and you might need to run

The kitchen floor was resting on bare dirt…except the bare dirt wasn’t resting on ANYTHING. This photo is looking into a tunnel dug underneath the kitchen, and the camera is pointing UP. Careful! That is a STRUCTURAL dirt clod!

to get out of the way.  You could not fix the structure without fixing the foundation, and you couldn’t fix the foundation without destroying the structure.  To do either would set the property on the development clock of 2012, and it is ON THE LAKE.  Tear anything down, there will be no rebuilding. 

We wanted to move because we wanted a more casual lifestyle with more outdoor living.  There is little more casual than actually living outdoors, however.  We rescinded our offer and took our home off the market before we even left. 

After spending the chillsome day on that frightening roof and underneath that house, I was more than happy to nestle my feet into my radiant-heated floors and think with admiration upon my lifetime metal roof.  There are things about our house we cannot change, shortcomings that we emphatically do not like; but unhappy isn’t the same as unsafe, or unhealthy.  We have livability issues we are unable to change, but that does not equal unlivable

As it happens, the day after we took our house off the market, we did hear from three parties now dismayed, one all the way angry, that the house was no longer available.  Just FYI, waiting for someone else to make your negotiating position stronger is not a sound  negotiation strategy.  The sellers of our target home were dismayed as well, but they ultimately (and wisely, I think) refused a copy of our inspection report and say they have another buyer.  I am not sure WHO I feel badly for in this, if at all;  our ‘buyers’ had their chance, which we are glad now they did not take.  The sellers, I think, perhaps didn’t know the condition of their home (“Wow! When we turn the furnace on, our house smells like ASS!  Let’s just never turn it on and put on a coat!”), but neither do they deserve a massive payday for selling a DIY fishing cabin with an enclosed deck and shed for a basement…and us, well I don’t feel sorry for us at all–except that I still have to collect all my fallen Bigleaf maple leaves now.  I think maybe I feel a bit sorry for the other buyers of that house, if they don’t have it adequately inspected…though I am pretty interested to see what they might do with it.

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24 Responses to Honey, I’m home!

  1. Deirdre says:

    Whoa! You dodged a bullet! You can keep looking for your dream house at your leisure. It’s out there somewhere.
    Big leaf maple leaves. I feel your pain.

  2. calvincaley says:

    Ha! Thanks. You can’t even see the ground in my clearing…ugh. My family came out of this experience very proud of ourselves, because we know what we want. We are willing to simplify in a truly meaningful way–giving up someplace that is quite satisfactory–to have more by having less. Realizing that many solutions are as simple as a change of mind feels very powerful. However, jacking up a house in three poorly constructed sections in order to pour an unpermitted foundation: not simple.

    • Deirdre says:

      Somebody will tear down that house and build a new house in the same footprint, but that’s up to them.

      • calvincaley says:

        Actually, that was the second-biggest problem with the house, after the budget-busting price tag for what is little more than a storage shed: there isn’t enough foundation to support an up-to-code structure, and you couldn’t add enough foundation to get a remodeling permit without destroying too much of the 3-part house. To try to do anything other than live in it as-is would mean a building permit issued under 2012 regulations, not 1952 grandfathering. And 2012 regulations, which I am all to familiar with, won’t issue a building permit for anything 125 feet from a Critical Development Area–the lake! (the septic system is also connected to the oldest of the three parts of the house, I’d put the installation date at maybe 1940something…oof) That is why I feel kind of sorry for the new buyers, unless they really protect themselves with a quality inspection that includes a solid reading of Samm.’s CDA and building ordinance. I just don’t see how it could be done, even if someone could afford to buy the place as ‘a developable lot.’ Samm. just isn’t issuing permits for new construction near one of their CDA’s. We feel very, very lucky that we got out while there was time.

  3. Really, no kidding, you actually dodged a Normandy Invasion!

    Big Leaf Maple leaves ? That’s what my mum says about the six sycamores I planted behind her house. she says they are beautiful and have cut her electric bill for cooling in summer by 200 Dollar$ – But . . . . . . . . ????

    • calvincaley says:

      Hi! Thanks for visiting–you say ‘mum,’ are you in the UK? Are the sycamores platanus (plane tree), or pseudoplatanus (sycamore maple)? Both have a big leaf, to be sure, and times six I bet it’s a chore. My Acer macrophyllum are east and north of my home, and therefore do nothing beneficial for solar gain…just drop thousands upon thousands of leaves the size of a big-league baseball mitt. I am not sure about sycamores, but if I just left my maple leaves, it takes about two years for them to break down on their own. I suck them all up with my leaf sucker-shredder and use them for a soil amendment. Usually takes a November’s worth of weekends to get them all. Come by more!

      • No I’m from San diego California, but I’ve been away so long on and off over the years that I have been corrupted.

        The Trees are California Sycamores (Platanus racemosa)

        In fact I planted them all when they wee 6 inches high around 7 years ago. They are presently all well over 30, but maybe closer to 40′ by now. The ground is sandy-loam alluvial fan soil from the mountains above. I’m not nor have I ever been a fan of larger than one gallon trees. When I first put them in everyone thought I was crazy. Now look at them. The trees do NOT get supplemental watering after the second year. I forced them to drive deep down into the subterranean soils for water which is abundant even there. Once tapped in it’s a piece of Cake. I actually wrote about them in my “Earth’s Internet” blog and my Timeless Environments blog. I’m heavily interested in soil and rott networking mechanics. I did inoculate them heavily with a mycorrhizal and beneficial mix from Mycorrhizal Applications Inc which is located somewhere up there near you in Grant Pass Oregon. Well you know what I mean, closer to you than me in Sweden.

        Most folks are to impatient to wait for what seem to be helpless little trees to do their thing. I had two groups of trees with three to a grouping. I like that effect as you find the multi-trunk look at in the wilds quite a bit. I’m not there to deal with the leaves, but large leaves are easier to deal with for me. The only other draw back is those fine itchy hairs on the leaves. But overall I love the love they present.

      • calvincaley says:

        That is phenomenal growth. When I plant (and I favor multi-trunked trees and assymetrical groupings, too) I usually take shredded leaves from my immense stockpile and mix them, along with compost, in with the native soil when I plant…my soil is all glacial till, hard as concrete when moist, as gluey as paste when wet, and fine as talc when dry. Plants don’t love it, and in combination with the phenol compounds decades of bracken fern have left in the soil, growing things, any things, can be tough. Our late summer/early fall drought and animal pressures make it worse. I am going to have to get some stringy webby underground mushroom cousins and try that also…that and the Mountain Beaver Day of Reckoning is coming. I think.

      • Actually I once got phenomenal growth from an Acer macrophyllum (Your Big-leaf Maple). Big Leaf Maple in the furthest south of it’s range that I have seen is up high in the San Jacinto Mountains at an area on a north facing slope overlooking Palm Springs called Cedar Spring. The San Bernardino Mountain have them too, but I collected some two inch high seedlings one time east of Pfeiffer State Park in Big Sur California.

        I planted one of them down in a little moist glen on my property. The first year it grew a foot getting established. That was July. Next year it grew a unbelievable 7 feet straight and tall with a few side branches at the top. Then I did something stupid like wanting to move it to a front western location to shade my house. The problem is we get afternoon drying winds there and that eventually did it in. I should have left it where it was. I hate mistakes. Except that I never repeat them and that is a learning experience.

      • calvincaley says:

        I think Acer macrophyllum are definitely a ‘careful what you wish for’ plant. If I had one a the Northeast corner of my clearing, it would lend a stately and graceful age to what would then be in front of it; but I have 11 at regular intervals of the clock face all around my home and the clearing. All are 75 – 90 feet tall and half are 50+ feet wide at the crown. The leaf drop and the spontaneous limb-falling are…not stately and graceful. The remaining 15 or so are farther back on my property into the forest, those don’t bother me. The Mitigation Planner directed that a half-dozen saplings be planted right at my patio edge, a mere five and a half feet from my home. I knew that if they grew very much at all that they would at the very least undermine my patio, maybe even my foundation–and that the crowns, when mature, would definitely play havoc with my home. Fortunately for me (less so for the trees), the saplings were planted into what was essentially the compacted gravel base of the patio. There wasn’t enough moisture retention or nutrition for them to survive. The mature, naturally-occurring ones are plenty, I think.

  4. plantingoaks says:

    Wow. I love stories about houses held together by dirt and habit. Even better when you don’t have to try to live in them.

    I do feel bad for the people who probably will buy it not knowing it isn’t legally fixable. I am perenially thankful that here in small town Midwest nobody gives a hoot what you do with your property. It almost makes up for the rest of it.

    And I admit to a small amount of outsiders joy in getting continued updates on the moss and beaver-food.

    • calvincaley says:

      Ha! Held together by habit…I completely wish I had said that. I am going to rip you off. Sorry. I wish more people could see it–honestly one of the strangest things I have seen–usually there is a relationship of some sort between a home’s cosmetics and its ‘bones.’ So happy you stopped by and said hi, and not just because I am swiping your mot juste! Come back a lot…I have a feeling there is a bad day coming in Mountain Beaver town.

      • Deirdre says:

        When we were looking to buy a house, there was one very strange one. It had many “quirks”, but the strangest thing was the basement bedroom with windows underground. One looked through the glass at the dirt immediiately on the other side.

      • calvincaley says:

        “And no matter how many times I wash it, it never seems to get clean!” Wow, that is amazing. I’ll bet the sellers made sure to count it as a ‘bedroom,’ too, no matter what code and the fire department might have to say…probably stayed nice and cool in the summer, though.

    • Deirdre says:

      Someone, who had done it, once told me that with enough money and the right lawyers, you can get around anything.

      • calvincaley says:

        Certainly, the developers who continue to make cul-d-sac subdivisions all around me have grown adept at building substitue wetlands and planting forest reserves in a way that most homeowners could never approach, and I definitely wish I had enough money to deploy the right lawyer(s) on my own restrictions. I talked to the builder of the home we live in, he said it wouldn’t be a problem to jack up the shack and pour a foundation on a weekend, once there was something to build to, getting a remodeling permit wouldn’t be a problem. That approach was both out of reach to us and would leave us homeless, but I am sure someone clever can do something with it.
        While we were on the market, I had a call from a neighbor who purchased her triple lot (135 feet) of lakefront back in 2005. Thinking that the 70 year old cabin on the property grandfathered them on newer construction, their builder demolished the foundationless structure right away. When they went to get building permits, the city determined that runoff from the road constitued a “wetland” at the back of the property. My neighbor told me she has spent over $200k on attorneys and scientific studies to prove that it is not an actual wetland, just wet land, but because her science (and some of it was actually performed by the employer of the dolt who crafted my Mitigation Plan) does not conform to the City’s science–and I know you’ve read my green or Green epilogue–the City wil not recognize it. Current setback from the lake and setback from a “wetland” does not allow enough building space on a 2+ acre parcel. The City told her she can “picnic on it” but “do not pitch a tent.” This lady paid over $1million for the parcel in 2005, and even though she can’t build on it, or sell it–because no one else could get building entitlements there either–the COUNTY won’t drop her assessed value below $300k because of the ‘recreational value’ of the land. I am not sure if there is really $300,000 worth of recreational value in a picnic ground, especially when there is a park 200 yards down the street from her parcel. Her story definitely informed our thought process going into our transaction, and also how glad we were to get out of it unharmed. I like our house well enough, apart from the restrictions, and I LOVE the community we are a part of, but the City is taking things too far. I WISH someone would slap them down with an expensive lawsuit. I wish it could be me.

  5. rainyleaf says:

    A fascinating tale! It always seems like the grass is greener on the other side of the fence! But sooner or later we realize just how lucky we are with what we have. I’m always struggling with that concept, and have to continually remind myself to appreciate all the good things in my life and stop focusing on the bad. Yea! You don’t have to move!!!

    • calvincaley says:

      Once we were honest about our dissatisfactions, it did not take long to become Very Unhappy, especially with what we thought was greener grass in view. But when we realized just how close we came to TRUE DISASTER (not just the kind where you struggle and do whatever it takes, but the kind that makes you homeless AND powerless), we learned awfully quickly that mild dissatisfactions can be manageable. I am a guy that has to have a plan, but my plans also come with backup plans (those have backup plans too, but that is just neurosis). Part of the backup plan is already in play just as a natural course of what we did: we already feel stronger and more in control, more self-aware about how we really wish to live and what we haven’t done about it. Life is such a process, and so ever-changing. As much as I always want to see what happens next, I need to remember that today is the only thing I can really know. I’ll probably see you soon, there is a part of my front yard I am really not happy with and will be making some changes to. Any non-weeping Norway Spruce in stock?

  6. croftgarden says:

    A bad case of Caveat emptor but at least you escaped with your shirt. However if you are a glass half-full person you will see the funny side (eventually) and learn to love your current house a little more. However don’t give up dream chasing it makes the world go round.
    Want to swap leaf gathering for seaweed spreading, equally as back breaking but much smellier?

    • calvincaley says:

      Oh, this definitely slapped us awake, and we’ll be talking about it for a loooong time. Were I anywhere near to you, I would show up in my grubbies and help for certain, I’d love to see what you do with the seaweed. My Dad has beachfront and there is quite a supply there. The leaf gathering, thanks to my leaf sucker-shredder, isn’t really hard–just incredibly time consuming. Last year, leaf drop came in relatively dry weather, but we went from summer-like weather to very wet almost overnight, and the sogginess of the giant leaves makes it worse. I am experimenting this year with just waiting for them all to fall, I only hope they don’t get too matted and wet and smother things out first.

  7. Pingback: Change of Mind, Change of Heart (part one) | A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

  8. Pingback: Change of Mind, Change of Heart (part two) | A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

  9. Pingback: Change of Mind, Change of Heart (part three, a change of plan) | A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

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