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
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.
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
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
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.