Friday, June 14, 2013

The "pre-Home buying" experience. June 14, 2013

This is just my two cents worth of what it takes to make a huge investment when buying a home. I've discovered (early on, that is), that its great to be informed. Look around and don't "settle" for the cheapest house, either. Continue to do your homework and window shop if one likes. It never hurts to review many MSL listings (Multiple Service Listings) on realty sites. Take into consideration the property taxes that will be included in the house payment. And don't forget about the other utilities. Can one afford to heat the entire neighborhood during the winter and cool it in the summer? I exaggerated on that, but seriously, do thoroughly think about the overall costs of maintaining a house.

I've scheduled so many house tours, that it boggles my mind where to begin. In a nutshell: not all of the homes I've seen have been a palace (and it depends on the individual's definition of "palace").

On my first house tour, the home was straight out of the era I liked. However, the cosmetic issues slapped me upside the head with a heavy dose of home-sweet-home reality when I set foot inside. My eyes beheld a few issues right off the bat.
#1. The obvious: noticeable 'egg shell'-like crack in one of the walls. I neared to get a better visual inspection, then inquired why there would be a crack in a wall in the first place. Outside on the porch two spindly-appearing thin metal columns were holding up the weight of the roof over hang and may have contributed to the interior wall's condition as this house aged. It is extremely important to jot this down in a note book and keep it for future reference and that's what I did. Keeping meticulous notes no matter how detailed, will keep one better informed as they continue to make provisions on their first-time house buying effort. 

#2. Take into consideration why a home is priced so low in the first place and I'm not discussing HUD-owned properties in this regard, either. An FHA loan might cover this promising price-range. Yet again, there's another reason why homes are priced low. What zone is the house located in? If it is located in a flood zone (e.g. near a stream, pond, river, dam, etc), realtors should be upfront and explain why these particular homes are high-risk investments. Rivers can crest. Dams can burst, ponds can turn into Kevin Costner's Water World over night. A flash flood could happen and that goes for any natural disaster.

#3. Avoid purchasing "flood zone" homes if at all possible. There's extra home-owners insurance to tack on to the property taxes and utilities. Long before I ever left home I knew this as a good rule of thumb to follow and it never left my mind.

#4. Be aware of the neighborhood. How are the houses kept? Are the lawns mowed and weeds trimmed? Is the neighbor's backyard cluttered with junk cars, empty beer bottles? Is that old analog TV antenna the most eye-catching of all their lawn decorations? Or are the homes well-kept and the neighbors pride themselves on organization. Meticulous neighborhoods can speak volumes of the home's property value, which is why county assessments can vary.

#5. Location. Is it industrial or near a school? If it's near a school, freeway, highway, busy street, expect the property taxes to be high. If the house is in an industrial part of town that's old, then the taxes might be less including the monthly house payments, too.

#6. Get a "feel" for the homes you'll tour. When I mean feel; use your sense of touch, sight, hearing, smell, etc. If it feels like going in the basement produces a sudden inexplicable sense of overwhelming "dread", trust you're gut instinct. It might be first-time home-buying jitters. Then again, it could very well be your gut instinct is trying to tell you something's not right.

#7. Listen. Hone in your hearing for any strange noises.

#8. LOOK. Observe the basement's structure inside and out. Is the interior wall bowing? This is a sign of a weak structure and/ or damage be it human, nature or otherwise. Is there any evidence of pets/rodents/ bug infestations present? Dry rot could be mistaken for such, at first glance. However, if there's a large portion missing from the front porch wood column and near black in appearance, don't blame it on Hansel or Gretel. If this was a real Ginger Bread house, they would have finished it off long ago. Be nervous, especially since its a two-story late 1800's home and all of the bedrooms are upstairs. Observe the shape of the floors in the upstairs. Are they sound, level and feel okay under your feet? Or does your body prepare to go down with the ship at any given moment? If so, this could possibly indicate MAJOR structural problems. The view of the decking from the bedroom window is discerning at best. Why are the roofing shingles flapping around instead of being nailed down? Did the previous foreclosed home owner do this act deliberately or would it be passed off as a cosmetic issue to the next prospective home buyer.

And oh yes, there's a dead man in the basement. The floor board in the dining room looks a little... err, out of proportion with the rest of the floor. In the basement the house jack wasn't installed properly, which is why the dining room floors popped out of alignment.

The basement smells of mildew or mold... again, this might even reveal the presence of "black mold", which can make a person very ill if not eliminated. Standing water, leaky pipes, and almost in nine cases out of ten, the upstairs plumbing WILL leak and cause more structural damage if not fixed properly. I haven't lived in a two-story two-bath house yet that hasn't sprung a leak at least once in its lifetime or it had its share of past landlords that did repairs on the cheap as a temporary fix. Check the fuse box. Are there pennies behind the sockets? If so, this was a very old-fashioned remedy that never really helped fix the problem. How's the electrical wires? Are they the antique porcelain insulator knob and cloth cord type? These were very prevalent, especially in older homes around the turn of the 20th century throughout the 80's, to my first hand experience having lived in such old homes growing up. And DON'T touch those old exposed wires (if the power's on), less you'll receive the shock of your life or far worse. If the home isn't up to code, an inspector will tell you this and so will the realtor and it should be listed on the disclosure form if its known. However, a loan may not go through until this updated electricity issue is addressed by the individual seller or bank that's selling the home "as-is". Then again, the prospective home-buyer may have to pay to have an electrician come in and get the electrical wiring up to code.

#9 Forty-seven thousand is asking a bit much for that marvelous 19th century low hanging Edwardian era gas lamp/electric light fixture in the main room of the house. Are the squatters hiding in the basement part of the "as-is" package deal as well? All joking aside, if it appears that there's been squatters living in a foreclosed or REO (Real Estate Owned) home, be extremely leery. And just as a precaution, don't go in the dark basement and just assume that there's "live critters" down there of all kinds. The ceiling in the first floor bathroom has "strange-looking crumbly" insulation. That was just blown in newspaper or rotting cellulose material used way back in the old days to insulate a home. Depending on exact year the home was built, if its from the 1800's, non-remodeled kitchens might have a fresh air storage for perishables and non-perishable foods. Before refrigerators were commonplace, this is how people kept their food from spoiling. Therefore, if there's two (or more wall vents and fans made of rusty galvanized steel in the kitchen), this was likely used as an early refrigeration solution aside from the wooden ice boxes with drip pans underneath to catch the melting ice run off. Lack of cabinets doesn't mean that the previous homeowner never learned how to cook. Hosier cabinets were like a 'portable' kitchens with enough storage for pots, pans, spices and non-perishable foods.

There's a behemoth cast iron grate floor furnace/ register vent in the main level of the house. It's not a gateway to heck, so no need to worry. I can't fathom what ginormous heating contraption located in the basement must look like after sitting there silent and unfired up. I say "unfired" because it might have been a coal fed boiler, wood or a rotting asbestos-laden health hazard from a sight unseen speculation, of course. Aside from this and the junk strewn throughout this once beautiful three-bedroom house, it gave off farm house feel because it likely had been in its day. What I found extremely fascinating about this particular 1910 home, was that, given the modern junk, old expired jar of peanut butter and yard sale clothing scattered everywhere, the light fixtures were still present and original to their time period. Also, the downstairs window treatments were a story in themselves. It was rare that original scalloped-shaped window shades are ever present in old homes such as this. This was my second house tour of the day. The house itself really didn't call to me in any particular way, except the price was low and the time period it was built suited me. However, it was a home investment for a contractor more than anything.

"It was like stepping onto the Titanic and seeing how it once looked in all its glory," is how I best summed up this particular 1910 home's interior appeal. And sometimes you have to just stop and take a few minutes to "see" beyond the cinder block-water bed headboard set up in the upstairs bedroom to find this old home's Eastlake Bull's eye door moldings and other ancient gems of the past. The small closets with old wallpaper (each had different patterns) was charming as well.

Thus far, I've looked at more houses since then and always keep in my mind; if the price is low, it doesn't mean that the taxes won't eat one alive.

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