Buying a Home: The pre-sale inspection is a very good idea, but it’s no guarantee

Fragile children or individuals with a delicate constitution may wish to avert their eyes.

So… this happened:


That would be the furnace room in my basement last month.

20180510_233052.jpgAt the same time, this happened… Yep.  That’s my downstairs shower.  You don’t want to see the toilet.  Or the walls, carpet, carpet padding, the sink, the vanity, the bar or the closet.  Just about everything between these two points looked pretty much the same, thus started a new chapter in big book of “learning stuff I never really wanted to know!”  But it’s important stuff.  Hopefully you can avoid some of the crap that I just went through (see what I did there?).

fake savings alertHelpful Hint: One of the most important parts of buying a new home is the pre-sale inspection.  This typically happens after the seller accepts your bid on the house, but before you sign closing documents. Your realtor can recommend an inspector or you can select your own.  This inspection should be thorough, impartial and from a qualified specialist.  Now is not the time to save a few bucks! Just because Uncle Ernie is handy with a hammer, it doesn’t make him qualified to inspect the home you’re hopefully going to live in for years to come.  True story – we got a call from the nice people who bought our condo.  The home inspector they hired told them the jets in our whirlpool bathtub didn’t work – they wanted to know why, and when we could fix it.  Err… it wasn’t broken.  He just didn’t turn it on.  This is not the guy you want signing off on the inspection report.

The point is that we had this house thoroughly inspected before we bought it.  We even paid an additional $500 to put a camera down the main sewer line to see if there were any problems like root incursions – problems that could lead to disasters like your basement filling up with a few inches of fecal matter.  But the scope came back clear.  No roots, no visible problems. We bought the house a week later.

lesson one

Here’s what happened: No one had used the kitchen disposal or the toilet for about 18 months before we bought this house.  It’s likely the previous owner had the main sewer line flushed before he left.  By spending the extra on the camera to scope the main line we were able to confirm there were no roots in the pipes themselves, which is good.  But any other issue – like a build up of solid human waste (for example) was masked due to how long the house had been vacant.

lesson two

Disclaimer: I’m obviously no expert in these matters.  I’m just relaying what experts have told me, and what I’ve learned along the way.  For example, if we rule out things like tree roots and tampons, there are two common reasons why pipes would fail like this – “channeling” and a “Belly”.  Sewer line channeling is pretty common from what I’ve been told.  It just happens over time.  The water itself carves into the bottom of the pipe to form a pocket.  Sometimes it even destroys the bottom of the pipe completely.  Not only does this allow water and waste to pool in a single spot, it also is a great way for bugs to get in your house and for roots to get in your pipes.  It’s a problem, but it’s a pretty straightforward one that can be repaired.


A Belly is harder to deal with than a channel.  When the line sags like this, it means there’s been a shift in the earth (like an earthquake) or that some dingbat simply installed the pipes incorrectly.  Dealing with a belly is a complicated and expensive process – one that involves getting construction permits.  It’s possible to put an enzyme down the pipes which will help alleviate the situation, but it only puts off the inevitable.  From everything I’ve learned so far the only way to fix this is to dig up the yard, tear out the pipes, realign the slope, then reinstall the mainline at the correct angle.  Plan on parting with somewhere between eight – fifteen thousand dead presidents and most of a summer.

I’ll admit it – I’m a little ragged just thinking about it.  Certainly it’s not the worst thing that can happen, and yes insurance is covering most of the initial expense.  But even so, this craptacular situation is NOT how I was hoping to spend my summer.  Just… arg.


Kids, This is Why You Study Math

Every kid who plods through math class wonders the same thing eventually: why the hell am I studying this?  I will NEVER need this crap outside of this stupid, boring, pointless class!

Yeah, I was that kid.  So, for those of you who are going through that same dilemma, let me explain from the vantage point of too many years.  You need math.  You just don’t know it until it’s too late (which pretty much sums up life, come to think of it).  Here’s two examples I just went through.

hwy_17_straught_500Driving in the morning rush hour, traffic is backed up.  I mean, seriously backed up.  Like “it probably looks like a scene from “Twister” ahead” kind of backed up.  I’m waiting at the back of a long line of pissed off drivers who inch ahead whenever the light turns.  I’m on a curve, so I can count – there are sixteen cars ahead of me.  The traffic light cycles every three minutes – two cars make it through each cycle before we stop again.  Having done the drive every morning for a few years, I know that once I cross the light I still have another 20 minutes before I get to work.  So the question is: am I about to get fired?

16 cars ahead of me divided by two getting through at a time = 8 cycles between me and getting around this.  Each cycle is 3 minutes long, which tacks on 24 minutes to my drive.  If nothing else goes wrong, I’m going to arrive about half an hour late to work.

Yep, I’m about to get fired.

Helping-Handle-Pic-1 Here’s another one.  My mother-in-law comes to visit.  She’s elderly and has trouble getting in and out of the bathtub.  We offer to let her use the shower in our room, but she won’t hear of it!  She doesn’t want to inconvenience us!  Besides, she has the latest nifty “as seen on TV” gadget… a handle with two suckers on each end.  She explains that all she has to do is attach it to the wall of the tub, and she can manage on her own, thank you very much!

The question on the table is: am I making an emergency run to the hardware store this afternoon to get stuff to fix the wall?

The force of gravity + her weight + the estimated weight of the water vs how likely it is that there’s dry rot behind that wall.

Answer: don’t get comfortable.  The hardware store is in the immediate future.

See?  Math is your friend!

Here’s an urban legend thrown in for good measure.  A&W wanted to compete with McDonald’s, so they decided to start advertising a 1/3 lb flame-broiled burger to compete with the Quarter Pounder hockey puck.  It was a little more expensive than the Quarter Pounder but it was bigger, flame broiled, and not a hockey puck.  They thought they had a sure thing, but it tanked.  Why?  3 is less than 4.  Everyone knows that!  So the buying public decided A&W was clearly overcharging for their 1/3 lb of beef vs. the 1/4 lb over at McDonalds.

Don’t be that guy, gentle reader.  You don’t need to be a math whiz, but do have a firm grasp of the basics.  Because really, you’ll need it.  I promise.




Moving – a “how to” from someone who’s been there

moving-day.jpgI’m an Air Force Brat, which means I moved a lot.  My parents were pros by the time I was born – I always thought it was a grand adventure, something to look forward to.  When I got my condo I figured I’d be there for a few years then move again.  “A few” turned into 15 years… THEN I moved.  

Wow.  I had no idea that’s what people were talking about!  If you move frequently it’s always in the back of your mind.  So the idea of getting rid of things, packing early (never unpacking) just becomes a way of life.  To the rest of the world moving ranks third on the “Most Stressful” scale, right up there with getting a divorce, losing a job or death of a loved one. In short, moving sucks.

What Happened:

You can read all about what happened to us here.  It wasn’t pretty.

What I Learned, timeline edition:

cartoon-tough-military-general-by-toonaday-3347.jpgThree Months before the move:

Think of moving like planning a military campaign.  No.  3 months is not too soon to start planning.  In fact if you feel a twinge of anxiety that you might have waited too long you’re just about right.  

  • Do your homework, get familiar with what you’re about to undertake.
  • Inventory your stuff
    • Take a video of all rooms
    • Take still photos of all valuables
    • Toss anything you haven’t used in a year. 
      • Really
  • Create a budget for the move.  Some things to consider:
    • Boxes
      • Free boxes are cheap, but flimsy.  
        • Also time consuming to hunt down
      • www.uhaul.jpgBoxes you purchase are priced by size and strength.
      • Consider specialty boxes
        • ESPECIALLY for dishes!
    • Packing tape & dispenser
    • Packing paper
    • Bubble wrap
    • Truck rental (do it yourself)
      • Don’t forget to factor in the price of gas!
    • Movers (not do it yourself)
      • Tip in cash


Two Months before the move:

  • Start to pack non-essentials
    • Do it now while it’s still fun!
    • Label each box with it’s new destination
      • Consider color-coding the labels – it really reduces stress when you arrive
  • Gather your records
    • Medical/Dental/Optical/Vet
      • Have a hard copy of all prescriptions including glasses / contacts
    • School
    • Legal
  • moving-3-with-logo-skHave a physical “moving binder” with pocket pages. 
    • Keep a hard copy of every quote, contract and receipt

Six Weeks before the move

  • Hire movers
    • Are they licensed and insured?
  • Hire post-move cleaning crew
    • Don’t forget carpet cleaning
  • Inform utilities that you’re leaving.  Arrange a shut-off date.
    • If you’re showing the house after you move, keep the electricity on until after the sale
  • Keep packing

One Month before the move

  • If moving out-of-state get a final check up with your doctor / vet
    • Arrange to have prescriptions transferred
    • Get the car serviced, especially for a long-distance move
  • huge.25.127453.jpgStart the change-of-address process
    • post office
    • credit cards
    • Online shopping
    • banks / insurance
    • Netflix etc.
    • Voter registration
  • Consider getting moving insurance
    • Yes, that’s a thing
  • Contact utilities on the other end, arrange to have everything turned on / installed
  • Get ID tags for the pets with the new address. 
  • Measure EVERYTHING, including all doorways. 
    • If it doesn’t fit, get rid of it

Two Weeks before the move

  • Start short-timing your food and clothes
    • set aside only what you’ll need
  • Take photos of your electronics – don’t forget the back!
    • It’s good for an insurance claim
    • Also helpful when reattaching cables
  • Start to clean and repair
  • Confirm all contracts on both ends of the move
  • Empty safe-deposit boxes / gym lockers
  • Back up all computers – carry back ups with you during the move

One Week before the move

  • Put together a “housewarming” box for the new place.  Keep this with you if possible.  If not, it’s the last box loaded, first box off the truck.
    • toilet paper
    • disposable cups, dishes, flatware, napkins
    • basic cleaning supplies 
    • shampoo / conditioner / soap / deodorant 
    • temporary shower curtain / rod
    • can opener
    • pet food
    • snacks / breakfast food
    • temporary curtains / spring loaded rods
    • light bulbs
    • trash bags
    • phone charger
    • pillows
  • Put the new ID tags on the pets but KEEP the old ones in place
    • Pets often panic and bolt during a move
  • Call your credit card company – confirm the new address
    • They might think it’s stolen
  • lsDrain EVERYTHING
    • washer
    • refridgerator
    • lawn mower
  • Buy a flat of bottled water.
  • Pack your suitcase.  Don’t forget
    • toothbrush / toothpaste
    • deoderant

The Day of the move

  • You’ve got this.  Don’t panic
    • Read this phrase about six hours into the insanity 
  • Put down runners to protect carpets and flooring
  • Place the bottled water where it’s easy for everyone to get to
  • Gather as much patience as you can muster.  Remember, everyone else is just as stressed as you are.
  • Keep camera / phone with you at all times.  When something gets broken, take a snapshot, clean up and move on.
  • Try to pace yourself.  Don’t forget to rest, eat and especially HYDRATE.
  • Do a final walkthrough.
  • You’ve got this.  Seriously.

Helpful Hints:

  • 2fad9e3e-34a7-11e6-b6a5-1032b199594d-780x585.jpgDo-it-yourselfers: Driving a moving van  (even a small one) is NOT like driving a car.  At. All.
    • Rent a U-Haul a few weeks before the move.  Drive it in traffic, learn how to switch lanes and back up.  
    • Check your insurance.  Most policies cover a moving van, making additional riders from the rental company unnecessary.
  • Make an extra set of keys for the old place, new place and car.  Keep this keyring tucked away in a safe place, just in case.
  • Decorate your housewarming box so you can find it quickly
  • Get in shape
    • Moving is exhausting.  Core strength is your friend.
  • If you have the means, buy boxes.
    • They come in uniform sizes
    • They’re strong enough to withstand a move
    • 41on8-mSlbLThey can be clearly marked for you and the movers to see what’s in them and where they go
    • They’re easy to stack in a moving van.  This will save time when the truck is loaded.
  • Buy at least one packing tape dispenser.  They’re worth their weight in gold.
  • Places like Home Depot sell moving kits.  They include all the little things you won’t think of.
  • Some movers won’t transport special items like pianos, pool tables or guns.
  • Will the moving van have enough room to park at the new place?  Find out before you get there.
  • Capture.JPGPrint signs for each room in the new house.  Carry these signs with you in the moving binder.  When you arrive at the new place, tape the signs over each doorway so the movers know where to take your boxes.

One last note.  Unpack everything as quickly as possible.  You’ll be tempted to rest, recuperate, recover for a few days.  Don’t do it.  Keep up your momentum and unpack within the first two weeks or believe me, you’ll be living with boxes for months (years?)!

Standard Disclaimer:

I’m well aware that there are wonderful, trustworthy moving companies out there. They are populated by hard working individuals who would rather die than drop something. I haven’t met these individuals personally, but I’m certain they’re out there. Just as I’m positive there are many stories of stress-free, blissful moves that went off without a hitch. That was not my experience, but I’m certain it happens.

Moving Day

o-MOVING-BOXES-organized.jpgThis particular experience describes a local move.  I used Thumbtack to plan, which is a pretty cool site.  You describe your project, then local contractors contact you with a bid.  If you hire someone through Thumbtack and something goes south they provide arbitration / resolution services.

Five local companies contacted me.  All of them had excellent ratings, but the prices were wildly divergent.  I finally went with the second lowest.  They would have come in second highest, but they were having a sale.  And they offered a neat benefit.  As the guys loaded the truck they’d provide empty wardrobe boxes for free.  We could load the wardrobe boxes with any garments we had hanging up as they worked, then take the clothes out again first thing when we arrived.  Nice!  I signed up for a three-man crew.

What Happened:

The first sign of trouble was when the truck showed up 1 hour late and 1 man short.  While one guy got to work loading boxes the other handed me a clipboard that had “TIPS ARE APPRECIATED” in large red letters at the top.  Then he quoted me a price $20/hr over the original price – and that was with one man less than I signed up for!  I called the office to ask what was going on.  The girl who answered said she’d have to “check with the boss”.  Hum.

3.jpgA few hours later two more men appeared.  One got right to work helping the first two.  The second walked around looking at things.  Then he started muttering about “crazy white women” and waving his hands around.  Around then I noticed that my toolbox had been opened and some of the tools were missing.  I asked who had taken them, so I could make sure they were put back.  I didn’t mind they had taken the tools, I just wanted to know where they were so they didn’t get lost in the shuffle.  The new guy acted as though I was insane for even speaking – defensive nearly to the point of hysteria.  

It was about that time that one of the guys shattered a light fixture.  I had enough and I called the office again, asking to speak to whoever’s in charge.  What do you know?  The crazy guy WAS the guy in charge!  Great.  I asked one of the movers about the wardrobe boxes, but he didn’t know so he asked the boss, who of course acted as though I’d lost my mind.  “We’re still working!” he hollered.  Um, yes. I understand. Still working. But that was the point. I was supposed to load the wardrobe boxes as they worked, not after everything was loaded. Or at least that was how it had been explained when I signed up.

1.jpgBy then the boss was so unhinged I could only wonder what drug he was on.  I backed off and decided to record the proceedings.  Mostly because I figured no one would believe me, but also I started wondering if either cops or lawyers would need to get involved.   When he saw that he threatened to unload the truck and drive away.  Movers have the upper hand on moving day – after all that planning and work it would be very difficult to start with a new company.  So I grit my teeth and just let him carry on.

I noticed that his guys weren’t making eye contact, either with me or with him.  They just ducked their head and kept hustling things into the truck while the ‘guy in charge” ranted and waved his hands some more.  I was so hot, tired and stressed out by then that I decided to hell with it – I was calling the cops.  The driver saw what I was doing and asked me not to.  He said it would just take more time and make him worse.  I’m guessing I wasn’t the first to deal with this nut!  So I held off.  Eventually everything was loaded and they drove away.  As they did I seriously wondered if I’d ever see my worldly belongings again. I closed up then headed to our new place.

The truck wasn’t there when I arrived, even though I left about 20 minutes after they did.  It took another hour for them to show up.  Fortunately unloading was anti-climactic.  “The boss” decided he had other places to be.  With a 3 man crew and no one around to throw todder-style tantrums, unloading went smoothly.  They promised they’d pay for what they broke and that was that.  Then I got another strange message from the driver. He needed to come back the next day. Apparently the “boss baby” pitching a fit also kept his personal belongings in the truck.  Some of them had been offloaded at my place by mistake.  Because… of course they were.

What I Learned:

  • shutterstock_242212759.jpgTry to get sleep the night before the move
    • You’ll need your strength
  • No matter how well you plan, something will go wrong on moving day
    • Probably several somethings
  • Even if you hire movers you’ll still haul boxes.  
  • Plan on providing the movers with water and high protein snacks.
  • Tip your movers in cash.  If local, on the day of the move.  If cross country, the day your stuff is unloaded at your destination.
    • Provided, of course, they didn’t break all your stuff

Bottom Line:

Doing it yourself is a great choice if you have the stamina.  It adds to the physical exhaustion, but it cuts down on the variables to the point where it’s worth it.

Helpful Hints:

  • Use your credit card whenever possible, especially in the hiring process
    If things go south you can always dispute the charge
  • Going with Thumbtack was a wise move
    • The moving company refused to replace the light fixture – arbitration was needed.
    • Even when the moving company got strange, Thumbtack had my back.

Standard Disclaimer:

I’m well aware that there are wonderful, trustworthy moving companies out there.  They are populated by hard working individuals who would rather die than drop something.  I haven’t met these individuals personally, but I’m certain they’re out there.  Just as I’m positive there are many stories of stress-free, blissful moves that went off without a hitch.  That was not my experience, but I’m certain it happens.

Heat and Hot Water Included!

What Happened:  A few months before getting married, my (then) fiancé and I started hunting for an apartment.  We were young, our needs were few.  We wanted a pet-friendly place with at least two bedrooms within a reasonable commute to work.  Could it get more basic than that?

As we searched we kept coming across signs like this:


And we thought Hey!!  That’s really useful!  We pay rent to one source and the utilities are included.  One less thing to worry about, right?

We scheduled a meeting / walkthrough for a blustery morning in mid-winter.  The sky was a flat gray that promised snow before long, while the wind didn’t so much blow as smack you in the face when you weren’t looking.

When we walked in we were surprised by the number of people in the office.   The place was packed!  We pushed through to the desk where a harried receptionist was trying to manage the crowd.  When we appeared she snapped “Get back in line or leave.”

As far as first impressions go, it wasn’t great.  I had already decided this wasn’t the place for us, but my fiancé decided to stick around.  I think he was more curious than anything.  Our next appointment wasn’t for a few hours, so why not?  We went to the back of the crowd and then listened.  Some of them had water dripping through the ceiling, but for the most part they were there for one reason.  One after the other, in groups or alone, they demanded that the management TURN ON THE HEAT.  NOW!  Some hadn’t had heat for a few days.  For others it was a few weeks.


When we reached the front of the line (again) the harried receptionist looked at us with undisguised dislike.  After all, we were the ones who thought we were so important we could just push our way to the front!  Right?  My fiancé calmly explained that we were here for a 10 am appointment to tour an apartment.  He apologized for being so late (It was about 10:30 when we got to the desk again).  Had he known the line to speak to someone was so long we would have arrived early.

I couldn’t tell if Ms. Harried was about to burst into tears or just walk out the door.  Her face did turn a few impressive shades as she listened to him though.  She ended up opting for “Could you excuse me a moment?”  While she was gone three of the people waiting assured us we did NOT want to rent an apartment at this complex.  I could only agree.

Ms. Harried returned a moment later with a very thin blond who looked like she wished she was anywhere but there.  She apologized for the misunderstanding then quickly took us on a tour of what must have been their model apartment.  Inside it was warm and dry, well lit and comfortable.  When I asked if this was the apartment we’d be moving into, she nearly squeaked.  “No, not this one.  Another one has become available.”  Could we see that one?  “No, that one is being cleaned.”

We went through the motions of looking around then followed her back to the office.  If anything, the crowd was bigger and more hostile than when we left.  I just had one more question, which I addressed to both the thin blond and Ms. Harried.  “Do you live in this complex yourselves?”

Someone in the crowd snickered as both women looked shocked.  Then they stammered “No…”  And that was that.

What I learned: The “heat and water included” thing isn’t precisely a scam, but it’s intentionally misleading.  Unfortunately, a lot of people fall for it.  Like us, they think it’s a convenience, and that the bill will be split evenly between tenants.  What really happens is that “included” is a catch phrase.  What it really means is that “heat and water are controlled by the management / landlord”.  If that’s the case your unit won’t have a thermostat.  It’s not that it’s included.  It’s that you have no influence on when it’s turned on, when it’s turned off or what it’s set to.

I’m no expert in real estate, but I do know that there are standards for this type of arrangement.  For example, in New York City:

“… the City requires building owners to provide tenants with heat according to the following rules:

  • Between 6 AM and 10 PM, if the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees, the inside temperature must be at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Between 10 PM and 6 AM, the inside temperature must be at least 62 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. There is no outside temperature requirement.

Hot water must be provided 365 days per year at a constant minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Of course, if it does go below the minimum what recourse do you have but to sue?  And who wants to go through that, even if you can prove it?  And that does nothing to solve the immediate problem of it snowing outside and you’re freezing.

Bottom line – if you see “heat and hot water included” or any variation thereof, walk away.

Helpful Hints:

  • If you’re touring an apartment be sure to locate the thermostat
    • Make sure it works!
  • Ask if the management lives on the property
    • If not, ask why
  • When touring an apartment ask if this is the unit you’ll be moving into
    • If not, ask to see the actual apartment
    • If they refuse ask why
  • Talk to people who live there
    • Preferably when management isn’t around

I’ll follow this up with another entry specifically about renting apartments in general.

Standard Disclaimer: I understand that my experience doesn’t apply to all circumstances.  I’m sure some readers encountered this and thought it was wonderful.  I’m sure some of you manage apartments, and you are fair, kind and just to your tenants.  This has not been my experience, but I’m sure you’re out there.