Sometimes I watch a lot of HGTV. I’m not particularly proud of this, but it’s become my go-to channel when I’m doing something boring enough that I want to sort of zone out, but not so boring that I can afford to fall asleep while doing it – i.e., folding laundry, pretending to sort through and file all my paperwork, trying to dig all the Matchbox cars out from under the couch. What I most enjoy is making fun of the people on shows like “House Hunters,” who always seem to be in search of a bigger house (“No, every single member of the family needs his or her own bathroom!”) and less work to do on it (“I don’t know about this paint color. And I don’t want to have to paint.”). It’s almost charming to see this sort of naive behavior when you live in one of the most expensive areas in the country, one where the housing bubble never really burst, one where it’s normal to have a two-story house with only one bathroom, one where real estate agents rightfully laugh if you ask them to find a single-family home in the greater Boston area for less than $400K. Hell, there are condos down the street from me that are selling for over $1 million! And they don’t even have a good view.
After lots of research and home tours, with the help of an amazing real estate agent, we negotiated our way to a good deal when we bought our place three years ago. In the process, I learned lots of interesting stuff, some of which I think is specific to real estate in this area since a lot of the homes are from the ’20s and ’30s. Here is, in my opinion, the best of it.
- Perhaps, despite the seller’s agent telling you the fireplace in your house works, it doesn’t. Perhaps in reality it needs to be repointed and have a new firebox. If you’re really lucky, in addition to this, the chimney is also illegally venting the gas and oil heating systems from the condos in your multi-family house into one place, costing you thousands of dollars to fix it lest you all blow up in the middle of one cold winter’s night. So what I’m saying is, get a separate fireplace/chimney inspection on top of your home inspection.
- You can be allergic to your walls, if they are from the ’20s and made of horsehair, as are lots of walls around here. Fun, right?
- When you are using a hammer to knock down kitchen cabinets, do not, DO NOT, wear gloves, or you may have a total Homer Simpson moment in which you almost smash in the face of one of your best friends when the hammer flies from your hands. (Disclaimer: I was not the one wearing the gloves.)
- The lovely gumwood molding you have everywhere isn’t made anymore, so if you do decide to take down the crown molding and it cracks, well, you’ve got an expensive pile of wood for that fireplace you can’t use.
- Yes, you can choose to peel off those three layers of wallpaper yourself, even though you have to first get through a layer of ugly lavender paint, and you can button the walls and cut drywall to put into the place you accidentally ruined. But really, is it worth your time and sanity? Answer: If you are broke from buying your house and constantly going to Home Depot to fix things in it, then yes.
- When you hire a contractor who came highly recommended but only seems to have one name, who brings in a crew of guys whose language you can’t decipher, who asks you to make the check out to his wife upon completion of the job, you resign yourself to never being able to run for public office and do it. Then sign up for Angie’s List, immediately.
- When you hire a masonry company to redo your front steps and walkway, you may be lucky enough to get the really buff guy who shows up at 7 the first morning and starts jackhammering the cement with a cigar hanging out of his mouth. Then he has another at noon, and your front steps and walkway look perfect in only three days.
- No one will take care of fixing your rickety old garage for you, not even contractors who want to charge you $25K for the job. You will call them, you will follow up by email, they will continually ignore you. Just get used to the fact that you can’t park your car in there, or shut the doors. Garages are overrated anyway.
I would say that I’ll take all of this invaluable knowledge with me the next time I go house hunting, but frankly I’m not sure when that will be an affordable prospect. It may be more realistic to just stay here. Forever. That is what the previous owner did, and she turned into that little old lady who sat in a rocker on her second-floor porch and watched all the goings-on in the neighborhood. She also left an exploded jar of lemon curd glued into one of her kitchen cabinets so that they had to be removed and I think she hadn’t left the house in years when she died, but whatever. I know she didn’t have to deal with buttoning walls.