Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Suspicious minds

Remember how I mentioned that we were having a couple of leak issues , and had called a plumber to come take a look? Well, he came on Monday. And it was the awesomest experience ever. I think this was one of those cases of expecting the worst and having it turn out much better than expected, the kind of thing you can't fake.

We called the plumber because we did a spot-check of our plumbing through the wall access panels and discovered that the master bathtub leaks. Also, when Torsten moved his office down into the basement, a space we rarely used before, he noticed that when certain sinks and appliances were run, he could hear a dripping kind of noise in the ceiling that was quite alarming.

So, the plumber came. He was recommended by our realtor and he was really nice. He spent about an hour at our house. He investigated the bathtub and determined that the gasket holding the overflow valve in place wasn't tight enough, and was therefore letting water through. He told us he could fix it for about $180. Or, he said, we could just put silicone sealant around it, ourselves, for about $10, and that should solve the problem. And if it didn't, he'd come back and have another look.

Then we brought him downstairs and he listened to the noise and said that it's just the pipes expanding when the hot water goes through them. So that was a huge relief because we had both had visions of cutting into the ceiling and thousands of dollars spent, and it was so nice to find out that we wouldn't need to do that.

Plus, he said that even if we did ever get water damage in the basement ceiling, it wouldn't be a huge deal. The water would become visible almost right away through blistered paint, and we could address it fairly easily and inexpensively if/when it ever does happen.

Then he told us he'd give us the name of an irrigation guy he knows to find out if our built-in sprinkler system is functional, and went on his way without charging us a penny.

So! $10 project this weekend and all our plumbing problems will be solved! HEART.

It was just generally a huge relief to have an impartial expert in our house. He praised the construction and said that all the appliances were expensive and high-end and installed correctly. And that was SO NICE to hear.

The thing about buying a house like ours is this. The house was a fix and flip. It was built in 1963 and totally renovated by the guy who sold it to us, who was a builder who bought the house when it went into foreclosure a few years ago. He did an awesome job. He basically gutted the house. It has brand new everything--hardwood floors upstairs and down, totally redone kitchen and bathrooms, newly finished basement, brand new lifetime roof, new furnaces, new water heater, new electrical panel, new paint. From what we can tell, he didn't skimp. He used high-end materials and the construction seems solid.

The house still has issues, though, typical of a house of its age. The siding desperately needs to be replaced--it was poorly installed and is all warped. But we're trying really hard to wait until we can afford to do what we want with it. As it stands, the first floor of the house is brick and the second floor is done with vinyl siding. Our master plan is to rip out the vinyl siding and put in a brick facade that matches the brick that we already have on the lower half of the house so that it will be a completely brick structure. And that will be a lot more expensive than just repairing the vinyl siding that's currently in place. But we don't really want to spend money on repairing siding that we're planning to rip out shortly. So we're just hoping it can hold until we can afford to replace it with what we want.

The windows are the originals, and very thin and drafty. A couple of them are cracked and they all let huge amounts of wind in. They provide basically no insulation and half of them don't open. They too need to be replaced. Originally we had hoped to do that this year so that we could qualify for the $1500 tax credit, but with Torsten quitting his job I don't think that's going to happen. So that goes on the list.

And there are a few random smaller things as well--slightly sloped floors and uneven walls and cracked molding and all the usual stuff you get with older houses. And that's fine, really, in fact we really like that about the house, that it isn't brand new construction.

But my point is, we knew about these issues when we moved into the house. The inspector found all of them and the seller gave us credits toward the closing costs for everything we filed in the inspection objection. We didn't ask for him to address the windows in our inspection objection because we had noticed them ourselves before we made an offer and factored that in to the lowball offer we made in the first place. And, I think that helped us out, because he was so relieved that we didn't ask him to pay for window replacement that he agreed to nearly every item we did request in the inspection objection.

So, yeah. He was a decent guy and he did a good job with the house. But about halfway through the project, the housing market took a big nosedive, and around then I think he realized that he was going to lose money on the house. (As a side note, he did lose money on the house. We bought it for $70,000 below original list price, and though it was still more than he paid for the house when he bought it in foreclosure, when you factor in the cost of the extensive renovations he did, there's no way he could have broken even. Luckily, he was nice about it at the closing, if somewhat Grimly Resigned, and just said he was glad that a nice family was going to live there.)

And so, we became paranoid that he had kind of given up, and started cutting corners. Because there were little things that he didn't deal with. Like none of the bathrooms had towel racks. And the stove backsplash wasn't grouted.

So we started to worry that he had cut corners in places we couldn't see. I kept thinking of Shelly's horror story, where the builder put drywall behind her shower tiles instead of something waterproof, and the drywall got wet, and expanded, and popped the tiles, allowing even more water to get in, and they had to do a bunch of work to fix it, and it cost them over $1000, and they were LUCKY because they caught it before they developed mold problems.

We were totally convinced that our builder had done something similar. But so far, we haven't found anything. Our inspector didn't find anything either. And the plumber was very impressed with everything he saw. And that made us feel much, much better.

I'm sure the other shoe will drop someday. There are always unexpected costs involved in home ownership. But ever since this plumber visit, we are both slightly less edgy about the other shoe dropping sometime very soon, while we still only have one income. And that is a huge relief.

Assuming, of course, that I haven't just jinxed us. Knock on wood.


  1. Owning your own home is so liberating and amazing and fantastic, while simultaneously being horrifying and frustrating. I have come to the opinion that all builders suck to a certain degree because they all cut corners in some way or another.

    I'm so excited for you about the plumber news! What an awesome guy and someone you know you can call in the future. That's priceless!

  2. I have my own horror story as you know, and will probably have to get all our stucco replaced to the tune of 6K+, (plus a new roof 2ishK, plus basement water proofing 3K) but, we got a deal on the house, and hell if I'm not going to go after the seller for the remaining 11,000. That's insane. Brand new renovation like yours. And apparently not only did the seller stop caring, but he stopped paying the initial contractor.

    So happy that is not the case for you! A ten dollar fix? Heck yeah!

  3. I can see how that way of thinking could happen....but I like to think that most things are fixable. We'd had our own share of issues with our houses...both from age or neglect issues, so I can symphathize.

  4. The most important thing I've found in home ownership, after buying a solid home? Is surrounding yourself with incredibly trustworthy service people. Over the years, I've collected a list that includes HVAC, garage and a plumber. I have yet to find an electrician I really like and trust. Point being, when the shoe drops, I never feel like I'm in a bind or have to jump at the first recommended service person. I know I can count on these guys to do great work and have been known to call them at all hours!

  5. Our home is about 100 years old, and we too felt so relieved when a private inspector raved about it. Our previous owner did TONS of work too, but he didn't plan on selling so he did high-end, quality stuff as well. And our inspector also praised the overall construction and made us feel like the house was solid, and that any "old house" problems that came up would be ones we could handle.

    I LOVE living in an older home. I'm so glad you are getting such good feedback too. It takes a load off, doesn't it?

  6. Also, honest business people like that plumber? Restores my faith in the goodness of humanity. Makes me feel like the world IS full of rainbows and freshly blooming flowers.

  7. Fingers crossed that the other shoe never drops. Also, that plumber is amazing. I'd spread the good karma and recommend him to everyone you know. That's the kind of person I'd want doing my plumbing.

  8. You know, it is just such a relief, and hell, enjoyable, to meet and work with honest people, yes? Why can't everyone be this way? It just makes things so much easier. And nicer. And happy happy joy joy.

  9. Am I the only one who hears sloped floors and automatically thinks about Mad About You & How I Met Your Mother? Just me? Okay then. Perhaps I have a slight tv problem.

    That bathroom horror story brings back memories. When I was in middle school we moved, and later my parents discovered that the bathtub/shower in the main bathroom had a similar issue with the lack of/skimping on waterproof materials. But luckily was caught early enough before it caused a mold problem or did damage to my brother's bedroom on the other side of the wall. So, suck, but could have been much worse. Only that wasn't the end of it because eventually a leak was discovered leading to the garage below the bathroom as well. Except my dad kind of blew off my mom's concerns when she first noticed discoloration in the ceiling above where she parked her car. Then it started bubbling. And that got worse. So he poked it with a broom, which of course led to water everywhere. Turns out the base of the toilet was never sealed or the seal was done improperly and had been slowly leaking all along for however long the toilet had been there!

    Anyway, all of this is a very long-winded way of saying that you and Torsten are so, so, SO smart to be on the lookout for potential problems, and to know what to watch for so you can address it right away. And a plumber like that? Amazing!

  10. what a great turnout to what could have been a horrible problem! it's always good to hear about people that actually do good in a world where it would be very easy to do otherwise!

  11. Sounds like you have your local plumber for life- this guy is a quality act.

  12. That sounds like a pretty freakin' awesome plumber.

  13. That's great news and I am glad you shared your story. Too often all we hear about are the horror stories of home ownership. It's nice to see the other side.

    I am still knocking wood for you though. ;)

  14. @fairydogmother - i immediately thought of the HIMYM episode too ;-)

    it is SO NICE to have trustworthy service people like that! i have a mechanic i trust right now, and i will pay him ANY amount and feel ok about it, because i know he's not ripping me off.

  15. Yes! I'll knock wood for you too! A good plumber is a WONDERFUL thing. It's nice, when there is a problem, to just know who to call. I love the idea of replacing the vinyl siding with brick instead of new vinyl. Vinyl siding is, from what I've heard, a really bad environmental choice.