Stumbling. But Learning.

October 29th, 2013

Our roof is in terrible shape. We knew this and got credit for it at closing. And it was at the top of our list of things to do after we moved in. But then we discovered the truth about the trees, the 60-year-old boiler, the lining for the chimney, the leak from the third floor bathroom and the roof got pushed back a bit (along with all the cosmetic changes we wanted to make).

I’ll be blunt: buying this home has been a humbling experience. This experience has made me realize I know absolutely nothing. I haven’t felt this overwhelmed by insecurity and uncertainty since Em was born. I’m a novice, a bit of a fool. I had no idea what came with buying an older home. People warned us, sure. But you can only know so much.

And that’s the thing. I can’t help but compare this experience to becoming a mother for the first time. People warned me while I was pregnant. They offered me (often times, unsolicited) advice and I would let it register, acknowledge it. But I never fully grasped what it meant to be a parent until the doctor handed me the baby. You can spend hours explaining what it’s like; you can warn a person about how hard it’ll be, how much sleep they’ll lose and how they’ll never be an independent human being ever again—not in the true sense of the word, responsible solely for oneself. You can say all these things, and the other person probably understands the words, but to fully grasp it? I think that’s impossible until you’ve actually done it.

We were warned by many about how hard it would be owning an older home. (We were also told how rewarding it would be!) But we didn’t fully get it until we got it.  And now that we’re getting it, holy got, it’s had. (Wait, what?)

And it’s clear to me now that our greenness benefitted the sellers. They needed a novice homebuyer to snatch this one up. They withheld a great deal of information on the disclosure agreement and lied about a few things as well, things that seasoned home owners may have known to look for. The good news is, and what I need to remember, is that the home appraised for a great deal more than we got it for.

I’ve been biting my tongue when it comes to writing about the sellers. It doesn’t seem fair to slam a family I don’t actually know. And slam them I would! I have a great deal of animosity built up toward them. And given what we’ve been told by our neighbors and contractors who have worked with them in the past, it’s solidified; there’s no going back.

But I’m also trying to keep things in perspective. I’m hormonal, after all, and full of an intensity I don’t normally possess. I tend to go from 0 to 60 with no warning whatsoever. Suddenly every injustice and every problem in the world, even those that have nothing to do with me, become a whole hell of a lot more intense. These problems need to be dealt with NOW and HARSHLY if need be.

I was this way with my other pregnancies as well. When someone leaves their cart in the middle of the parking lot because they’re too lazy to return it to its proper vestibule, the one with the GIANT sign that reads: “PLEASE RETURN CARTS HERE”, I let them know. Non-pregnant Michele would probably let’s it slide, maybe bitch about it to Toby Joe. But Pregnant Michele becomes self righteous and wants people to realize how lazy they’re being and how NOT following the rules WILL RUIN THE WORLD.

“WHAT IF EVERYONE DID THAT? THE SOCIAL CONTRACT IS IN PLACE FOR A REASON, YOU LAZY ASSHOLE!”

Most of the time, the other person simply stares at me, like I’m an escaped zoo animal. They know better than to provoke the crazed hyena. I have no idea what I would do if someone actually responded. I’d probably throw up or something. Because when I’m reacting this way? I’m not myself. I’m Pregnant Michele and she’s kind of mean and a lot grumpy.

So, when it comes to the previous owners of this house, I don’t know if non-pregnant Michele would care as much. But Pregnant Michele hates them. Pregnant Michele wants them to know exactly what they’ve done wrong.

During the home inspection, and before we knew anything about the family who lived here before, Toby Joe described it as “a house whose inhabitants suffered from severe and chronic depression.” And I think that sums it up perfectly (and politely). This house was perpetually sighing, shrugging its shoulders in hopes of a little warmth and a huge hug.

So, here we are, 6 weeks in. And we have given it many hugs. We replaced the 60-year-old boiler and the lining that aerates it, literally warming it up. We replaced the damper on the chimney. We got rid of the rust along the bottom of the bathtub, the one that was leaking directly into the boys’ room below it, because instead of FIXING the bloody thing like any functioning member of society might do, the sellers simply let the water sit in the tub (and therefore ceiling) rusting the pipes and an otherwise beautiful claw-foot tub. They simply wrote it off—a family of five simply chose NOT to use that bathroom.

We cut down the trees that were threatening the foundation and creating mold and moss all over the roof and exterior walls. We removed the overgrown poison oak and poison ivy from the backyard. We had the gutters cleaned and the pipes leading to the street cleared of a decade worth of debris. We had the claw-foot sanded and refinished and I hope to have the ceiling fixed and patched over the next couple of weeks.

I’m disappointed we haven’t yet been able to update anything cosmetically. But what good would it do updating a kitchen with new appliances, countertops and cabinetry if the radiators alongside them spits out hot, brown liquid rotting them because the boiler is over 60 years old? And what good would it do updating the attic bedroom and bath if the roof is going to leak directly into it? Why fix the garage if it’s rotting due to the sticks, stones, and dirt they tossed along the backside thereby rotting its wood?

A pretty exterior with a rotting interior will only be pretty for so long.

I’m learning. It’s slow. I am new. I feel a bit overwhelmed and a lot freaked out on some days. Like today, I just want to cry. And drink. And I can’t drink so I usually just eat dark chocolate and cry.

But, just like when I became a mother, I am learning. I’m stumbling a lot, but I’m learning nonetheless. And I think on the other side of this experience, I’ll have a wonderful little home to house and hug my family.

At least that’s my hope.

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8 Comments on “Stumbling. But Learning.”

  1. Steph said at 3:50 pm on October 29th, 2013:

    I’m sorry you are encountering so much that needs fixing, especially the stuff that was undisclosed and hidden by the sellers. That part would piss me off the most.

    I lived in a century old house for the first 6 years of my life, a home that my father later remodeled from the ground up and still inhabits today. It is a continual and total labor of love, but man, I LOVE that house. My father loves it too, even though there are still mysterious roof leaks and bizarre inexplicable idiosyncracies here and there. I love it even though living there involves going up and down 4 flights of stairs to get things done in any given day (it was originally 3 apartments).

    I have 4 sisters, and I can only hope someday we all can agree to keep that old house in the family!

    So hang in there! It’s awesome to hear that you are doing the right thing by fixing the underlying issues before the cosmetic. My grandfather (who owned my dad’s house before and rented out the apartments on occassion) used to do things the wrong way. Like patching holes, layering carpet upon carpet, sticking an ugly plastic shower stall haphazardly in one bathroom which once housed a clawfoot tub. Thankfully there are 2 other clawfoots, and under those carpets were the most gorgeous wide plank wood floors you’ve ever seen.

    Anyway, blah blah blah…you’re doing great! I’m impressed.

  2. Sarah @ Economist at Home said at 4:26 pm on October 29th, 2013:

    I just posted today on how important it is to build a margin into your housing budget to cover the unexpected but inevitable costs that come up as things break… But this takes it to a whole different level.

    I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine the stress, especially while pregnant and being a mom already. If letting loose on the sellers makes you feel better, I say go far it. You seem to be a kind and fair minded person. I’m sure you’ll know what to publish and what to trash. ;)

  3. mihow said at 5:41 pm on October 29th, 2013:

    I really do want to tell all. And I’m thinking about it. But every time I write it in my head, I think I come off sounding bitchy and resentful. And while those two things are indeed true, these folks are fucking asshats. I really, truly want them to know how horrible we think they are. But what good could come from that? Self-satisfaction? That might be worth it, actually. God, I have been truly horrible lately. So sick of feeling so blah on some days.

    Thanks for writing and i’ll be reading your site.

    And, Steph, that sounds like an awesome house and you’ve made me feel better knowing it’s loved by so many.

  4. Roberta said at 1:53 pm on October 30th, 2013:

    Deep breath. One thing at a time. Our house is 120 years old. It is overwhelming, buying a house. Even the newer ones have their issues. It is overwhelming to be pregnant, with two other small children. It is overwhelming to move. Into a house that needs work, while pregnant, with small children. Just do what you can. I am also a horrible, cranky, angry, person when pregnant. I get that everything is magnified by hormones. One thing at a time. Do the big things. Maybe a few smaller ones. It will get there. You will get there. It will be hard. You will cry. (It’s kind of like pregnancy, working on an old house.) Your house will be lovely and quirky and full of stories and life. And sometimes, the roof will leak. And you’ll fix it. It will be ok. One thing at a time.

  5. Liz said at 2:42 pm on October 30th, 2013:

    We bought our home a year ago and actually ended up suing the sellers for not disclosing the basement floods (not just a little water but FLOODS). We had to put in $13k french drains to keep the area dry. Their lie so blatant, it was infuriating. It also wasn’t the only lie but it was the most expensive one (there were plenty of others that cost us thousands more). Having jackhammers tear up the foundation in your basement doesn’t really mesh well with having 2 babies in the house and a husband who works from home. It was a total nightmare.

    The only reason we pursued the lawsuit was because our attorney was a friend and didn’t charge us. Otherwise, it’s not really worth suing for that amount. Plus, suing people isn’t really in our nature but there were so many things they didn’t disclose that I felt I had to do something. Had we been seasoned homeowners, we would have seen the signs of water damage before closing. We were first time home owners, relocating from condos and urban areas.

    It has taken almost a year and settling the lawsuit for my anger to finally subside. I think the anger sticks with you for so long because you see their lies everyday and have to look at them. Living in the house is a constant reminder and I felt so violated. We do love our home though and still would have made the purchase (for less money though). Anyway, just wanted to say I feel your pain.

  6. Melanie said at 3:12 pm on October 30th, 2013:

    I’m so sorry it’s been so stressful for you! I don’t know if it helps, but I’ve never met someone who bought an old house and doesn’t have huge animosity toward the previous owners for their quick fixes that ultimately led to home repair disaster.

    This happened with our first house, but the previous owner had moved into the house behind ours, so we had to see him and be civil on a daily basis. It was infuriating.

    Anyway, I hope you come to love the house and make it function the way you need it to. You’re doing the right thing by fixing the non-cosmetic stuff first.

  7. mihow said at 3:30 pm on October 30th, 2013:

    Holy SHIT liz,

    OK, so I just wrote a bunch here and then figured Toby Joe would be upset because we’re still not sure how we’re going to proceed and it might not be wise to have anything that definite in writing. I will email you.

    Thanks, guys for all the comments. And it DOES help knowing you don’t know of anyone who DOESN’T end up hating the previous owners!

    OK, I am biting my tongue so hard right now, it might be bleeding. ;]

  8. Amy in StL said at 6:45 pm on November 12th, 2013:

    I was on vacation, so I’m just seeing this now…. When I was house hunting last year a good friend of mine who loves Victorian homes gave me some great advice about a huge brick home that was a steal in a great neighborhood. Falling in love with an old house is like dating a crazy beautiful girl. All your friends see she’s crazy and they tell you, but she’s so pretty that you just keep digging in. You spend money and buy things and all along you love it… even though its crazy. He talked me out of the house because of foundation questions – but I still bought another old house… I guess I like the crazy.


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