4 Costly Real-Life Lessons Learned While Buying a Home

By | May 4, 2017

Buying a home is exciting for sure, but on the flip side, a whole lot can go wrong during the process—scary events that can quickly turn this American dream into an American horror story. As proof, check out these home-buying nightmares from people who want to share their anguish with the hopes that they can spare future purchasers the same fate.

Home staging … or hiding?

“We ended up buying what we knew was a nicely staged fixer-upper, but we had no idea really what we were getting into,” says April Daniels Hussar of Verona, NJ. “When we finally got the keys and moved in, we literally cried. There was a throw rug melded to the kitchen floor. And the entire house smelled like cat pee—something we somehow had never noticed until then. The sellers made very good use of candles and who knows what else! We had to redo all the wood floors.”

Lesson learned: Staging is supposed to enhance a home’s features, but it may also cover up its defects, says Colby Sambrotto, president and CEO of USRealty.com. He suggests going through a house several times before buying it.

“Accompany the home inspector when he reviews the house to see for yourself what may be lacking. Open windows, turn on every light, trace electrical and plumbing systems to their connections to the outside lines, and ask for receipts and proof of any claimed improvements.”

The house was great, but…

“We moved from an expensive housing market in Chicago to Knoxville, where we could afford a bigger house,” says Ali Wenzke of Chicago. “But just because you can afford it doesn’t mean you should buy it. We rationalized that this would be our forever home, so it was worth it. The problem? Our neighbors were all much older and didn’t have small kids like we did. We lived there for only a year and a half before loneliness forced us to move.”

Lesson learned: When house hunting, it’s essential to look beyond the house alone.

“It’s about your access to all the amenities that make life enjoyable in your new neighborhood,” says Sambrotto. “Think about easy and convenient access to parks, recreational amenities like running trails, daily shopping, and your commute.”

That power line will go where?

After searching for a home for nearly seven months, Kiki Roten of Canton, OH, and her fiancé finally found a little ranch house they loved. Then just four days away from closing, everything came crumbling down.

“We got the worst email you can imagine from our mortgage company saying our house suddenly sits in a ‘fall radius’ of an electrical power line, and we can’t buy it—even though we’d already invested over $1,000 into this house for home inspection and other fees,” she says. “By that point, everything we owned was packed up in boxes, and my bridal shower was two days away. I can’t make this garbage up. In one week, we went from on top of the world to crying in our bedroom, which was piled to the ceiling with boxes.”

Lesson learned: “Unforeseen circumstances do occasionally emerge to derail deals,” says Sombrotto. “Kiki’s situation underscores the importance of a land survey. For an existing home, you’d think that might be redundant: What could possibly have changed about a house that has been in the same spot for years? But even if property lines haven’t shifted, adjacent encroachments, like power lines, might affect the effective use of the property. A survey can also re-establish correct property lines if a neighbor has built a fence.”

Another way to head off last-minute surprises is with gap insurance as part of the title insurance coverage.

“This won’t go into effect until you’ve bought the house, but if any challenges to the title emerge in the few weeks that the deal is in process, gap insurance covers the fallout,” Sambrotto says.

You’ll need a permit for that

“I had an itch to find a little cozy cottage near the water,” says Melissa Shelby in Alexandria, VA. “Thinking I could handle things without a real estate agent, I examined homes and lots on my own, and found a cottage I had grand plans to renovate. Nevertheless, thousands of dollars and six months later, I still failed to obtain the right permits. And because of all these unforeseen costs, I resigned myself to doing much smaller interior renovations rather than turn this into the cottage of my dreams.”

Lesson learned: Shelby’s advice based on her own experience? “Find a trusted local real estate agent who is an expert in the area, as well as hire a permit runner or specialist who can give you very specific and accurate guidance on what to do to avoid permitting holdups that may decrease your budget for improvements,” she says. “Local zoning red tape can be unforeseen, costly, and, frankly, zap the joy right out of buying a home.”

Curious what can go wrong when you sell a home? Tune in tomorrow for home-selling horror stories that could happen to you, too!

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