How does this work?
I’m so, so sorry. It’s a horrible, soul-crushing experience. And the expenses don’t stop once you get the house. If you have disposable income, kiss it goodbye.
Every house you look at will have something wrong with it. Get a good inspector. Stay away from franchises like Tiger Inspection. If they walk through with a default checklist and spend less than an hour or so, the inspection is no good. I have an inspector that spends 3-4 hours checking around. He found an issue in one house that would have necessitated $100K in repairs JUST TO MAKE SURE THE HOUSE DIDN’T FALL DOWN. I had this confirmed with a second inspector, a specialist in structural inspections. Other inspectors for other buyers did not even find this. That house, which was bank owned and then bought sight-unseen at an auction, is now off the market while the winning bidder tries to figure out how to come up with $100K to fix what was supposed to be a quick $20K flip.
When you get the inspection report (ask about this beforehand—the one I get is 30-40 pages, whereas friends have received a 2-page summary), decide what you can live with, what you can’t, what you want the buyer to fix, and then, should you buy the house, use the rest of the report as a checklist of things to fix once you get in there.
Pay special attention to the heating system. If it’s oil and there’s a tank, get the age of the entire system. On our first house, I knew the age, and before winter came, the tank burst and spilled some of what was left of the oil onto the basement floor, which was dirt in that area (common with older houses in the northeast). Because the oil didn’t reach the water table, nor did it cross the property line, the insurance company wouldn’t pay a cent. We had to have a team come in to dig a hole in the basement, remove the contaminated dirt, fill in the hole, and cement over it. This cost $25,000 and added no value to the house. I could have literally thrown the money into the hole before they filled it and it would have had the same effect.
I have about a dozen other horror stories, including another like the oil spill that almost turned into an environmental disaster, so please ask if you want more. The point is, in short, be prepared for anything and be prepared to fix it all yourself.
My recommendation is to stay mobile and rent a yurt when needed.
Everything he says is true. The inspection is so super-duper important. It’s like the difference between Mayo Clinic trained specialist and a doc-in-the-box. You may spend a third more for a good inspector but that extra $200 could, no exaggeration, save you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Pay particular attention to the stuff behind the walls: plumbing and electrical systems cost a lot of money to repair. Make sure the house can handle your computers, TVs, showers, bowel movements, etc.
Write down your must-haves beforehand and balance your design wants and your utilitarian necessities. If you are handy, then great. But if you’re anything short of a master carpenter you will want to temper your expectations of taking on a fixer-upper, even if the price is enticing.
Also, buy for the future as much as you can manage. You will be stretched at first, but it’s still a good time to buy and if you keep moving ahead in your career and salary then what’s a stretch now may not be in three years. We look back at what we thought was important just five years ago and want to laugh and then punch ourselves in the face. We love our house but we also feel a lot more cozy than we thought we would when we moved in. Plus, a lot of those fixer-upper things still need fixing-upping.