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Mar 13, 2023Liked by Addison Del Mastro

Nice piece. My wife and I generally like the Consumers' Checkbook not just for the ratings, but the articles about what to look into when hiring somebody or buying something, and how to maintain your stuff and house. But they did write a piece on home inspectors and said that they set up a trial house with lots of broken stuff, invited a bunch of inspectors separately, and no inspector found everything. And these weren't gotcha tricky things. I suppose maybe the inspectors assumed at some point, hey, this house is pretty busted, I've told the buyers enough to scare them off. But, maybe not! https://www.checkbook.org/washington-area/home-inspectors/articles/We-Got-12-Home-Inspections-and-Were-Astonished-at-How-Poorly-Many-of-the-Inspectors-Performed-7029

The principal-agent problem really is a bummer.

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Our inspector was pretty good as far as we can so far, but we have found a couple of things he missed. One issue you run into is the stuff that's sort of broken - faucet drain pipe that only starts to leak after running water for a few minutes, etc.

When we were going to open houses, all the realtors were, or pretended to be, surprised that we tried the windows and locks, opened cabinets, etc. The vibe of the whole process is to discourage the homebuyer from truly doing due diligence.

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This is one aspect of the homebuying process I have significant qualms about. I know people who practically brag about how good they were at hiding significant problems in the house they sold, or that "didn't technically lie" in ways that manifestly misrepresented some aspect of things. Or honestly, on the buying side, who relish taking maximum advantage of contingencies to pressure sellers into doing a bunch of stuff after the offer has been made despite it having been perfectly obvious when they made the offer.

I know it's somewhat an artifact of broader issues: we've financialized the process so extensively that the numbers involved are huge, and there's all these legal layers that can make trying to be a normal, reasonable person end up being a liability (our lawyers went back and forth for several drafts over what specific elements of a certain condition were being "represented" versus what was just the owner's best guess). But it's all just so "ugh" and I really wish it were less adversarial....

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When we sold our house, the realtor was shocked at how much information we put into the disclosures.

But we figured that we were already getting more $ back then we put in, and we didn’t want the next owners to get blindsided by some of the weird issues we had found in the decade we had lived there. Because it was a great place to live- if you knew how to deal with those issues.

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I have read that you should budget 1% of your home’s value each year for repairs and that seems about right. After buying a large 25 year old house that had gone under major renovations 10 years ago, we still spent about $100k on repairs and replacements in about five years:

Washer/dryer (turned out the dryer made noise but didn’t actually dry things)

New roof (shingles started falling off 6 months in)

Eaves and soffit (to match the new roof)

Patio (old one rotting and fencing not up to code)

Front porch (some sort of mica-like material started flaking and crumbling)

Furnace and AC (furnace needed repairs at 6 pm on a Friday night, luckily my FIL knew a guy. But it was old and I couldn’t risk it dying with a baby on the way)

Basement carpet (old one smelled like dog pee)

Blinds (to replace the old people drapes)

Gas fireplace insert (previous one was hideous, noisy and hard to start)

Dishwasher (noisy and it died)

Triple pane windows (morning traffic was nerve wracking and then they changed the airplane landing routes temporarily so planes were landing over our house)

Those are just the big items and there’s nothing exciting about those repairs. We inherited a cleaning lady and she advised that the prior, retired owners were defeated by the size of the place. (We tried cleaning ourselves for a year and found we couldn’t handle the cleaning. Basically a full day once a week if you want clean floors and dusted furniture.)

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Home ownership is easy. You just need the skills of an amateur carpenter, floor tiler, horticulturalist, electrician, plumber and surveyor, several weeks worth of free time a year, and a five figure budget.

Seriously though, my wife and I have only been able to raise a small family and keep our fairly large house in some good repair through the services of my retired, working class father in law. As she informs me, in Communist Eastern Europe you literally had to figure things out yourself, and it turns out these are the perfect skills for modern home ownership.

I don't see how this has anything to do with good citizenship or responsibility. Back when I was a single apartment dweller, I had time and money for books, magazine subscriptions, cultural events, religious events... All that is gone now. Of course, parenthood is a truly selfless endeavour, but homeownership is really just like having a second job. One job is already too many!

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Yep. We have two toddlers and a baby - finding the time or energy for any unnecessary home improvement projects (at the end of the day, exhausted? on the weekend with all of them around?) has become less and less appealing. We had grand ambitions of painting every room of this 1940's house, though! ha

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Just wait until you're on your third disassembly of the dishwasher and you put a *liiiiiitle* too much pressure on something that's sealed with a gasket and it costs you $175 and 7 days waiting for the part to come in ;P

But seriously, I agree that there's something to being able to do stuff yourself that feels really rewarding, and I have plenty of stuff that I know is way too much for me and I have no trouble paying significant amounts to get it done right. But there's this unfortunate middle-ground where it's theoretically possible for me to figure it out myself but as a huge project, but not quite large enough to actually get someone out to do that's frustrating.

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I suppose you’ve read the works of Matthew Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft etc?

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