This Old House

Warning: self-imposed word limit exceeded, exceedingly.

15 irwin 0619A couple weeks ago, in a text, my sister Tia asked me how I felt about our house sale, noting that it could be sad leaving a place I’ve been at so long, and wanting to know if I was okay with the buyers. I told her my answer was too long to text. It’s at least the length of a blog entry.

On Tuesday the buyers came with an inspector to look over the house. I know this because while I planned to leave at 8:45, I didn’t get out the door until 9, and I crossed paths with all three of them. I answered a few questions for the inspector, who said he lives one street over, and told him about the blue board under the siding. He said putting foam board under siding usually makes it “wavy,” and complimented the quality of the construction.

Then I left, and Lynn and I waited. And waited. We were braced for these buyers to come with a long list of things they didn’t like. And last night they didn’t really disappoint that expectation. The one thing they didn’t ask, other than an implication that they may back out of the contract because it’s too expensive, was for a further reduction in the sale price.

I am going to miss this house. Very much. I don’t know how long I’ve been here — 26 years, 27, maybe 28. Plus I grew up in a similar floor plan (more on that momentarily) on Tincup Drive. When I go down the stairs straight-legged, one step at a time, I look forward to a place without stairs. When I — and yes, I realize how shallow this makes me sound — am in the kitchen and missing whatever program is on TV because it’s around a corner and two rooms away, I look forward to having our living space in one big open room. The notion of being able to conduct my laundry operations in one room rather than four excites me more than laundry should. And a steam shower, with a seat so I can sit . . .

But I love my house. I love the shape of it, the feel of it, the comfort of it. So while I should view the sale as merely a business transaction, I can’t, and this one is apparently literally tearing up my insides. I am having digestive issues the likes of which I haven’t experienced in decades, and sometimes, like most of last night, it feels like everything from my shins to my shoulders wants to turn inside out.

What I should have done was taken a pass on these particular buyers from the moment they submitted a ridiculously low offer and combined it with a horrible letter about how rundown and junky my beloved house is.

[I don’t know what it says about me, but I run into lots of people I know in alleys. And the other day when I ran into my bike mechanic who also sells real estate, she was shocked to learn of the approach they took. Like me, she assumed their letter would have been one of supplication.]

But I knew these people, and thought I liked them, so Audrie, Lynn and I took an educated guess at what we thought they could afford and put out that number. They saw it as “meeting them halfway”; I saw it as gifting them a considerable consideration. And I suppose those opposing viewpoints are the cause of the tension. I want them to be grateful when instead they keep indicating that we are out to take advantage of them. They pretty much have repeatedly accused us of lying about several aspects of the house.

This house was built in the early 1960s. It’s not new. It was the Shaw House for quite a long time, then went through at least two short-time owners before I bought it in the early ’90s. It’s been reasonably well-cared for, but it’s not new, which is apparently what it will take to make this couple happy. Only they can’t afford new. By rights, they shouldn’t be able to afford this.

I understand caution, and not wanting to buy a money pit. Trust me. I just paid another $250, plus the new battery, to hopefully solve the power drain in my “new” truck, which so far has mostly been a money drain. But these two are going to pick every nit, and never choose their words as considerately as they could.

Their broker, whom we were assuming was the aggressive one in the transaction, sent their inspection list with what certainly sounds like an apology to me: “The buyers have quite a few questions based on the inspection. They are just trying to gather info. They are very detail-oriented and number-conscious and are trying to make a well-informed decision about their ability to move forward regarding items that will need to be fixed.”

And then, instead of asking, Could you tell us about the remodel that closed off the back stairs? they want the name of the contractor and the year it was done. How should I know? It’s a common remodel in the Palisades, and was probably done by the early ’70s at the latest, and it offers much better flow than the original plan, which is what we had on Tincup Drive. The original provides for a dark and narrow galley kitchen; the remodel opens that all up, which is why at least half of the tri-levels in the Palisades undertook this remodel a long time ago.

These two are very focused on the “how” of things and not what really matters. For instance, their inspector didn’t find a fan in our radon mitigation system, installed by Dusty. There isn’t one, and when Dusty installed it 10 years ago, he said it wasn’t needed. For the record, our heating guy thought it was weird too, and Lynn and I irresponsibly have never followed up with a radon test. But that’s what the buyers should do: test for radon. If it’s not there, who cares if the system has a fan? If it is, well, they’re nine-tenths of the way toward mitigation, because everything but the fan is already in place for them.

They want to know when the fireplace, which was really a woodstove, was removed. Why? It’s gone, that’s what they need to know. (Answer: I don’t remember. Tia’s husband came and hauled it out once upon a time. Who cares when?) Then they move into the bizarre: was the chimney safely sealed up? I’m not quite sure how they and their inspector missed the multiple lengths of stovepipe sitting on the north side of the house, nor the panel in the ceiling covering where the pipe went up. The firebox that surrounded it, which took up half a closet, got removed, to regain the closet. I guess they’re trying to ascertain if one of their children could get stuck in a “chimney” that never existed, but everything that’s left is right in front of their eyes.

Their inspector identified some wiring issues, but again it comes out like an accusation: The water heater wiring poses a safety hazard. And perhaps it does, and certainly they should have a licensed electrician look at it, but all I can tell them is that the water heater was installed by a local licensed, very experienced plumber.

Lynn and I haven’t had any work done on this house that wasn’t done by professionals, but the implication over and over is that the entire building is rife with slipshod projects not up to their exacting specifications. And when we get to their final point (we’ve covered less than half here so far), it nearly becomes untenable: their insurance companies want a comprehensive list of every plumbing, heating and electrical upgrade ever made to the house, include the dates of installation of toilets and outlets.

I have shopped for a lot of insurance policies over the years, and I’ve never had a single company ask about toilets. One did want to charge more for the woodstove that no longer existed; and I got enthused, after a furnace replacement, that I could get a discount, but it turned out that was for heating AND wiring upgrades, not one or the other. That’s as specific as any policy has ever gotten.

And I learned the hard way that insurance companies don’t really care about your plumbing woes (Lynn’s housewarming gift was a collapse of the orangeburg sewer pipe, so they’re also ahead of 80 percent of the houses in the Palisades that still have to undergo that expense), so why an insurance company cares about things they’re never going to pay out on I don’t know.

I can answer their questions (whoever said there’s no such thing as a stupid question was wrong) and perhaps direct them to what ought to be the questions they should ask instead, but hanging over this entire thing is this persistent presentation from them that we are ripping them off.

I feel like we are gifting them with an opportunity to take possession of something that has been a huge part of my life for more than half of it, and the way they have gone about it makes me wish that I had never tried to work with them in the first place.

So instead of being happy that my cherished house will go to a new, hopefully long-time family that will love it as I (and the Shaws) did, I am turned into knots because these seemingly nice Christian people have a very wide suspicious and rather nasty streak that is hardly becoming.

And that, Tia (and all the rest of you), is how I feel about leaving my house with these buyers.


2 thoughts on “This Old House

  1. Losing a home of my own I understand the feelings you are going through. I would wait for the next offer.. after all it’s a seller’s market…


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