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What you wish you had known back then...

West Des Moines, IA(Zone 5a)

Hello all,

I'm in the process of becoming a homeowner for the first time and I'm such a perfectionist I'm sure I'm going to screw it up. What do you know now that you wish you had known then? I've been reading Black & Decker books, ...for Dummies books, basically anything how-to I can get my hands on. I consider myself mechanically inclined (I'm great at crafts) but inexperienced. Part of me is excited that I can tinker with stuff but part of me is terrified I'll electrocute myself.

Thanks for the info!


North Augusta, ON

My best advice?

Have a bank account with at least $3000 of emergency money in it. More if you can. You just never know when something is going to need repairs that you can't do yourself.

Rockport, ME(Zone 5b)

Congratulations, that's exciting!!! My best advice would be to STOP being a perfectionist, you'll make yourself nuts. Things aren't going to get done all at once, so settle back and enjoy your plans and projects. What kind of house did you buy? Older, newer?

North Augusta, ON

That's good advice too, the stop being a perfectionist.

I live in a 200 year old house and DBF is a perfectionist. He'll never be happy here because the walls aren't level, the floor isn't level...the windows have those bubbles that 200 year old glass tends to have...I adore the quirks that make this place special but a perfectionist is apparently living in misery LOL!!

Rockport, ME(Zone 5b)

Just another point, don't be afraid to ask for help. Situations arise that aren't in your books, there's no shame in getting someone else's advice and expertise, or just paying someone to do the darn thing. I hooked up with a great handyman, he did things better than I ever could have for a very reasonable price.

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I agree with all of the above! Definitely make sure you have an emergency reserve of money since things will come up. Also keep in mind that if it's something you're not familiar with and you're not sure you can do right, you will probably spend less money in the long run if you pay a pro to fix it in the first place, vs trying it yourself, messing it up, and then having to call them to fix the problem that you've now made worse. So know your limits! But every time you hire a handyman to help you out, make it a learning experience--watch what they do, ask them questions, etc so that you'll learn something and then down the road if that problem comes up again maybe you will have the ability to fix it yourself.

Missouri City, TX

Buying the books was a wise choice, but as ecrane said, that shows you how to do it, but does not give you the experience to do it.
It will however, let you know what is required and involved, so that you don't get ripped off by a "handy guy".

There is a huge difference between a true Handyman and a "handy guy". Always get references and the CHECK them out!

I do a lot of different projects that include several skills - carpentry, electrical, plumbing, etc.
But I know when to call in a professional. And I know who to trust and who to stay away from.
Still, any of us can be fooled occasionally. Find and cultivate a group of "friends" who are in the "trades" and lean on those contacts when you have questions.

When you want to begin a project, do as much research as you can before you begin.

If this is an old house, what may seem like a simple project can GROW into a much bigger task quickly.

The owner and I have spent 3 years restoring an 80 yo farmhouse, and we encounter "surprises" with every new project. Fortunately we are willing to SOLVE the underlying problems as we complete the original task.

North Augusta, ON

I wish I could find someone like you up here Bubba!!

Missouri City, TX

Thank you 3G.

I have a project for the old house, in the garage right now, that I neeed to get done before the weekend. A threshold for the French double doors to the porch / patio. Since nothing is ever really square, it required several creative adjusting cuts to get it to fit against the door frame. But the board against the door frame slopes toward the outside of the house, so I need to releave the backside of the 1x4 red oak first to allow for that transition, then cut a tapering cut on the topside to keep it from becoming a toe tripper as it slopes toward the door.

I know how to set the table saw for the various cuts, just procrasinating; making very narrow cuts with a board on edge is always risky.

I'm sure there are some talented tradesmen in Canada - where I grew up we had several farm families from there - we were less than 100 miles south of the border. I watched them build houses, barns, silos, etc. I got to straighten nails and help with small tasks.

Rockport, ME(Zone 5b)

That's a really good point....finding a good contractor can be hell on earth. I finally figured out a backdoor scheme. Ask your local Building Inspector to name a few electrical contractors, plumbers, sheet rock guys, etc. Now, you're not asking for recommendations, mind, because that would be unethical for the Building Inspector to RECOMMEND anyone. You're just asking for a few names because you're new at all this. *Bats eyelashes*. The thing is, Building Inspectors are human too, so they'll probably tell you the ones they like to work with, the ones that do a good job and don't cause issues. I got a really good septic guy and sheetrock guy that way!!!

West Des Moines, IA(Zone 5a)

Great tip about asking building inspectors! Thanks!

I don't have a house picked out yet. Almost all the ones I've seen in my price range have serious structural or neighborhood (pride of ownership) issues. We will probably end up with a house built in the late 50's thru mid 70's. I'm a little concerned about asbestos, lead paint, lack of insulation, that kind of thing so when I find one I like I'm going to have it inspected by *everybody*. DH kind of prefers a house built in that era back when they didn't take so many shortcuts with materials. I have some trouble with stairs because of fibromyalgia and we are much more likely to find a ranch or 1 1/2 story style house built back then too. I just wish they didn't put the laundry in the basement. How hard is that to change to a 1st floor room? I guess it depends where the plumbing and electrical runs, right?

We looked at 100-yo farmhouses but they all had massive problems. It's too bad because they were beautiful.

About the savings account - I started doing that on a financial advisor's advice a few years ago and I'll never go back!

As for being a perfectionist...I try to relax...really... heehee. At least I know it's a personality flaw and I try not to let it make me *too* crazy. Actually it's a really handy weakness to name in a job interview (you know the standard "what's your biggest weakness" question) because then they know I'm detail oriented.

Rockport, ME(Zone 5b)

HA, that's a "weakness" that most employers LOVE!! Oooo, I have more advice. You're in a very strong buyer position, because you don't have a house to sell, this is a buyer's market, AND we're headed toward winter....

1. As a former Realtor, I want to tell you to never ever be afraid to bid REALLLLLY low on a house, especially in this market. TAKE NO PRISONERS!!! And don't let your Realtor tell you that you'll somehow insult the seller by bidding really low, that's a crock. The seller is perfectly able to simply say "No", and then you can increase your offer by a little bit. If I were you I'd take at least 20% right off the top as a starting bid, especially if it's an older house. Believe me, you'll have plenty of opportunity to spend more money by fixing the place up. This is the best time of year to buy a house if it's an estate sale. The kids obvioulsy don't want the house, and they're looking at paying to heat an empty house going in to the winter. At this time of year, they just want to get the money and get out of owning it. So find a nicer house than you think you can afford that's an estate sale and bid really really low. You'll be very surprised at the deals you can get in this kind of situation!

2. Look around for LOCAL inspectors. I thought I was smart by getting one who wasn't in the area (thought they'd be less likely to be influenced to "please" the seller), but what a jerk I got! He brushed over all the awful things that needed fixing, and couldn't even get up stairs! AND PAY ATTENTION TO EVERY WORD THAT COMES OUT OF THEIR MOUTHS!! They aren't going to tell you "DON'T BUY THIS HOUSE!" because of some issue they've found. It's up to you to interpret how much issues are actually going to cost you, how important they are to you, etc. Anything can be fixed with enough money, but you need to really understand what's going on. Look for houses that at least have SOMETHING major that's newer, like a new roof, new windows, new septic tank if that's what's in your area, etc.

3. LOOK AT THE NEIGHBORS!!! This is a biggy. If you're buying a small house on a small lot, you're going to be very near to your neighbors. If the houses around that house aren't well kept, that means that the people there don't care about the house, don't care about themselves, and don't care whether their dogs bark all day or their kids party until 3:00 AM on a Tuesday night. Been there, done that, will NEVER do that again.

4. As for things like putting a washer and dryer upstairs, you'd need to change the plumbing and electrical drastically, but that shouldn't be all that bad. The trick is just find room for them in the first place. If you can get away with a stackable washer and dryer it might be a little easier. You need to find a place where you can vent the dryer properly. This is where a good plumber would come in. You might even want to hook up with one before you even put a bid on a house. You can have them come in to a house that you're interested in and take a look and let you know how doable a change would be for a particular house. Sellers let the buyer's contractors come in all the time BEFORE a bid is put on the house.

Well that was fun! Keep us informed of your adventures!

Missouri City, TX

We won't buy a house unless the laundry is near the bedrooms.

Learned that from an associate who was from an architect's family. You do not generate many washables in the kitchen or basement, but always undress and bathe near the bedroom. Saves a lot of walking and carrying things back-and-forth. If you move the laundry, be sure the floor has a drain is installed - sooner or later there WILL be a water spill.

As for housing inspectors (not city/county inspectors) - ask your realtor, too. There are some well trained housing inspectors, and some "trainees".
You want someone who really knows what to look for.

The inspector for the buyer of our California house listed things that were NOT a hazard, but missed a few that were.
He did not go into the attic, or really inspect the roof, or fireplace and chimney, just a quick walkaround inside and outside of the property.
We fixed the things on the list ONLY. Several that were not on the list were things I was planning on correcting if we had stayed there another year.

When we bought the replacement house in Houston, the seller corrected the things on the list, but we have bought enough houses, that we requested a $1000 contingency fund for additional repairs that he might have missed, and also an appliance warranty policy. Seller cut that in half, but that was better than nothing - and we did need it - some of the exterior trims boards were rotten from water damage - improperly caulked.

The appliance warranty policy is quite inexpensive and saved us a bunch when we bought the CA house - dishwasher and disposer both died within 90 days - our cost $25 each. If the central heat & air had died it would have saved thousands..

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