Dear Monty: Is our house a loemon?
Reader Question: We bought our home about six months ago. The house seemed perfect. It is very well-kept, and it came through the home inspection with flying colors. We have met some friendly neighbors, and we love living here. That said, we have experienced some expensive issues; the water heater failed, siding blew off in a windstorm, a costly plumbing leak in a bathroom pipe, and now the water softener is making strange noises. We are starting to feel like we bought a lemon. Is it normal that all these repairs and replacements would happen in such a short time frame?
Monty’s Answer: While it is possible that you bought a lemon, your description of the house and the fact it aced the inspection indicate that you have experienced a coincidence. You may not have another event for an extended period. As a caution, budgeting for the realization that homeownership involves continuing repairs and maintenance helps when these events occur.
A recap of your issues
A windstorm is an act of nature. Assuming you live in a neighborhood where many homes are nearby, is your home the only one that suffered? If it was the only one damaged, was it situated differently; as at the top of a ridge or in an open clearing? If there were other casualties, it suggests that it was a mighty wind. All water heaters fail, and it can be difficult to predict when failures will occur. Two identical water heaters installed in homes on the same day could fail 15 years apart. Water softeners fall into that same category. According to the property insurance industry non-roof water damage and plumbing issues are both in the top five claim categories.
Home inspection limitations
Inspections describe observable conditions on a particular date. The very next day, many components could fail without notice. These components have specific characteristics in common. They contain or transmit one or more of the following: Water, electronics, mechanical parts or electricity. Plumbing fixtures and piping, appliances, furnaces, air compressors and water heaters can instantly cease to function. Some failures need only a part to resume operation, while others are more economical to replace. Spending $400 to repair an old $700 dishwasher is not practical.
Other products wear out as well, but over more extended periods of time. Concrete, stone, steel and glass have the most extended useful lives, especially when not exposed to the elements. The sun, wind, water and air (at specific temperatures) cause deterioration or contribute to events that take a toll on all homes.
The most significant enemy of a house, however, is its occupants. Living in a home wears it out. Wood, plaster, sheetrock, electrical wiring encapsulated inside the walls of the home will last indefinitely. The components that do not contain the four characteristics mentioned above usually will give a warning that they need repair or replacement; roof shingles curl up their edges, windows show condensation, siding fades and carpet wears.
Should we repair or replace? Consider the age, cost, quality and advice of trusted technicians. Some problems have multiple solutions and technicians will suggest different approaches. Certain costly repairs, such as a new HVAC system beg for second or even third opinions.
Vigilance is your best protection. If you have a basement, get in the habit of taking a walk through it twice a week. Watch for water near appliances that handle water, like a furnace-mounted dehumidifier or water softener. Any strange sounds or odors? Are there signs of mice or insects? If you have unused or low traffic rooms walk through them and look for broken glass, flush a toilet, watch for things that shouldn’t be there such as blistered plaster, dead insects or condensation on the window sills. Walk around your home’s exterior after a storm or once a week to see that everything is in place. Every couple of years, either walk the roof or hire a pro to do it. Any bird nests or roof rats? Are the gas vents unobstructed? Any loose shingles? Spotting early warning signs can prevent small repairs from becoming significant projects.
— Richard Montgomery is the author of "House Money - An Insider’s Secrets to Saving Thousands When You Buy or Sell a Home." He is a real estate industry veteran who advocates industry reform and offers readers unbiased real estate advice. Find him at DearMonty.com.