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If I Were a First-time Homebuyer– Again

By Woody Livingston

Today’s soft real estate market reminds me of when my wife and I bought our first home. Some friends of ours had just purchased a home and told us about one near them that was for sale by owner. We went to look at it that night.

It was a fixer-upper, a three-bedroom home with a partly finished basement. The owners had to sell to move into their new home. We offered them $3,000 less than they paid for it and they accepted immediately—sounds familiar, but this was 20 years ago!

Walking through the house prior to closing, we knew we had our work cut out for us. We saw the crayon marks on the walls, doors, even the ceiling. We decided the carpet had to go, so no need for a drop cloth when we painted. The basement was partly finished, with a cute little wood stove already in place. (Basement? Wood stove? No, this wasn’t Arizona.)

The day after we moved in I went out to meet the neighbors. I looked across the street at my new house for the first time. Immediately my eye went to the carport roof. Rather than continuing parallel to the roofline of the house, it sloped noticeably away from the house, its gable end as much as six inches lower than where it joined the house.

Closer inspection revealed the cause: no footings had been poured for the posts holding up the end of the carport. They had merely been set on top of the concrete slab. In no time the weight of the roof on the posts cracked the slab and in less than five years that side of the slab had dropped several inches, causing the rust damage on the basement wood stove.

You see, the chimney was on the same end of the house, and as one end of the carport roof dropped, the other end separated from the house. This created a nifty little crack that collected water and channeled it into the chimney, where it found the stovepipe and continued down to the basement. There the water sat, rusting out the stove. That’s what I found the first day. Of course the list grew as time went on.

We made two mistakes when we bought that house. First, we should have had a good Realtor® negotiating for us. We had no idea what comparable homes were selling for, and given the soft market, motivated sellers, and condition of the home, a good agent could have gotten an even better price. We also paid too many closing costs. Paying a Realtor® to be our representative would have saved us money. Fortunately, the market recovered, the home appreciated, and we netted a profit when we sold.

Home Inspections were not common back then, especially for first-time homebuyers. But hiring a professional home inspector would have saved us money, too. A Pillar To Post inspector starts an inspection across the street. He looks at the roofline, grading of the lot, and more. A home inspector would have provided me a home inspection report with photos of the roof, the cracks, the rusted stove and other defects before I owned them. His written report would have helped us plan our fix-up expenses more wisely. For example, all Pillar To Post inspectors include a Construction and Remodeling Cost Estimate Guide with their written report.

If low interest rates, a buyer’s market, and high rent have put you in search of your first home, make sure you have professionals on your side. Find a Realtor® experienced in representing buyers, such as an Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR)® designation, and ask him or her for references. Then when you make an offer on a home, hire a full-time, insured, professional Pillar To Post home inspector. Attend the inspection, ask questions, and go over the written report with your inspector and your Realtor. You’ll be dollars and years ahead.

Woody Livingston is a licensed Arizona Home Inspector and Arizona Area Developer for Pillar To Post Professional Home Inspection. ©2000-2008 Elwood D. Livingston. Used by permission.