Dad and I have been traveling down memory lane recalling our earlier experiences purchasing houses as Jamie has begun to investigate the process. It was always both an exciting and an extremely frustrating endeavor.
We first dipped our toes into the real estate market within the first year or so of our marriage, and because we had little money for a down payment, the pickings were slim. We first looked at a small home in the Boonton Township area, and while the house itself had potential, I recall noticing the house next to it, which had clearly been in some sort of fire.
It turned out that it was heated by propane gas, and the tank, which sat outside the home, had exploded and caused the fire. That not only made me aware to avoid homes using that as a source of heat or to cook, but for many, many years, I would not even consider natural gas in my home. That belief was confirmed after a man ended up on his front lawn, naked, after his house exploded as a result of a gas leak.
We looked at a lovely piece of property in Brewster, New York, and Dad had even drawn up plans for a ranch-style home similar to what we currently own. As much as we loved the area, something in Dad’s gut did not feel right about the builder, so we walked away. Trusting his instincts proved quite fortuitous, because we later learned that those big ugly power-line structures which look like soldiers in a science-fiction movie of the future were eventually erected very close to the property. The value of the homes and property plummeted, and we avoided a lot of heartache.
Dad and I learned the importance of considering both the price and property taxes when looking at houses. Many houses appeared affordable until we learned of the taxes levied, which often pushed the monthly payments outside our budget. The taxes and mortgage rates combined were what caused us to purchase our first house in New York rather than New Jersey. Some of this I already discussed in The American Dream- Part II.
When we returned to New Jersey in 1988 and jumped into the house-hunting pond again, we remembered to do our research and to not trust anyone. If something looks too good to be true, be careful. Rarely, but not always, is that the case.
As a second-time home buyer with a higher income and larger down payment, we were able to be a little more choosey. We found a home that appeared to fit our needs—four bedrooms, 2 ½ baths, quiet street, with a nice wooded lot behind us. That was when we remembered to always research the surrounding property. Thank goodness we did, because it turned out that he land behind this dream home was slated not for homes or a nice park, but the extension of the nearby interstate scheduled for completion in a few short years. That home was close enough that I could have had a job doing the morning traffic report without leaving our home.
The homeowners of the next house we looked at had chosen a medieval theme for their finished basement. Part of the décor involved heavy rope which they wrapped around some of the columns in that room. Upon further investigation, we were able to discover that the rope was hiding water damage.
We were not as observant with the home we eventually did purchase in Montville, because we never noticed the paint on the cinder-block walls of the basement of that house, which Dad later renamed “Water World,” because that blue paint was hiding water damage. It took the installation of a drain around the perimeter of our beautifully finished basement, and several electric sump pumps with battery back-ups, to fix the water problem. Before that fix, we nearly lost the pool table to water infiltration, so Dad refused to ever purchase a home with an underground basement and flat yard again.
So the lessons to be learned are to check the property taxes, look for cover-ups such as water or mold damage, never assume the beautiful serene environment could never become a gas station or major highway, avoid propane tanks, and always, always trust your gut.