What would you do if somebody took advantage of you? Would you fight for justice or would you forgive and forget?
Several years ago my husband and I were dreaming of buying a house one day, but we could not even imagine that the dream could come true sooner than we thought. One mortgage/ real estate company (which name I’m not going to mention) approved us for a mortgage and assigned an agent that could help us buy our first home.
We had to look a little further away from my husband’s job than we originally wanted, but that was ok. We looked at a few homes and stopped on one. It seemed perfect but cost more than we could spend. After several tiresome negotiations, it was evident; the seller would not accept our price.
At that time we were renting a place in an apartment complex with stringent rules. Our lease was ending, and we had to warn the management about vacating the apartment 60 days prior leaving. I explained that we were trying to buy a house and wondered what would happen if we could not do it during that time. The management said the rules were not negotiable.
The time was running out, and with no other options on the table, we decided to look for a house ourselves. One day I saw a house on one of the real estate websites. It was not in our desirable neighborhood, but after doing some research, I found out, that the particular area was not too bad.
The house was spacious and had a nice feel to it. According to the owner, the house was newly renovated and move-in ready. There were some cosmetic issues, and again, according to the seller, it would not cost much to fix them.
We put in an offer. As I mentioned before, we were running out of time. At the moment when we found the house, we only had a few weeks before we had to vacate the rental. The offer was accepted. Moreover, the seller was giving us a few thousands of dollars to do the cosmetic repairs.
It all sounded too good to be true, but my husband and I were excited and, at the same time, worried about a potential need to find a new rental place and get into another 1-year lease, so we decided to go for it. We agreed to the seller's terms.
Of course, we had to invite an inspector to the house first. We did not have the money to pay for a high-quality inspection; then our real estate agent offered to call an inspector she knew. I did not drive at that time, and we lived about an hour and a half away from the house. There was no bus service between the two places, so my husband had to ask the inspector to come in the evening.
It was a cold winter evening on the day of the inspection. The inspector walked through the house and commented that we were getting a great deal. He only checked the main floors, but not the attic. Even though both, my husband and the inspector, heard some noise that sounded like bats. In the end, the inspector suggested to check with the owner and ask him to remove the animals (in addition to finishing up some electric outlets and cleaning.)
It all seemed fine. And a few days later we were signing the papers and becoming homeowners. Prior the signing, the seller promised that he removed the animals. One thing that my husband and I found suspicious was that the owner never showed up at the signing, only his attorney was present.
I would like to mention one more detail. During that time, I was about four months pregnant with our second son. We also had to buy all the appliances; thankfully we could use the money we had gotten. Then, on another cold winter evening, we moved into our new home.
We were living in the new house for a few weeks when I noticed that the tiles on the kitchen floor and in the hallway started coming off. Very soon almost all of them came off. Under the tiles, there was the cheapest sub-floor you could get. There was only plywood with tiles attached to them.
We continued living in the house. During the summer, I gave birth to our son. But the house troubles did not stop with the floor. We realized, that not only we had bats in the attic, we also had a raccoon making the space under our roof his home. The seller never removed any animals.
Several more things happen over the years. Most of them during the first two years of living in our “newly-renovated” home.
We realized that our roof was leaking. And after questioning a mysterious spot that appeared on the dining room wall, weeks after moving in, we found out that sewage pipe was leaking as well. Eventually, we brought in a plumber who replaced a cracked piece of the sewage pipe. We also hired a contractor to fix the roof, but later, other contractors came to clean our chimney, when they left, the roof started leaking again. The chimney had to be cleaned because after we used our fireplace a few times, smoke filled the house. The contractors said that it looked like the chimney had never been cleaned since the house was built.
I would like to talk a little bit about the age of the house. The seller said that the house was about a 100 years old, while some other documents we found stated that it was built in 1978. It is possible that in 1978 the addition was built, not the house.
The troubles with the house continued. One spring our basement was flooded. The plumber who flushed the pipes (the ones that lead to the street and connect with the city lines) said that it looked like nobody had cleaned them since the house was built.
Despite the troubles, about a year after we bought the house we decided to refinance to reduce our interest rate. The same mortgage company who assisted us with buying the house helped us to do it. They invited a home inspector, who suggested to paint a few things to increase the value of the house. We got busy and painted a few window boards on the outside and the porch awning.
We successfully refinanced our home and continued living in it, wondering what would break next. But it was not another expensive fix that we had to worry about but the health of our younger son. He was tested positive for lead poisoning. (The lead screening was done routinely for children living in our neighborhood because the houses were built prior 1978.) We could not understand how our son could get lead poisoning if there was no lead paint in the house. When my husband and I were buying the house, we received a document, which stated that the house was lead-free. When I searched for the paper later, I realized it was missing.
Thankfully the poisoning was not severe and, according to the doctor, medical intervention was unnecessary. But, in reality, we did not know what impact the poisoning had on our son.
Health inspector came to our home to check for sources of lead. We had one wall in the corner of the living room that had lead paint; the lead paint was covered up with a layer of the new paint. The wall was also “sweating, ” and the new paint layer was forming bubbles. Originally we were not sure what caused the problem, but later we realized, that it must have been the result of the issues with the old chimney. The health inspector found a few other sources of lead. They were a few window boards on the outside of the house (the windows themselves were new), the space under the front porch awning, a few boards in the basement and soffits under the roofs of the building and the garage. The windows (if not touched) did not seem to pose a danger. We covered up the wall in the living room (after the contractors, I mentioned earlier, cleaned the chimney, the “sweating” stopped). We also hired a contractor to cover up the awning and a few other spaces.
We still have the lead presence documentation in the health department, which can only be dismissed after a new health inspection. No living or accessible areas have the lead now. We decided to fix the rest of the issues when we had the money and then do the inspection.
After we resolved all those predicaments, we had a little break. The bats and the raccoon left, we also found out we had birds in the attic as well, but they left too. One squirrel remained, but eventually, it moved as well. There were no issues for a while until the engine of the “newer” furnace gave up. We invited a contractor to fix it; he also had to remove a squirrel (that was a different squirrel) from the safety or trap area of the furnace. Our “newer” water heater gave up as well (actually, much quicker than then the furnace). The house started having some electrical problems too, which could be an indication of the previous owner’s bad-quality electrical repairs, which would be predictable, considering how poorly he fixed the rest of the house.
Eventually, we gave up. Our younger son developed a chronic illness, which caused us being under a lot of stress for over two years. (You can read about the health problems here.) We, as a family, decided that if we did not have money to fix the house, we had to sell it as-is and move. But, right now, our income and ongoing and potentially high medical expenses do not allow us to take on another loan to fix the house. As for moving, we would need a new down payment amount, plus we would have to sell the house at a loss.
I thought about this situation over and over. I blamed the previous owner; then I blamed us. I contacted some nonprofits, asking for help and assistance. Most of them suggested to sue the previous owner, but we were afraid it would cost us a lot of money to go through the lawsuit. I was also afraid that, somehow, we would be taken advantage of by the previous owner again, or by the legal system. Sometimes when people take advantage of you or cheat you in some way, you may start believing that everybody is against you.
So, this is our homeowner story. I am sure we are not the 1st and the last people who end up in the similar or even worse situation. At this point I want to look forward, I want to believe that one day we will be living in a good house, and the only issues we would have are the common wear-and-tear ones, not the ones caused by lies and fraudulent practices.
Believe it or not, this was not the first, and the last time we were taken advantage of, lied to or betrayed, but those are different stories. In the situation with the house, we decided to forgive and move on.
I am working on building my business right now. I am an artist and a designer. It is hard for creative people to establish an income-bringing self-employment. I am making the business from scratch with virtually no investment. It may seem unrealistic, but I have faith I can succeed.
Every time you buy my products or donate, you not only help me as a creative entrepreneur but also impact our future living situation and help us to pay for our son’s medical treatment and investigation. Please read about his case here (it involves malpractice and medical ignorance.)
Liudmila Maksimovskaya NIKOXXII