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Real Estate and Home Guide — The Altamont Enterprise, May 20, 2010

Homeowners lament
Our home reflects all of our weaknesses and none of our strengths

By Anne Hayden

When my fiancé, Nick, and I bought our home, it felt like we were playing a game. A really fun game. It was a bit like being a kid and playing house.

Aside from suffering sticker shock over the size of the down payment and mortgage, we were giddy with excitement. Unlike places we'd rented in the past, we could actually change things about this house to fit our style! We could paint, and buy furniture, and fasten things to the wall permanently — with nails instead of those temporary stick-on hooks!

Everyone warned us that owning a home was no walk in the park. “There’s a lot of maintenance involved,” people told us.

“You have to spend money to fix every little problem that arises,” they said. We listened, but mostly ignored the advice and forewarnings as we picked out paint samples and couches with matching ottomans.

And then a few months into homeownership, the whole thing stopped feeling like a game. We’d already spent thousands of dollars (aside from the down payment) on furniture and other essentials. Our bank accounts were nearly drained. And, suddenly, little things began to go awry.

It started with the toilet.  It was one of those older toilets, with brass fixtures and a wooden seat. The seat was a little unstable, but that wasn’t much of a problem since we could just tighten the screws every once in a while so no one would fall off when they sat down. The real problem was with the power of the flush — or lack thereof.

This toilet was weak, which resulted in a whole lot of frustration when it would clog for no apparent reason and we’d have to spend 10 minutes plunging it. So we decided to snake it. Not owning a snake, and not having a clue how to snake a toilet, we did what any intelligent couple in their 20s would – we called in a parent. Nick’s father came to the rescue, and, for a few months, all was well in the bathroom.

Next up was the kitchen. It was completely functional when we bought the house. But, suddenly, two of the burners on the stove quit working. It was an electric stove, so it wasn’t as if the pilot light was just out. We might have been able to live with it if the two burners that died hadn’t been the largest of the four. We were left with two tiny burners – it took at least 20 minutes to bring a large pot of water to a boil on one of them.

Still, that might have been fine. But then the sink sprayer lost pressure and started to leak. And then we noticed that the linoleum flooring was starting to wrinkle and buckle. What else could we do besides renovate the entire room? After all, Realtors say that a renovated kitchen is the best way to increase the resale value of a home.

After spending $10,000, eating takeout and washing dishes in the bathtub for three months, we had a modern kitchen with granite counter tops and top-of-the-line stainless-steel appliances. We settled in to live in our perfectly functional and updated first home.

Cold shoulder

But then winter came. It was cold. And I don’t just mean outside. We had conversations that went like this:

“Nick, I’m freezing. Feel my face. Do I have a fever or something?”

“No, you’re freezing because the thermostat says it’s 54 degrees in here. Put on some more clothes.”

At that point, we were pretty poor and couldn’t envision spending any more money on the house. We spent a month or two layering on sweatshirts and socks and huddling under blankets before we decided to, once again, call in a parent. This time Nick’s father said he “knew a guy” who worked with furnaces and could help us out. 

The guy he knew came over, fiddled around with the furnace for a while, pushed a button, and charged us $60. The heat worked for about three days after that, so we basically paid $20 a day to be warm. After that, we put our layers back on and agreed we would just have to live with whatever minor house-related issues came up in the near future.

That was until the toilet problem resurfaced. It seemed like it would get clogged every single day. It all came to a head one morning when Nick left for work before I got out of bed, and when I got up to shower and use the bathroom, the toilet was clogged. And it would not flush. I spent at least 30 minutes plunging it, having to use the bathroom, practically in tears.

I ended up running over to the neighbors’ house to use their bathroom. Luckily, Nick was able to get things flushed later that day, but I told him I didn’t care how much it cost, we needed a new toilet. Off to Home Depot we went, where we perused an entire aisle of toilets and argued over things like round or oval bowl, standard or chair height, the ability to flush 10 golf balls at once, and of course, money.

We came home with the most basic of toilets. So what if we couldn’t flush 10 golf balls? All I wanted was to be able to flush one piece of toilet paper. I suppose I should have been worried when Nick came out of the bathroom after about two minutes of attempted installation of the new toilet and told me he’d “better Google this.”

Flushed with success

About three hours later, he was sweaty and tired, but very proud of himself for doing the project alone. “It flushes!” he announced. He pressed down on the handle to prove his point. Roughly two seconds later, we heard a gush of water coming from the direction of the basement. It seemed he hadn’t lined things up correctly, and the water from the bowl was leaking out of the pipes and into our laundry room.

In order to discover this, I had to stand underneath the pipes with a bucket while he repeatedly flushed the new toilet – the object was to pinpoint the exact spot where the leak was occurring. The result was toilet water in my hair, on the floor, and I swear a few drops even landed in my mouth.

It was Nick’s dad to the rescue again. He got everything situated, and, while he was there to help with the bathroom, he noticed we had a replacement for the light bulb in our oven sitting on the kitchen table. The oven light had been burned out for a few months, and we’d tried replacing the bulb, but couldn’t figure out how to get the old one out.

We had even gone so far as the pull the entire oven away from the wall, thinking maybe we had to detach some wires, but all we’d discovered was a whole bunch of dust leftover from the kitchen renovation.

Oh, and in pushing and pulling the oven, we’d also managed to break one of the four “feet” off the bottom of it, so that the whole thing was off-balance and tilted to one side. We took turns holding the oven up and peering underneath it with a flashlight, trying to shove the foot back into place, but it was hopeless, because the thing had broken clean down the middle.

After an hour of lifting and grunting, sweating, and yelling at each other, we finally super-glued the foot back on and quickly put the oven back in its rightful spot before it had a chance to dislodge. We swore we’d never, ever, move the oven again.

So when Nick’s dad saw the bulb for the oven on the table and offered to change it for us, we protested, fearful that he’d try to move the whole thing and find out what we had done. But he just reached in, popped off the old bulb, and popped in the new one.

Nick and I looked at each other and I’m fairly sure both of our expressions said the same thing — “Oh you just pull it off, not twist.” We broke our new oven for nothing.

Meanwhile, we had a ceiling fan that had been sitting on our living-room floor for months, still in its box. Light fixtures and wiring were definitely beyond us, something we’d never even think to attempt, so we were waiting until we felt we had enough expendable cash to pay someone to install it. After all, a ceiling fan was not strictly necessary in the bedroom.

Eventually a family friend, an electrician no less, offered to put it up for us. We both went off to work and left him to do his thing. We came home that night and there was a lovely ceiling fan above our bed; it really added a lot of character.

There was just one problem. Flipping the light switch in the bedroom did nothing. No light came on, the fan didn’t start to rotate — nothing.

We looked at each other, shrugged, and walked in to the kitchen. I flipped the light switch in there — nothing. We tried the bathroom light — nothing.

Figuring the electrician had turned off a circuit and forgotten to turn it back on, we went to explore the fuse box in the basement. It didn’t seem like any of the circuits had been tinkered with.

We tried the rest of the lights in the house, and, when I flipped the switch that lights up the front foyer, the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom lit up. It seemed the “electrician” had crossed some wires.

And then, since the ceiling fan had also started to whirl with the flip of the foyer switch, Nick had to pull the chain dangling from the bedroom light fixture to change the setting. Only, when he pulled the chain, the entire fan came tumbling down onto the bed.

I’m not going to lie, when that happened last month, I laughed. Hysterically. But then I cried a little. Because seriously, this was not fun anymore. It was like a bad scene out of Tom Hanks’s movie The Money Pit. We’d fix one thing, only to have another go wrong.

For a few days we just lived with having to turn on the light in the foyer if we wanted to use the kitchen or bathroom, and we used a lamp in the bedroom. We finally conceded that we would have to spend some money to get the wires uncrossed. That was just two weeks ago.

After the fan and wire debacle, we told each other, as we had many times before, that we would not spend any more money to fix anything, as long as it was something minor we could live with. I think we are both walking around the house on eggshells, afraid to touch anything, lest we break it.

Even as I sit here, underneath my breezy ceiling fan, with a powerful toilet and a stove that boils water in under five minutes just steps away from me, I can hear the kitchen faucet steadily dripping, sounding like some sort of Chinese water torture.

And it tortures me. It’s the hot water. I can’t get it to stop. But I’m not fixing it. I’m just going to turn it off underneath the sink, take the money I’ve saved by not hiring a plumber, and buy myself something pretty.

Stupid house. It’s always something.

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