The fellow that owns his own home is always just coming out of a hardware store. ~Frank McKinney Hubbard
We bought a house.
Last I wrote, I naively hinted that I had a horror story to share about the Three Closing Men (everything involved in getting the power of attorney, the owner, and the random third guy to agree to and attend the house closing).
While that is true (and I still owe our realtor a Sushi Fix dinner, a letter of apology, and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue), I had no way of knowing that those stories would pale in comparison to what has transpired over the last two months of home-ownership.
Someday I promise to share that story of the Three Closing Men, but for now, here are some “highlights” from our first two months in the home:
- Electrical issues
The electrician and the inspector both looked at our 1970’s fuse box and casually commented that we were statistically one step away from dying in a house fire. That pretty much put “electrical” at the top of the “to-do” list.
We saw evidence of rodents throughout the house during our inspection. Droppings here and there. Chewed-through insulation. But there was no reason to consider it an infestation, and it was expected, since no one had lived in the house for 4 years. Not a big deal, right? (More on that issue to come…)
I’ve learned 4 important facts about plumbing throughout this whole process. The first thing is that plumber’s putty (traditional sealant for plumbing fixtures) dries out and cracks when unused. Dried-out putty = leaky fixtures. So imagine what would happen to the plumbing throughout your house, if say, for example, you didn’t live in it for 4 years.
The second thing I’ve learned is that plumbing pipes are a mice hangout.
The third thing is that you should read the directions thoroughly before DIY-ing your whirlpool spa tub, your garbage disposal, your dishwasher, your shower, all your sinks, and your refrigerator. Just saying.
And fourth, I’ve learned that it always helps to have someone who plumbs for a hobby as your friend. (Thanks, Denny! So sorry about the refrigerator pipes bursting on you.)
I knew it was bad when Nate, the duct cleaner, calmly asked me to take a seat. He said, “Ma’am, you’ve moved from a routine maintenance cleaning, to a crisis.” Then he showed me vivid pictures he’d taken from inside our ducts. (Nate apparently likes theatrics. He even used the phrase “level 10 crackdown” more than once.) Besides the greyish, inch-thick coating left from decades of neglect, there were dryer sheets, nails, drywall debris, five dead mice at varying stages of decomposition, and Legos (yes, Legos). It didn’t take any more convincing for me to agree to give him all my money. He also asked if he could take a few more pics of the dead mice to show his buddies.
- Hole in the ceiling
Because the previous owner chose to DIY his own whirlpool spa and then never used it, we discovered, after a began-incredibly-but-ended-very-badly whirlpool experience, what will happen when you send a bathtub amount of water through the ceiling. What will happen, you ask? You will get a big hole in the ceiling and consequently discover more evidence of mice.
We also had a mold and mildew issue (surprise, surprise). This was caused by three main problems: 1 – no gutters (semi-solved by our DIY seller). 2 – chimney issues, exposing the basement to leakage. And 3 – the concrete slab in the back was tilted toward the house, causing rainwater to come through the walls. We hired a mason and he beautifully fixed everything on the outside. (Side note: The fireplace is one of my new favorite spots in our house.)
- Mold and Mildew Remediation
Once we knew the mold in the basement and sub-basement was not black mold, and the mason had fixed the outdoor issues, Toby and my brother-in-law, Matt, decided to remediate on their own. (Good luck guys, I’m going to Chicago.) That involved a lot of grunting and groaning, demolition, drywall, a product aptly named Kilz, hammering, spackling, sanding, caulking, painting, 15 cans of Mountain Dew, and lots of excuses to go to the hardware megastore. (I also found it amusing that during one of their trips to the hardware store, they bought each other “gifts”. Toby ended up being “gifted” a brand-new shop vac with all the bells and whistles. Matt was happy to receive an electrician’s tool belt.)
Besides all this, we also had to pack up and clean our townhome. Then move. Then unpack everything. Packing for a local move, and trying to be serious about it, is like trying to care about the quality of your gift-wrapping when furiously wrapping all your Christmas gifts at 1am Christmas morning. It’s unappealing and you’d rather be sleeping.
- A Missing Gnome
I collect gnomes. After the move, I discovered my matriarch gnome, Gertie, was missing. I love her the best because she reminds me of my Grandma Mildred. If Grandma Mildred had been a gnome, she would have looked just like Gertie.
Soon after she was discovered missing (Gertie, not my grandmother), we began receiving anonymous emails that she had been kidnapped by one of our “friends” who had helped us move. Over the next two weeks, our inbox was flooded with ransom notes and photographs of Gertie, who consequently ended up in Mexico. It only cost us an all-you-can-eat, smoked meat BBQ invitation and a $14.99 payoff (the original cost of Gertie) to get her safely back.
- A Frog in My Tub
The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was the frog I found in the bathtub. I had just stepped into the shower. I don’t know how he got there. I only know that he was probably as traumatized as I was.
After I was done screaming, my eldest son captured the confused vermin. I don’t know how the frog got there in the first place, but we live near two lakes, a pond, and across the street from a bog. Frogs are around.
At first, I agreed, against my better judgment, to allow the kids to keep him in a mason jar for two weeks and call him Tubby Mac. But after another frog encounter in my van’s rear-view mirror (another frog, another incident of me screaming, but this time I was driving), I decided to free Tubby. I will forever check the shower before disrobing and the rear-view mirror before starting the van.
At one point during all this crazy house stuff, I simply gave up. I raised the white flag and accepted defeat. The house had won. It was a few days before the 4th of July weekend, so I drove myself, my niece (who by the way was living with us through all of this), and 3 of my 4 children to Chicago to stay with my mom and dad. I left my eldest and Toby back at the house to “keep up the good work”. Mom and dad greeted me with a glass of sangria.
The break from the house was what I needed. The trip generously afforded me family time and perspective. And after a few days in Chicago, I was able to take a deep breath, realize it wasn’t that bad, roll up my sleeves, and go home.
So… No hot water in the basement shower? We’ve got this! Dryer lint catching on fire? No biggie! Dead mouse on the refrigerator that fell from the ceiling? Not a problem! A squirrel and a deer playing poker in the basement? Deal me in! As long as I have a roof over my head, children by my side, and the love of my life holding my hand, I am blessed.
So raise your glass of Johnnie Walker Blue. Here’s to home-ownership.
May joy and peace surround you,
Contentment latch your door;
And happiness be with you now,
And bless you evermore.