Archive for March 22nd, 2010


Good House, Bad House

March 22, 2010

In the last 5.5 years, we have lived in 3 different residences in Salem, Massachusetts.

The first one was a beautiful old sea captains house, it was built in the 1820’s. We really loved that place despite its flaws. The house was a solid build for its time. But had no insulation. The owners did quite a bit of updating before we moved in, which I am sure improved many old features.. however, all of the electricity for our livingroom, office, downstairs bath and one bedroom upstairs were on one circuit breaker (crazy) and our downstairs neighbor kept turning our hall light on and off because the switch was downstairs in the common hallway. The new windows were put in place crooked, so they didnt quite close at the top, which when added to the fact that there was NO insulation (the walls were ice cold in the winter) led us to very high heating bills, even keeping the heat at 68*. Recap for this house: Solid old construction, cosmetic upgrades were nice but the ball was dropped when it came to actual construction upgrades. Work was clearly done on a small budget and minimal work (mostly done by the owner) was done to make it habitable.

After living there for over 4 years, our landlords served us notice to move because they needed their daughter to move in (note: their daughter never moved in and they ended up renting the unit to someone else for over $250/month less than what we were paying)

We went through hell trying to find a place to live.. and were blatantly discriminated against for having a small child. One prospective landlord even outright told me that he would rather have his place sit empty for months on end then to rent to a family with a small child… which, you know, is ILLEGAL. But thats not what this post is about now, is it?

We found a place, brand new. We were the first people to live in it. Residence #2 was built in 2008. Brand new you say? Should be great, right? Lets take a look…

The cosmetics were beautiful. Crown moulding, granite counters, stainless steel appliances, big garden tub.  Once we moved in, we couldnt believe it when everything started falling apart. The plumbing was incorrectly installed, which started with a giant leak under our master bath sink our first week living there because they just didnt connect the pipes. Any time you used the water in the master bath, you could hear the water dripping through the walls, even after the initial leak was repaired There was always a sour smell and I suspect much mold growing in the walls. The windows on the lower level leaked water. And the heater broke and leaked water throughout the downstairs. The landlord fixed the heater, but never cleaned the water and after repeated phonecalls, the lower level became unusable because of the black mold growing and staining the walls and floors and making my family sick.  The only upside? Central A/C… glorious glorious central air. Dont even get me started on the neighbors who were owners who hated the renters so much, they refused to do any work on our side (condo association work such as painting, planting, mowing). Our neighbors had a fishbowl for a dining room light because of the leaking from the bathroom in their unit. Months later, it has never been fixed. Recap for this house: Abysmal construction, uncaring landlords who just want to unload the place on some unsuspecting first time buyer.Unsafe, horrible, falling apart, place to live. Frankly, I have no idea how this place passed inspection in the first place.

The only reason we didn’t call inspectional services? We needed to have a place to live while we purchased and closed on our first home. Moving to a temporary place in between would have been expensive and stressful and we knew we were getting out of there. Also of note, they rented this place out as we were leaving. They did not fix the moldy floors or any of the problems we brought to their attention. In fact, they made sure to cover up any problems so they just looked as if they were fixed. They had no intention of ever fixing that lower level and I cant believe that rental agent let them get away with the charade.

Now for house #3.. our first, very own home. Built in 1956 and has had ONE owner until us. This house is solidly built. Plumbing, electrical, heating systems are all in great shape. Construction is solid and in some cases, hand done, lovingly, by the previous owner. This house, the construction is all superior quality. But you know what the downside is? All cosmetics. We have some work on our hands, wallpaper removal, painting, some kitchen and bathroom cosmetic renovations… but I will take that ANY day over the poor craftsmanship and sub quality construction work of the last two places. Recap for house #3: our home, we love it.

What this experience has showed me is that in today’s housing market, people want things to look nice instead of the construction being solid and long lasting. Is it the work ethic of today’s builders or renovators? Is it that they want to build cheap and sell high with no regard of the craftmanship involved? The homes that are built today will not be around in 200 years like the beautiful older homes that adorn my sleepy seaside town now. They just wont make it that long. Be diligent about checking the quality of a builder’s previous work. Be thoughtful when looking at a new home to buy or a new apartment to rent. Dont be swayed by the gleam of the granite and the shine of the stainless steel. Be smart, be aware. Appliances are easy to replace, black mold covered floors? Not so much.