For most of the past thirty years I have experienced at second hand the machinations of the real estate world. Having grown up in a world where there were real estate salesmen – just like there were insurance salesmen – a world populated by real estate professionals is almost as dangerous as one populated by financial professionals and either can be injurious to your wallet in ways that you never imagined.
Having decided to desert Sodom on the Bayou and possessing a rough idea of what we needed the search began.
Several years previously my wife had been involved in a transaction where some people of her acquaintanceship had bought a spacious home on a huge lot with an extended garage and shop as well as a pool and a guesthouse. All of this nestled in a small village that was almost more rural than suburban and far enough from the thoroughfares to be quite if not secluded. Unfortunately they either got the last one or there are simply none available now.
Expanding the search there were a wealth of two storey houses and an absolute poverty of acceptable one storey houses. One of the few was on three acres but it had been built in 1956 and was judged too out of date, on a street with too much commercial development AND next door to some kind of Asian Monastery which did not frighten me so much as my wife worried about Hare Krishna rites being performed at all hours of the day and night.
One of the services offered by real estate professionals is staging a house and putting a picture portfolio on the internet so that you can get a feel for the property before you view it. The phrase that comes to mind for me is the one about putting lipstick on a pig to see if it can fly. The first of these that I came across looked like a beautiful brick country home sitting regally at the back of a long drive at sundown. It turned out to be a 1200 square foot house with a carport on an acre so devoid of tree or topography that you could have planted wheat. Ignoring the photographs and turning a jaundiced eye to the dimensions there were no two rooms in combination that would have given you enough space to change either your mind or your socks. I was reminded of the mobile home company that used to dress children as adults ostensibly to add an element of cuteness to their commercials but in reality to hide the fact that only the vertically challenged could occupy one of their homes without doing injury to themselves.
Next on the menu was a Frank Lloyd Wright style house. In realspeak this apparently includes anything built within the centenary of the great man that has a flat roof. Although it was on two plus acres with city water and sewer it included other city amenities such as a neighbor with a perpetual garage sale. The creek at the back of the property is a glorified drainage ditch with an access road that runs alongside and serves as a highway for housebreakers. The original garage had been converted into a bedroom/office, complete with rising damp, and replaced by a sheet metal shop that has not blown away only because it is ballasted by trash. The patio off the back glass wall that exposes the living area has more cracks than Obama’s resume and overlooks the entanglement of weeds that constitutes a wooded lot. The value added by the listing realtor was to let us know that not one but TWO offers were ready to be presented the next day – weeks later we have yet to see a sale pending sign.
Forsaking the hope of Heaven and praying to wind up no place worse than Purgatory we were trying to compromise on an apparently nice – if inauspicious – brick home on three quarters of an acre lost on a little dead end street where we could remain at home and unfound for the most part. It seemed to be in most ways adequate and to escape the cookie cutter pattern of most of Pearland which seems exclusively composed of poorly built tract homes for the sub-prime mortgage market. On houses more than 20 years old that have slab foundations you have the choice of those that have been previously repaired and those in need of more repair – either imminently or in the not too distant future.
We did not quite get to that determination since the electrical system had an FPE box and enough open splices throughout the attic and lack of GFI plugs in the kitchen, baths and utility rooms that we had more pressing worries. Added to this was the fact that there was a septic system which had not been pumped in the best part of a decade – when we were rude enough to suggest that we had no desire to buy the remaining contents of their sewage we were offered a pittance and the number of a discount pumping service.
Then we learned the truth! Having lived with power outages during storms we had determined to put in a natural gas powered standby generator. You can not hook one up to an FPE box and indeed Pearland may well not approve ANY additional circuits being run off such a box. In addition where it used to require 1 permit to hook up a standby generator it now requires 6 and Pearland may well be going the way of Houston where you are now almost required to have a permit to apply for a permit. Of course the permits do not add any sort of safety or quality to the work done – they simply generate an immediate fee and an excuse for increasing property taxes thereafter.
But this was only half of the cold hard facts of life. Older septic systems work through separation and returning the water back to the ground and have been used for centuries because they are effective and passive systems especially in a rural environment. The new systems are far more complex and therefore both more expensive to install and maintain. In that wonderful confluence of the interests between government and business if you have less than 1 acre and if the costs of maintenance and repair will exceed 25% of the value of the system you must replace your old system with a new one. The results are easy enough to predict and even though we spent $1,000 to find these things out at least we didn’t spend $250,000 to find out we could immediately spend $50,000 more.
While I would never accuse the current homeowner – or their realtor – of any of these properties of trying to conceal anything from us, NOBODY, and that includes the inspectors that we hired to examine the property in our behalf, was anxious to educate us as to these pitfalls and I can only thank the good people at the county offices and potential neighbors that I met as unhurried passersby for raising red flags. If you want to look at Pearland go a little bit farther to Manvel which is not so badly infected yet! We continue our search and will let you know about our travels on the way to Shambala.