We’ve all heard the stories – where a dream home turns into a nightmare. Sometimes it is just an unexpected repair cost. The air conditioner quits working the second time it’s turned on. The bathtub doesn’t drain if you take more than three minutes to shower. The first time it rains you find out the entire street floods and your home becomes an island. None of those are insurmountable.

Some of these people found bigger nightmares in their dream homes.

Waking up with a fracking well next door.

When Gary and Sharon Cooley built their dream home in 1996, it was nestled next to 2,000 acres of beautiful state forest. They had no clue the state would sell the mineral rights under the forest in 2012:

In 2012, their dream became a nightmare as Encana embarked on a hydraulic fracturing gas well and gas pipeline project on the state land—just 59 feet away from his home.

Finding out that your home already has hundreds of residents.

Angie Whitley thought she had found her dream home. She did everything right – she had the house inspected and performed several walk-through tours before signing on the dotted line. While she was bringing in her first box, she found a snake. Then another, and another, and holy WOW – so far she has found and removed 95 garter snakes from her home. There are many more outside. Night. Mare.

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Owning a hazardous waste site.

Mark Cohen was told by his home inspector that there was a “slight leak” in the underground oil storage tank. The inspector assured him that it was “no big deal.” Three and a half years later, his dream home has become the scene of the worst environmental disaster in the town’s history. Oops.

Finding out your dream home makes you sick.

Michael and Teresa Kelly found their dream home and moved into it in 2000. In 2008, when they decided to downsize, they put their dream home on the market. The discovery of deadly black mold turned their dream home into a death trap. The home was condemned in May 2009. In 2016, the Kelly family was still embroiled in legal battles with the contractor who built the house, trying to recuperate at least some of their investment.

The photo below, supplied by Michael Kelly, shows the water pooling under their sitting room.

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How to Avoid Buying a “Dream Home” That Turns Into a Nightmare

While no one can predict or prevent every catastrophe in life, there are some things you can do as a home buyer to avoid most surprises. Some extra research time before signing any contract will serve you well.

First get an inspection and check local records.

  • Hire an independent inspector. Your real estate agent may have an inspector already, but their goal is to sell you a house to collect their commission. By hiring your own inspector, you get the peace of mind of knowing that they won’t lie to you or neglect to mention something like deadly black mold or snakes.
  • Check county/municipal records. Who owns the land around your intended purchase? Are there any potential projects planned for the future? Will you wake up in a year with a shopping center next door?
  • Check zoning requirements. What is the zoning designation? What types of residences will be springing up near you? Is it a business residential area? Are there any plans to make changes in the zoning?

Then do some more due diligence.

  • Talk to neighbors. Find out what concerns they have. Ask them if they enjoy living there. Most people will be happy to meet potential new neighbors. They’ll also be more honest and forthcoming about problems like street flooding, poor city services, or other potential headaches than your real estate agent.
  • Purchase a good homeowners insurance policy. Read all the small print and exclusionary clauses. If they cover flood damages, but only during Monsoon season when the moon is full at noon on Tuesday, they really won’t be covering potential flood damage.
  • READ YOUR CONTRACT — make sure it has a “Truth Clause” or “Full Disclosure Clause.” Home contracts can be boring, long, and full of excess verbiage. Sit down and read it from beginning to end. Make a list of any questions you have and ask for clarification on them. In states that require full disclosure, problems like snakes and black mold need to be mentioned.

Following the above precautionary steps won’t guarantee that your dream home won’t turn into a nightmare purchase, but having a plan will lower the odds significantly.

You Missed Something and now You Have a Project

You did everything right, but after moving into your dream home you still have projects you want to do. There might be things you want to change or improve. Maybe you missed something or thought you could live with it, but now it bothers you. Perhaps you bought your house because you saw between the cracks and there is beauty beneath the surface. Or something breaks and you need to fix it. These are the inevitable problems of home ownership. And part of what makes owning a home both satisfying and totally infuriating.

It isn’t the end of the world, though. Whether you bought your home knowing it needed fixing, or you got a surprise after you moved in, it doesn’t matter. Almost all problems have a ready fix. All projects have a process from beginning to end. The key at this point is to be prepared and follow through to complete your project whether you’re doing the work or you’ve hired in a contractor.

Being prepared is the best starting point.

Nothing is more important to any project than organization. If you bought a nightmare home to make it your dream home, planning and organization will be your best friend. No one can plan for every contingency, but being prepared is a good beginning.

We made a short list of things that you can do to help your planning stay on track from beginning to end.

  1. Make a list of what needs to be fixed or renovated. Include as much as you can think of in order to see your project through from dream to completion. You will inevitably forget something (we all do), but the more comprehensive your list the less you forget.
  1. Research. If you’re fixing it yourself, make sure you know how to fix it. If you are using a contractor, make sure that your project is within their abilities.
  1. Prepare a budget and track expenditures. Always round UP when estimating costs. Extra funds left over at the end of a project is so much better than having to put completion of a project on hold because you run out of budget before you run out of project.
  1. Plan your time frame. Always pad the time required with extra time. If your contractor bids two weeks, give him 3-4 weeks from start to finish (but you don’t have to share this with him). If you are doing your own repairs or renovations, add even more time because… life. Give yourself extra time, you can be elated when you finish ahead of schedule.
  1. As you progress, resist the impulse to add more to each project. As you are working, you will notice something else that needs doing, or that you want done. Make those side projects separate, with their own budget and time frame. Without separation, you might find yourself in a never-ending loop that sees a lot of small item progress, but your original big project never seems to get finished.
  1. Reward yourself when you finish each project. Use the left-over amount in your budget to buy a room decoration, or to treat yourself to a special bottle of wine. Whatever your personal tastes are – after completing a project is when you reward you (and your family).

Enjoy Your Dream Home

The bottom line in any dream home purchase is to keep your goals and projects realistic. Know your limitations, and know when to call in reinforcements. Your back-up could be a knowledgeable friend or a professional contractor. Planning works wonders. Whether you are buying a house to flip and sell or working on your lifelong residence — planning will make everything flow better.

Don’t be afraid to dream.

Featured image from Robin Zebrowski via Flickr under CC BY 2.0

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