Tuesday, January 17

What You Don't See on HGTV

Note: this is a bit of a rant, based on the recent experiences of myself and several of my friends. You're welcome to skip reading it or to leave you opinion in the comments, but this was your fair warning.  :)

We don't watch much tv around here, but occasionally while I'm cleaning or quilting I'll catch an episode of something on HGTV as background noise. One of the shows I tend to enjoy is Unsellables, where a professional home stager goes in and helps people who have been unable to sell their homes figure out why and make changes for no more than a couple thousand dollars that will bring in buyers and get them sold.

Sometimes, changes are laughably simple: the first three steps are always clean, declutter and fix the stupid little things (oil squeaky doors, tighten loose knobs, or cut back the overgrown plants outside). Painting over insanely bright wall colors, getting rid of huge furniture crowding a space and putting up new house numbers so people can find the place to begin with are often sufficient to bring in crowds and rack up offers.

Unfortunately, the hardest part about watching is knowing what they aren't showing: all the houses rejected because they needed far more than a weekend and some elbow grease. It's become appallingly clear that there is a tragic disconnect between people's ideas about their houses and their actions towards them

To hear people talk, home is the precious command center from which we run our lives and the nest in which we nurture families and friendships.

Financial gurus call houses investments. They appreciate in value and can be strategically chosen and improved to bring a great return on investment when you're ready to move on to the next one.

Taking care of a house should, therefore, be a win-win.

The current reality is a far, sad cry from that ideal. Home sellers blithely check "no water damage" on paper when a simple glance at the poor paint-over job proves the lie. They boast of their new roof, unconcerned about the mis-installed insulation causing the base of the roof to rot out underneath. Sellers install shiny synthetic floors expecting a top dollar return, despite structural or functional issues that will take time, energy and big funding to repair.

Is this part of why the housing market continues to slump? Because buying a house right now is a Catch-22?

Buyers are expected to somehow pay good price for a house and either continue ignoring the core issues themselves until they reach a crisis point, or to find the money to fix it on top of the sale price and hefty taxes, closing fees and moving costs.

I completely empathize with people who don't want to dump tons of money into a home they don't intend to stay in or who counted on the money from their house to pay off the mortgage and fund their next place. But with budgets stretched all around, where is the give here?

Do we assume that every person/ family who has been working hard and saving for years to earn the right to own a home will further cut their standard of living, buy a derelict house and slowly restore?

Do we expect sellers to suck it up and lose money in the sale as payment for their ignorance or carelessness?

I don't know how to fix the current mess, but I would like to offer a simple suggestion to everyone intending to buy, sell or build a home in the future: educate yourself about what really matters and make good choices. 

- Make sure all work is up to code and done right every time. Have the dignity to do things right the first time around, even if it means delaying projects or sacrificing luxury extras somewhere.

- Don't assume contractors will do a good job (or that they have done one just because it looks nice). They cut corners like everyone else. We've had real estate agents flat out tell us they see new construction fail code inspections! Be smart, hold your ground and follow up.

- Learn what to look for and bring someone you trust to help assess if you're not sure. A house's suitability for you doesn't really lie in whether or not it has granite counter tops and two sinks in the master bathroom (my pet peeves from other HGTV shows... lol): what matters is whether or not it is safe and structurally sound for the long haul!

- Don't buy someone else's problem. Make people responsible for what they are trying to sell and their headaches will give other sellers serious motivation to make sure their house isn't a problem to sell.

- If at all possible, start planning to sell your house early (like from the day you buy it) so you have time to invest wisely. You're much better off doing the hard, boring stuff while you're still in the house and can benefit from it than doing a spit and polish routine you'll end up paying for later.

- Finally, take advantage of outside funding! There are many local and state grant programs that help homeowners make upgrades/ do repairs that qualify as environmental or safety improvements. Insurance companies may also offer funds for improving your land or property, especially if it not recently built and therefore not up to current code.

If we each pitch in, wherever we are in the cycle, we can slowly fix this mess our national carelessness had made. What do you think?

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