The Trials and Tribulations of Buying a House – Part ? – Landscaping


Late May.

One of the most beautiful times of the year is late May. It’s still cool enough to sleep with the windows open on most nights. No heat, no air conditioning. The perennials are blooming. It’s the beginnings of the greenery on the trees, the brightness of the flowers in the morning sun while we’re still getting used to daylight savings time and early mornings with sunlight streaming in.

This is also a good time to begin your new house buying event. Schools are still in session so you can check them out before you choose on a house. It gives you all summer to give your notice to the apartment manager; time to move in before the school year starts and a whole host of other factors that.

This is merely one part of our story. Eventually, this will be a complete and concise account of what we went through; what we still go through seven years later into our home ownership.

The myth of buying a house is that it is a wonderful experience. It is moving ahead, giving your kids and yourself a secure place to grow up and live; a home and all that idea encompasses. Our experience was mostly good in the process, but the hindsight is a killer.

Our inexperience and reliance on ‘experts’ in the field did us a severe disservice. We spent money that we shouldn’t have, and our expectations were fed by people who would make money on our house and walk away, while we were stuck here with the problems. This especially included the previous owners who did little to maintain the house and walked away with a profit. My teeth gnash just thinking about it.

It’s easy to say get a buyer’s agent, an inspector, etc. We did that; we did all of the right things. Everyone we used was a word of mouth contractor. We relied on people we trusted who had good experiences but unfortunately we were wrong, and as I’ve said, we are still paying for it.

We will be paying for it as long as we own the house.

I will tell you something else that almost no one will ever say because typically it is not true, but the only person we were wholly satisfied with was our mortgage lender. He was the one who recommended our realtor, but other than that, he was the most helpful person we had to deal with, and currently, the mortgage bank continues to be the most helpful house related company that we do deal with and would wholeheartedly recommend.

We started by deciding what county we wanted to live in. This wasn’t so much wanted as could afford, and that meant leaving the county we were already in. the difference between the two counties and the houses we looked at was over $35,000.

Then it was time to choose towns to look at. And then we began to look at houses. We saw three, each one better than the other.

I’ll talk more about their differences in other essays, but for this one I want to concentrate on Landscaping.

For many people who buy a first home, they are moving from an apartment, and with this economy, many of these people also grew up in apartments, so they have no real experience in taking care of the outside of a house. Even for those who grow up in a house and marry young, their parents take care of much of that work or they hire landscapers, so there is no real idea of the amount of work that needs to be done just to maintain the status quo of a neat looking house. It also seems to look easy to the less experienced eye, like mine.

Fortunately, my husband had a slightly better idea than I did about gardening and the like, but even so, late May can be deceiving.

Our house has a fenced in yard, which is a huge advantage when you have kids. There is also a swing set and seemingly easy to maintain plants and flowers. To the untrained eye, it is a wonderful yard. Bordering the neighbor’s fence with forsythia bushes. There are three more in the backyard that separates the two tiered garden and four in the front offering privacy on our corner lot.

There is a lilac tree in the back that smells wonderfully.

There was an above ground pool that was surrounded by bread and butter hostas. There were four hostas bordering the four car driveway (part finished, part gravel) and several more hostas alternating with bright colored flowering plants in the raised brick garden in the front. (The pool and the driveway are their own stories.)

The entire property is bordered on two sides with over thirty pine trees. Not a maple or oak, which would make fall a bit easier.

A few weeks ago, I was leaving my driveway and I had to pause, seeing the morning sunlight streaming through the pine branches, shade covering the grass and the porch and I wondered why I was going anywhere. I should just grab my folding chair and grab my Kindle or journal and sit in my front yard, enjoying the nature. This is the kind of day that we moved to the suburbs for.

My musing was cut short when I recalled that this was much like the morning that we came to the house for the first time; for the inspection. Looking around, meeting the family, smelling the flowers.

This was truly our first instance of disappointment. I still remember the bunch of lilacs in a small vase on their dining room table. I couldn’t wait to cut my own and have that lovely lilac smell at my own table while I spent an hour or so next to them writing. The scent was evocative of many things, mostly things that I anticipated happening in a few months when we moved in.

After we moved in, it wasn’t five minutes that we were standing in the front yard, excited at the new path our lives were heading down when a C-130 flew overhead, low to the ground, directly over our house. We’d never been told that we were in the direct flight path of the Air National Guard for their practice runs. At night, when I’m sitting on the sofa, their lights come right in the front window and look for a split second as if a semi-truck is barreling towards our house, creating a momentary panic. They are loud. That day was the first time we’d ever seen or heard them fly over, mere weeks before the fifth anniversary of 9-11. It set off waves of minor panic attacks for me.

The forsythias in the front technically weren’t supposed to be there according to the town, but in lieu of fines or taking them down, we needed to trim them so drivers could see around the corner.

Being on the corner, dogs come right into the middle of the lawn and have actually changed the direction of how one of the bushes grows. The pretty yellow flowers also only last two to three weeks, then it’s back to green or completely bare in the winter.

The hostas continue to grow well, but you’d have to be ridiculously careless to kill them. The flowering plants were all annuals, so they all died and never came back. I know the difference now between perennial and annuals.

The lilacs grow very briefly and disappear usually before the first of June.

The pine trees shed in the fall – pine needles and cones and our neighbor’s trees are oaks, so there is a lot of fall clean up just from their leaves being blown into our yard by nature.

The grass grows quickly and the lawn mower they so generously left us lasted about two weeks.

The back porch which is simply an enclosed patio is an illegal addition and if we want to fix it properly it would need a permit.

The chain link fence that surrounds half of the yard was put in the wrong space so we are paying taxes on property that our neighbor has in his yard and we have no use of it unless we take our neighbor to court and rectify the mistake, which we, as actually decent people feel guilty about so haven’t done anything about it yet. We wouldn’t even have known if the neighbor hadn’t informed us of the mistake.

As a mason, the previous owner dumped cement on the side of the house, and the four car driveway was only deeded to be a two car driveway, and we will run into problems adjusting that, although with all of the other work this house needs and will continue to need the chances that we can afford to repave the driveway is nearly nil.

The previous owner also had the septic tank pumped a week before our inspection, therefore reducing the chance to actually find any problems with the antiquated system. That is also another, very long drawn out story of what we would call a fraudulent situation, and it will come in time.

This is the first time I’ve been able to write any of this down, not only to share with you, but for myself. I have a few notes to remind me and pictures of the havoc the previous owners did to the house before we moved in, the lies we were told and other assorted nasties, but in seven years of living here and complaining inwardly and to each other and vague rants, this is the first time that I’ve been emotionally able to get anything down on paper or screen as the case may be.

Some of this will sound trite and minor, but when you add it all up, the emotion and the money, sometimes it is too much to bear, considering the cost of a house. Our cash portion of our payment was money that I received because my mother died or we couldn’t have afforded a house in the first place. That partial payment of over $55,000 was more than my parents paid for their house in 1977.

We did everything right and we were still taken advantage of. When did the American dream go from owning your own home to praying that you don’t lose everything because of someone else’s incompetence?

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