From the NYT:
Any buyer knows that a dream home can become a nightmare. But most people don’t expect it to happen to them.
Steven and Michelle Hicks found what looked like the perfect home: a two-story, mid-1920s Dutch colonial on three-quarters of an acre in Millburn, N.J. But months after moving into the 1,856-square-foot house, they realized just how elusive a dream home can be.
When a broker urged them to look at 264 Glen Avenue in Millburn in 2012, their long search ended. “It was gorgeous,” Mr. Hicks said. Bay windows let in glorious light, and French doors graced the living room. The front yard had a stream running through it with a footbridge, and the house looked out into the thick woods of the South Mountain Reservation, whose southern tip began just across the street.
They offered the seller’s asking price of $650,000, and “she just took it,” Mr. Hicks recalled. In retrospect, he said, “That should have told us something.”
Once they moved in, problems quickly mounted. New windows had been installed in some rooms, but haphazardly, without insulation. A contractor told them that the previous owner had removed a load-bearing wall without putting a hefty beam across the ceiling to make up for the missing wall. “Nothing was shoring up the second floor,” Ms. Hicks said. An electrician told them the wiring was not grounded, and that a fire could break out at any time.
The basement had a tankless water heater, a selling point for the Hickses. But shortly after they moved in, it stopped working. It was supplying water to a Rube Goldberg series of pipes that traveled all the way to the attic and then into the rooms for the radiators, looping throughout the house and covering so much distance that the water cooled by the time it got to where it was needed. During last year’s often bitter winter, the radiators couldn’t get the second floor warmer than 48 degrees. Ms. Hicks said she was working from home, “but with a hat on” and a space heater glowing.
The previous owner, Carol Royal, said that when she left the house, “everything was fine, as far as I was concerned.” She said she has bought many homes in need of repair, and said, “first-time home buyers, they expect everything to be perfect. But it’s not.”
Ms. Hicks’s favorite feature of the house had been the hand-laid tile on the floor of the master bath, which gave the impression of a riverbed. But by the end of their first summer, the tiles were cracking. The plywood subfloor was inadequate and incomplete; the floor was sinking.
That winter, they lost access to one of the showers when the pipes froze; the pipes ran along an outside wall over the covered porch and had not been insulated.
Some things simply seemed slipshod. When Mr. Hicks leaned against the granite countertop on the kitchen island, it slid. It had never been attached.
The Hickses had paid for an inspection, but many of the problems were hidden behind the redone walls. Mr. Hicks said he wished that he had picked up on subtle signals the inspector may have been sending. “He was a little bit more apologetic than he should have been,” he said. In the basement, the inspector noticed that the beams supporting the kitchen had been notched to run wiring and pipes, reducing the load-bearing capacity. “You are not supposed to do that,” he told them, “but are you going to have 40 people in the kitchen?”