Property disclosure statements. In-depth home inspection reports. While both are reliable staples in the real estate industry, when it comes to uncovering many property defects it's tough to replace good old common sense or a basic question: "What's wrong with this picture?"
Two personal examples come to mind, both somewhat painful and expensive!
#1: The one-mile garden hose: The view from the property would rival any picture postcard---pastoral rolling hills encircling a rushing river more than six-hundred feet below. But the house was certainly nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, it showed signs of negligence, especially outside (which should have been my first clue). I thought I did a fairly thorough property check at the time, but later realized I was so taken by the view that I ignored a few telltale signs of concern.
One was a one-mile garden hose reaching from the back of the house to the front, sprinkling an area approximately fifteen feet in front of a second, unused faucet. When I turned on that faucet the pressure was weak which the owner said always happened if another outside faucet was in use. Apparently she told the home inspector the same story since he too failed to detect any major problem (but that's another story!)
After moving in, I uncovered the depth of the problem after running the front faucet for two hours and finding three inches of water in the daylight basement trying to float my computer's CPU! Either that winter (or a previous one) the uncovered faucet had frozen, breaking the pipes behind the wall. In retrospect, if I'd asked myself "what's wrong with this mile-long-hose picture" I would have taken the extra effort to uncover the problem before getting stuck with its consequences.
#2: The leaf-dropping tree: The house had recently been renovated and was perfect for a rental. But a definite selling point was the grand live oak standing sentinel in the front yard. It added just the right amount of shade and was home to a plethora of squirrels and birds.
Preoccupied with the tree's ambience, I unfortunately failed to notice that it was dropping leaves, out of season. Not until a major branch hurled through the neighbor's roof during a Florida storm did we realize that the live oak no longer was. After removing the tree, a somewhat unattractive $2,000 stump remains.
In both situations, there was a property disclosure statement; and in both, a home inspection. My options were to make the sellers responsible for not disclosing the problems, an action I attempted in the first situation to no avail in addition to threatening the home inspector with legal action.
We all make errors in decision making, especially when it comes to something as emotionally charged as real estate. But after nearly three decades in the real estate business, I find the more I trust my instincts and ask "what's wrong with this picture" when initially evaluating the pros and cons of a property, the more likely I am to save myself time, effort and money.
Now, about that 300-foot extension cord....