It had been three weeks since we purchased our new home. Aside from a few minor dings and scratches, everything seemed to be in working order. The yard was trimmed, pool was crystal clear and ready to cool, and the smell of steak on the grill was drawing the neighbors to our first-ever house-warming party. It was an exciting time. Kids were playing, swimming, and wrestling about and the adults were enjoying a fine selection of craft beers, talking about what it was like to be a kid long ago. All seemed to be going well with our new home. Everyone was very impressed with how well maintained it was, being an 80-year old Craftsman Bungalow. Barry had even designed and built a pergola over the patio in the back, installed a high pressure mist system, and a new gas fire-pit. We were happy.
And then it happened.
“Mom! What is that smell?” She came running down the hallway from the down-stairs guest bath, face covered by her hand, gagging. “What smell,” I asked. “Oh, good god! Barry! The toiled must have overflowed! There’s water and…well, it’s everywhere!”
With a bundle of towels in his hand, Barry tackled the problem head on, but after a few seconds of plunging and squeeging, realized that nothing was happening. The clog wasn’t clearing out. “Hold on a second, honey.” He turned on the shower and then the sink only to find the same problem. It wasn’t just the toilet. After checking every drain in the house, Barry didn’t know what could be wrong. All of the drains were completely clogged.
“It’s time to call the plumber.” Janie, can you look for a plumber online?
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$6,000. Six. Thousand. Dollars. After the plumber arrived and inspected the plumbing lines, he found that the main line from the house to the city tap was severely damaged by roots and in some places had even partially collapsed. The line was clogged, and there was no way to apply a temporary fix. The whole line would need to be replaced.
[Fade to black]
Barry and Janie had a true emergency on their hands. They had just purchased a home, put a few thousand dollars down, paid a few thousand more for closing costs, inspections, and an appraisal, and weren’t expecting a major expense right out of the gates. Thankfully, since they were diligent about financial planning, they had an emergency fund set aside to handle this situation. That’s what Dave Ramsey, their financial counselor, had taught them. “Three to six months,” Dave would alway say. And three to six months is what they had diligently prepared for.
But, what about the nature of this particular unexpected event. Could it have been prevented? The answer is yes. Often the main sewer line is something that is overlooked when purchasing a home. After all, how could a 6″ tube 4 feet under the ground ever be a potential problem? It’s just a tube, right?
Inspection periods are designed to give you, the prospective buyer, an opportunity to inspect every aspect of the home that, in the future, you would be responsible for maintaining. If at any point you suspect something might need to be confirmed about the house you’re purchasing, that inspection period is when you need to do it. Inspections are done at the buyer’s cost, up front. They are non-recoverable fees, but I look at them as an insurance premium to minimize the exposure to risk.
Barry and Janie could have inspected that line prior to closing on their home, which would have become a known material fact about the property. This would have given them a position of strength when going back to the seller to negotiate repairs, and would have allowed them to make a more informed decision.
Luckily, they had planned financially for this situation, which meant that even though it was an unfortunate expense, it wasn’t an expense that would derail their financial future.