Homeowners develop a caring relationship with their homes

#654 in a series of true experiences in real estate

Owning is different from renting. While you may take pride in your place when you are renting, you probably won’t do much to the basic structure because it doesn’t belong to you.

I’ve lived in rentals. I painted and cleaned and gardened. When I painted, I wiped up the splatters from the floor, removed and put back the light plate covers. But I didn’t begin by carefully sanding the woodwork. It wasn’t my woodwork.

In one apartment I changed the kitchen cupboard handles to great effect, but I couldn’t see any reason to buy brass ones. Plastic was fine.

Yes, I gardened. I weeded and dug and planted – but no trees. Inexpensive bedding plants and seed were what I put in. Because it was temporary; I always knew I’d be moving on.

Then I bought my own house. Suddenly my eyesight improved, my standards went up, and everything got a lot more expensive. Ninety-nine cent handles would not do; I bought the five dollar ones. Now that the woodwork was mine, I scraped and sanded before I applied primer, and then the paint. And I bought trees in five-gallon containers.

I guess it’s like kids. When they are someone else’s, that’s their problem. When they’re yours, you have to pay attention. I read the other day that raising a child to age 18 costs around $250,000. On average, of course. No doubt, many parents spend more, some kids get by on less. How much do people spend on their houses, I wonder.

Maybe you intend to buy a house that doesn’t need anything. “Move-in ready” agents say. So it isn’t your plan to fix up your house. You don’t know how, you don’t have time – it’s not your thing. But there’s a problem. Houses are made of lots of parts. You may not have thought much about it, but the parts wear out, become outdated, need care.

Keeping your house together takes time, thought and money. Maybe you’ve never caulked anything in your life. You recognize cracks in plaster but you have no idea what to do about them – or even if something needs to be done. Electricity is just plain scary, and plumbing beyond the pale.

Wait – you do know some things. You know that something must be done when water is coming in through the ceiling or when you no longer have heat. When it’s your house, you can’t call the landlord. You’ll either have to learn very fast how to fix these things yourself or you’ll have to hire someone.

In an emergency, you quick, call people. You reach, of course, an answering machine. Getting something fixed by someone else involves identifying a problem, locating a potential fixer person, calling, connecting, describing, and then meeting the person – usually during the week when you would otherwise be working. This all happens before you pay money to the person you hired, a person who sometimes knows what he is doing, but sometimes not.

Okay, so you’re going to do it yourself. You probably won’t put on a new roof yourself, but you can certainly paint the living room. You gather your supplies: paint and rollers, sandpaper and a ladder. (You forgot, you’ll need a ladder?)

Standing now in your living room, you realize that you’ll need to do some patching. Back to the store you go, this time for masking tape and paper, spackle and knife.

Everything goes along fine until you realize how long it is going to take to sand all of the woodwork. An electric sander would be a big help. And, because you want to do a good job,  you’ll need to remove the switch covers, the light fixture, door and window hardware. An electric screwdriver is in your future. Maybe a window scraper, too, and probably other handy items you will happen to see at the hardware store.

Note that your plan was a simple one. You are not taking down walls. But you do think that the overhead light fixture in the living room could be more attractive. The door hardware doesn’t match; it should be changed. And, while the floor will look better when it is waxed and polished, refinishing it would be a vast improvement.

See how it snowballs? Probably you have heard your car mechanic say, “We’re going to pull the engine to fix the what-not, so we might as well replace a bunch of these other parts, too.” It’s like that with houses. Somehow the smallest, simplest project becomes bigger and broader.

This isn’t meant to scare you. You will likely find, as I have, that time-consuming and expensive though it is, there are rewards to owning a home. For example, it’s true that you can’t call the landlord to replace your hot water heater. But the flip side is, if it fails and you’ve got to buy a new one anyway, for a little more money, you can get one with a 50-gallon capacity.

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