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A "Swimming Pool on the Roof" Brings Down Sarah's Offer

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Sarah Buys a House chronicles Sarah DeGiorgis' journey along the road to becoming a property owner in West Philadelphia. If you have any tips or questions for Sarah, ping our tipline:

When we left off, I was in possession of a strange and uninformative seller’s disclosure and the knowledge that there was another offer on this house. Before I made my own offer, I did what any sane person would do: I walked by the house obsessively. During the day, during the week, on weekends, at night, in the morning—you name it. I found out that a friend knew the man who lived next door, and my friend said he couldn’t imagine a better neighbor. I had already managed to scare meet the neighbors on the other side, a very nice grandparenty couple. The house directly across the street was owned and lived in by the same family for 50-plus years. The other houses on the street reflected the fact people took pride in their homes and wanted them to look nice. All good things, in my opinion.

So I submitted an offer along with my buyer’s sheet. Without going into too much detail, I have a pretty good buyer’s sheet. I’ve been steadily employed for seven years, and I’ve been approved for a loan from Penn, which is an extra $7,500. My credit is good, and I’ve paid off my student loans. (My first summer in Philly, I lived in a $250-per-month apartment in Port Richmond with no air conditioning and waited tables at the City Tavern. Yes, I wore that stupid bonnet and period dress and yes, working there is as bad as you’d imagine.)

I had no idea what to offer. My agent said the general rule is to look at similar properties that sold in the past six months. That was tricky because this house is between neighborhoods, so even within a three-block radius the numbers were strikingly varied. I couldn’t rely on the seller’s disclosure to tell me the actual condition of the house; at the very least, I needed an inspection for that. But taking into account what I did know, I submitted an offer that was about $10,000 less than the asking price and crossed my fingers.

And hey! The seller liked my buyer’s sheet best. But the counter offer was too high—it was almost back up to the asking price. My realtor suggested a seller’s assist, which is when the seller puts a percentage of money toward repairs. I increased my offer by half, added the seller’s assist and the seller accepted. Hooray!

Of course, I knew the house wasn’t mine yet. First I’d need an inspection. I Googled all sorts of things common in old houses. Knob and tube wiring. Lead paint. Asbestos. Radon. Termites. Mold. Uninsulated windows. I read horror stories of homeownership and scared myself.

The inspection is supposed to take about two hours, tops, but mine was a bit longer. And ... things need work. Let’s start at the literal top: The house needs a new roof. Completely. The roof has been patched and repatched with tar, and when new roofing material was added, the old was never taken off, leading to lots of moisture. The gutters were entirely clogged so basically there was a swimming pool on the roof (inspector’s words, not mine). Okay then.

Next, the basement: The furnace was close to 50 years old. That’s way past the lifetime of a furnace and it was also cracked, which is a definite hazard. So new roof and new furnace. Now on to the wiring. The inspector took one look at wiring along the cellar ceiling and turned to me. “Do you know what knob and tube wiring is?” “Yes!” I said brightly. “I’ve been researching.” The good news is that this house is only partly knob and tube wiring. I was kind of expecting to see porcelain knobs throughout the ceiling. Still needs to be updated, though.

The foundation is solid. There’s one small crack in one of the joists in the basement and just a little bit of rotting wood on the front porch. There were no signs of termites. There was very little mold (just a tiny bit in the bathroom upstairs, though I’m sure there is probably more we can’t see) considering it's a house with a swimming pool on the roof.

Now my task is to retool my offer to reflect the necessary repairs as pointed out in the inspection. The nice thing about inspections is they provide you with an itemized report with pictures and low and high price quotes. The range is pretty large but still gives you an idea of how much money you’d have to spend to get the house into habitable condition.

This time, I’m going to offer a bit less than I feel comfortable paying so that if they counter it with their own offer I can go up a bit and then say that’s as high as I’m willing to go. Because when it comes down to it, I only have so much money to spend, and if this isn’t within my budget, I’m just going to have to start over.
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