Why Can’t You Test Drive a House?

If you can test drive a $25,000 vehicle, why can’t you test drive a house? After all we’ve been through with buying and selling our dream house, I would be sad if we bought our next house and later discovered there were deal breakers we couldn’t see during a couple of 30-minute walk-throughs.

Here are six deal breakers I’d be looking for in a test drive:

1. Street noise – A busy street can be a deal breaker, or it can be fine. The only way to know is to live there. Is there is a stop sign nearby so you are assaulted by the noise of braking and engine revving? Is truck traffic allowed? Do motorcycles drag race up and down the street every night? If it’s loud and you find out too late, your only good option is earplugs, and maybe, new windows, which will help insulate you from the sound.

Total for windows: $10,000.

2. Water- Nothing is worse than a drizzle of a shower. Nothing. Water pressure is a tough problem, and might be improved by digging up and replacing the pipe that runs from the street’s water main to your house with a wider pipe. Not only do I like my showers powerful, I like them hot. I need a big hot water heater, because often, I’m running the dishwasher and doing laundry while I shower. I have two boys and a lot of dirty clothes and dishes. Deal with me, people.

Total for a new water heater and pipe to the street: $8,500. 

3. Draftiness – Does cold air sail in from under the front door? Do the windows rattle and leak? Are the floors cold? Are the walls cold? Hard to tell when you and your real estate agent walk through the house wearing a coat and boots. Maybe the house is lacking insulation, an expensive proposition. A drafty house is going to increase my heating bills and plus, it’s not cozy, and I want my house to be cozy.

Total: An extra $50 a month in heating and cooling bills, for a total of $9,000 over the 15 years I plan to live in the house. 

4. Basement leakage and seepage – Sounds disgusting, right? Imagine your disgust at paying thousands of dollars to salvage your new home’s basement after the first torrential rain. If your yard gets enough rain to become super-saturated, the water has to go somewhere, and that somewhere will be your finished basement.

Total for waterproofing a basement: $15,000.

5. Appliances - You’d think someone would notice that the refrigerator door opens right into the (narrow enough already) doorway to the kitchen, wouldn’t you? You might not. What if the dishwasher is noisy and takes two and a half hours to run, and the gas stove is takes 20 minutes to boil a pot of pasta water? Now you’re in the market for a new dishwasher, stove and a double-door refrigerator, which is at least an improvement for a doorway-blockage problem, if not a total solution.

Total for appliances: $7,300

6. Garage – Our dream house had an attached two-car garage. It was empty when we toured the house, so we couldn’t tell that it was really a one-and-seven-eighths car garage. Expanding the garage wasn’t an option because of zoning laws, so I came up with the idea of buying a minivan. Minivan doors slide along the vehicle, saving several feet of garage space. Great solution — except that we had no money for a new car, because we’d spent it all on the house.

Total for a Honda Odyssey: $30,000

Let’s say we make every mistake in the book and buy a house needing all of these items. The grand total to make the house livable is $83,800. Better to know up front than be stuck later. If you are honest with yourself that you will add to the cost of the house to get what you really need and value, then you can and budget for it and include it in your cost calculations.

2 Responses to "Why Can’t You Test Drive a House?"

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  1. Tiffany L

    December 17, 2012 at 7:08 am

    That’s why a thorough house inspection is a MUST. I can’t get over how many people forego this important step. Of course, a house inspection will pick up things like the insulation and possibly basement issues, but probably not how the refrigerator door opens. I suspect, after your experience, you have an eagle eye for these things now. I’d also want to make sure I totally trust my realtor to have my best interests in mind so they can be a third eye, so to speak.

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  2. Jo

    December 17, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Couldn’t agree more! When we had the opportunity to “test drive” what we THOUGHT was our dream house a couple of years ago, we knew within a week or two of our 2-month lease that the house just wasn’t for us. Initially we were devastated that our closing date had been pushed back indefinitely, but it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to us. If we had closed as planned, we’d be stuck with a not-so-dreamy-after-all house; instead the turn of events gave us extra time to continue looking until we found a house that much better suited our needs. Although I miss certain aspects of the house formerly known as dream house (The huge yard! The gorgeous white stone countertops in the kitchen! The two-sided fireplace!) I’m incredibly grateful that we had the opportunity to walk away from it in the end.

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