First-time homebuyer horror stories

Water plays a major role in stories from homeowners who uncovered disaster after they had closed on their first homes, according to one website's collection.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Apr 3, 2012 1:12PM

Man watching water stream from leak in ceiling (© Joel Sartore/National Geographic/Getty Images)We've all heard stories of first-time homebuyers who unknowingly bought a money pit. There was even a movie.


When I bought my first home, as soon as the water main was turned on, a flood began to gush from the ceiling. I was lucky. It turned out to be merely a broken pipe carrying the water supply from the kitchen to the wet bar in the living room, and we caught it before it did major damage. Repairs were $60.


Curbed set out to collect disaster stories of first-time homebuyers and found some doozies, both from home searches and home purchases. The winning story also involved water leaks.


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Here were some of the contenders:

  • In Washington, D.C., prospective homebuyers were looking at what they thought was an empty house. As part of the search, they opened the door to the basement and prepared to check out the downstairs. The home searcher writes: "As I began to descend, a door suddenly opened and an overweight man in boxer shorts and black tube socks burst out of one room and ran into another one. I screamed and ran up the stairs. We all then ran out of the house."
  • In Atlanta, despite a home inspection, a buyer had no idea how much work was needed on a 1960s-era house that had been vacant for a year. The homeowner writes: "For the first major project, my experienced reno friends used a garden hose to spray all of the ceilings to remove the ancient popcorn texture. It rained 50 years of cigarette smoke and filthy ceiling curds on our heads like an Amazonian jungle storm of nasty. ... Apparently the filth was holding the house together because after we removed the popcorn, the plaster ceiling began collapsing in my bedroom." And that was just one project. 
  • In Detroit, an interior designer bought a two-story brick home at a county auction for $5,000. Her extensive research did not unearth the fact that the home, which had been vacant for 30 years, was on the city's demolition list. She couldn't get any utilities turned on until she got the demolition officially canceled. She writes: "I spent days at the Coleman Young building navigating the ridiculous maze of "go to this dept, no that dept, not MY dept, pay this fee, now that fee, oh, and don't forget these fees" until I finally got the piece of paper that said I'm off the demo list (I hope this bit of info makes it to the wrecking crews)."

The winning story came from Philadelphia, where the homeowners uncovered a plethora of plumbing woes, after their home inspector pronounced the house "solid." As the husband took his first shower, his wife discovered that the water was draining through the ceiling onto a couch on the first floor. And then there was the bucket in the wall. The homeowner writes:

During a nighttime rainstorm, we awoke to find a puddle of water on the kitchen counter. We inspected a particularly water-damaged soffet to find, inside the soffet framing, a quart-sized bucket that had been built in behind the drywall. The infamous bucket, covered in black algae and disgusting mold, had captured who-knows-how-many years' worth of disgusting roof-filtered rainwater, and spilled over who-knows-how-many times. We ended up gutting the entire kitchen.

These kinds of surprises aren't just for new homebuyers, of course.

I once bought a home in which the previous owner had redone the bathroom and kitchen – but had failed to reconnect the plumbing under the sinks.

Tip: Make sure someone is there when the water is turned on for the first time.


Can you top these stories? What's your worst home-hunting or homebuying horror story?









May 12, 2012 8:27PM

We bought a brand new log home in a beautiful setting. The day we arrived, there was a waterfall running through the air conditioning unit, and 6" of red clay in the unit.

 Seperately, the sewer line was never connected to the septic line, so everything backed up 3 days into the new house. The furnace was never converted from gas jets to propane, so it melted down. The tile floor in the lower level started to come up as we arrived. The water pipes burst the first winter.

The dryer vents were never connected to the outside so it was venting into a crawl space, the lower level cement pad was severely cracked, and never repaired, the house had trees growing within 3" of the new construction, there was no way to get to the lower level, except through the house, they buried the construction debris under the gravel driveway, all the screens on the deck were blown out.

Most importantly, the developer had agreed that any and all of these items on the punch list would be completed before we arrived. We held $10K at closing, and used every bit to complete his work. When we finally sold it, the house was amazing, and in great shape for the new owners. Oh, yea one more thing, check the Covenents and Restrictions before you buy. This neighborhood forbid too many animals, cars that wern't working, and RV's but there was no restriction on shooting guns off your deck.... really, you can't make this stuff up.

May 12, 2012 7:26PM
My husband and I decided to upgrade and buy a home that was being built this winter.  The day we were to close we found out that the builder had a tax lein against the property which set us back a few days on closing. The day before we were to close we did one last walk through and noticed damage to the kitchen cabinets that was not there two days before.  When the builder finally got his act together and got the tax lein cleared up we sign papers and found out that they could not find the keys. I had to track down one of the construction workers to let us in. They still had the contractors knob on the front door.  The keys were found in a drawer in the kitchen.  It took them 3 months to come over and fix the kitchen cabinets that were damaged.  We had to call the contractor to come back and put weather stripping around the doors that was suppose to be done before we moved in.  Just the other day when cleaning the bathroom I was wiping down the tub and the fauced moved about 3" in both directions.  The builder will not call back when called about issues.  I would not have another home built buy this builder ever again.
May 12, 2012 7:08PM
Great Story! A home buyer uses a Garden Hose to remove the accoustic ceiling and another bought a home for $5000 without doing her homework or using a professional and these genius's had problems. Who would have ever predicted that?
May 12, 2012 5:28PM

Jack posts are often used to keep joists from sagging as you say, but are spaced far apart.  In this case the jack posts were arranged in a circle 4 feet apart to prop up the rotting floor joists.

May 12, 2012 12:20PM

My wife and I bought our first house in a new housing track.It was brand new complete with a 6 foot privacy fence.You can imagine the excitement.When we moved in we noticed the dryer outlet and the stove outlet were switched.How could they miss something like that?Later they built more homes in back of us on a hill.No more privacy and we got all thier rainwater.Backyard never fully dried.over the summer and winter seasons we spent thousands on heater and AC repairs.They said the Duct vents were not the right size making the unit work harder.The repair cost contributed to our bankruptsy( that and me losing my job).We were told the house would go up for auction on March 29th.The final step towards foreclosure. So we did what anyone else would have done,,,we moved.We were happy to be out of that house but the trouble did not end there. Just last Friday we got a notice from the city saying we still had to mow the lawn at the old house.No Way!! After a few phone calls we learned the auction was cancelled by the bank's lawyers and didn't tell us.So now we are renting a house but own another house that we cant do anything with.No telling when it will go up for auction.

The American dream is no longer to own a home. The new American dream is to have a good job.

Glen in Dallas--what do you mean that there were six jack posts holding the floor up? Is that why you decided to not buy the home? Most homes have jack posts permanently installed to keep the joists from sagging. That's why jack posts are used... so they can be adjusted. Any kind of wood is eventually going to sag. It's actually pretty common in older homes to have a little sag in the floor, but it's corrected pretty easily. My house was bulit in 2008 and it has nine jack posts in different locations that are all embedded in the concrete floor. Their job is to hold the house up.
May 12, 2012 8:06AM
the sewer lines weren't 'connected' to the city lines so everything that went down the toilets or sinks for 3 months stayed under the house. & since we closed on the home in December, we didn't smell anything until the end of March ! yeah, that was a fun clean-up.  no refund on the 3 months of city sewer fees either even though the city came out and dug MULTIPLE world war 1 trenches for 3 days, finally giving up and proclaiming that there were no pipes anymore even though we were on main street !  the old terracotta pipes had disintegrated years earlier. home had been vacant for a couple of years which was not disclosed and the previous owner knew & covered up the problem too well since she was a lawyer !
May 12, 2012 7:39AM
One older place we looked at was nicely remodeled inside, but there seemed to be a curious slope to the center of the floor. Going into the basement I saw 6 jack-posts holding the floor up.

Another place I went to inspect the basement and found 2 feet of water.  The tenants (a young couple who had not responded to the real estate agent's knock because they were busy in the bedroom) told me that they had unplugged the sump pump.  Good idea, with a basement full of water it was unlikely that they would be forced out if the house sold.

A place we did buy turned out to have had a major roof leak in the past.  Did not dicover this until we decided to replace the living room carpet with wood tiles. Found the floor rotting in one corner, and the wall studs and a roof rafter rotted.  Had to take vacation from work and do the repairs myself.

May 12, 2012 7:27AM
bought a handy mans special in 93-16000, carefully went through it room by room, from top to the very bottom,it toke me 6 long years,completely renovated it.from the ground up with just me and my father inlaw done all the work when all was done the house was valued at 150,000.the house was originally built at the turn of the century,early id never do it again-no loans were taken out on it payed for it as i went when we decided to move gto raped on taxes

I don't understand why the second entry is even here. They sprayed a plaster ceiling with water. Why does she think it started to collapse? It's not like they used a wet rag on the ceiling. They used a garden hose.


If you click the link that takes you to the entire article this is from, the author goes on to say that she had to hold up the plaster ceiling with a wing and a prayer until she could find someone brave enough to let concrete fall on their heads. Why was there concrete in the ceiling, and why was it falling?


That story doesn't make any sense.

May 12, 2012 5:33AM
This really happened. I went with a realtor friend to look at a house. The outside was fine. We went in and i wanted to turn around and leave. The living room walls were blood red but also had weird markings on them. She took us down the basement to show us around and there up against the wall was a dirty, stained mattress on the floor and one bare light bulb hanging down from the celing. She put her grandfather down there to live. Yikes! He died there. A mother cat had just had a litter of kittens on that crummy mattress. We couldn't wait to get out of there, but she wanted to show us the upstairs. We didn't want to be rude but this is where it really gets scary. There was 2 bedrooms on either side of the top of the stair case, she showed the one on the left but the one on the right had a big paddlock on it. Deb and i said thanks and we couldn't get out of there fast enough! What was behind that door? Creepy
May 12, 2012 2:56AM
Home Buying Horror Story:  Went to settle on our new house Fannie Mae REO property after selling our house earlier that morning (Feb 29, 2012).  The seller never showed and noone and could tell us what happened and why we couldn' settle.  We only know it had to do with Act 91.  We were homeless with nowhere to go and out almost $1K for a home inspection, association fees, etc.  3 months later and we are told that the home we were supposed to buy may not be on the market for another 3 years.  We sit and wait to find another home, we have all of our items in storage and are stuck in an apartment until we can find another house.  I just feel bad the neighbors and the community of the house we were supposed to move into.  Now, the grass is overgrown and the property looks so run down and many of the neighbors paid well over $300K for their homes to wake up and look at an eye sore every day.  Thanks Fannie Mae and Act 91 from preventing us to purchase our perfect home! 
May 12, 2012 2:33AM
Just another reason to check references on home inspectors and have all utilities turned on so all systems can be inspected for any major problems. I know it might be difficult in cases when a house has been vacant for a prolonged period, but all the more reason to do so.
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