Let’s Talk with Lois Winston

This Will Definitely Go in a Book!
By Lois Winston

After our recent move from New Jersey, we’re now settled in at our new home in Middle Tennessee. If you own stock in Lowes, Home Depot, or Amazon, my husband and I are most likely responsible for the recent increase in your portfolio. I shudder to think what our next credit card bills will look like!

I thought the real estate market in the NY Metro area was crazy, but I didn’t expect it to be worse in metropolitan Nashville. The house we bought went on the market on a Friday. We had an appointment to view it the next afternoon. At that point the owner already had five offers and was making a decision at three o’clock. After touring the home, we had about twenty minutes to submit a sixth offer before her deadline.

When you’re under that kind of pressure, you don’t have time to do a deep dive into the nooks and crannies of a house. The house is only seventeen years old, and it ticked off most of the boxes on our must-have list. But we were in for more than a few shocks when we did our walk-thru prior to taking possession last month.

The seller is a single parent of two teenage boys and a dog. She freely admitted that she pulled the batteries out of the smoke detectors when they beeped and never bothered to replace them. (“I guess that makes me an awful mother?” she asked with a shrug of her shoulders and a giggle.) Once I heard that, nothing I discovered surprised me. Here are but a few examples:

Food that had spilled inside kitchen cabinets was never cleaned up and had eaten away at the wood base and fossilized into rock-hard masses.

The granite kitchen counters are full of gouges and cuts, as if they were used in place of cutting boards. I don’t want to know what they were doing to create quarter-inch pock marks on the island.

I do remember looking inside the oven when we toured the house. It was clean. Apparently, after she had an agreement of sale in hand, she didn’t bother cleaning up any spills, which continued to bake onto the oven interior and wire racks during the months between the acceptance of our offer and the day we took possession.

At some point after the home inspection, she also dropped something heavy in one of the bathroom sinks, causing fine cracks in the bowl. Accidents do happen, though. But it would have been nice if she’d cleaned up the mascara she spilled in the sink at some point afterwards. Now the cracks are black. Straight bleach failed to get rid of them.

Nearly every square inch of wall space was covered with photos and kitschy framed sayings, from floor to ceiling. No care was taken in removing them. They were simply yanked off the walls, the picture frame hooks and nails pulling away wallboard. As I write this, my husband is walking around the house with a can of spackling compound, but he’ll need to haul the ladder in from the garage to get the holes near the 9-foot ceilings.

Star-Trek type adhesive LED light strips ran around the perimeters of the second-floor rooms. We tried various ways to remove them, but nothing worked that didn’t also pull off chunks of paint. The photo shows what the walls now look like after the strips were removed in one room. (That’s me on the left and my great-grandparents on the right.)

We had hoped to wait a year or two before painting. So much for best laid plans…

I’m currently finishing up the tenth Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, but I’m thinking ahead to the next book in the series. I may just have to base a victim on the former owner of our new home. I need the catharsis of killing off that woman—at least on the page.

Did you ever encounter surprises when moving to a new home? Share your experiences for a chance to win a print copy (U.S. residents only) or ebook of either Death by Killer Mop Doll or Revenge of the Crafty Corpse.

Also, while I have your attention, our Booklover’s Bench August contest is live now through Aug. 18. Enter for a chance to win a free mystery! Click here to enter.

Comments

  1. Moving is the worst. When we moved from New York to Florida the moving truck company somehow managed to “misplace” some of our valuable items. My father being the cheapskate he is hired some fly by night company to save money. We ended up losing on this foolish deal since we were never able to recover these items,

    • So sorry to hear this, Cherie. The moving industry doesn’t have a very good reputation. We decided to hire the company that moved us through a corporate move 23 years ago because we figured if a major corporation trusted them as their go-to movers for all their corporate moves, we wouldn’t have to worry. It cost more, but the peace of mind was worth it.

      I’ve heard quite a few horror stories regarding movers, including one friend where the movers never showed up, and they had to be out of their house that day because the new owners were taking procession later that afternoon.

  2. When we moved into the home we have now I found spider webs hanging like drapes in the corners of a large closet without a light bulb. An old hot water heater was on the patio. The former owner said he thought we’d like “a spare” in case the one in the garage went out. Also plenty of wall gouges. When I think of the hours I spent getting the house we sold ready for the new owners (spackling, touch-up painting, carpet cleaning, etc.) . . . well, I’m still glad I did it. Don’t want to be “that person.”

    • Understandable, Carolyn! The people who bought our house were a young couple with a baby. This was their first house. We offered to give them various pieces of furniture and all the lawn equipment we had planned to sell or donate. They were happy to have it all.

  3. What a bunch of awful surprises. You’re lucky you didn’t come across a dead body packed away. I remember when that discovery was made in my old neighborhood. The murderer was the first owner; the fifth owners discovered the body when they were making renovations.

    • Creepy, Marilyn! There was a case in Phila. years ago when we were living there. A guy killed his girlfriend and wrapped her body up in a trunk he stored in his closet. Then he fled the country. For some reason the police never searched his apartment after she was reported missing. It was decades before they tracked him down in France. At least all we discovered in our attic were old toys, dolls, photos, and Christmas ornaments.

  4. We bought our house years ago so we’ve had plenty of time to discover its “problems.” The one I remember best is the paperclip in the oil burner. The previous owner was good at fixing things and on the first cold snap the furnace broke down. The heating technician reported it was held together with wire and a paperclip. Hope you’re happy in your new place.

    • Yikes, Susan! I’ve heard of some interesting stories regarding unusual uses for paperclips, but this is a new one. I wonder if anyone has ever thought of writing “1,001 Ways to Use a Paperclip”?

  5. Lois, I’ve been there! I bought my house less than three years ago and it had been empty for several months. It was a rental in a former life. Oh, the crazy things I discovered. There’s a cord plugged into the outlet on the back porch that goes to a mysterious source under the porch. When I pulled out the stove, I discovered an old outlet with another mysterious cord plugged into it. No clue where it goes either. I found a towel stuffed into one of the registers. Lord only knows why. One room had the ceiling from hell that peeled whenever I tried to paint it. At one point, it looked like a ceiling in an abandoned house. And someone felt the need to use thumb tacks in the oddest places. But it certainly gives some great stories!

    • Pam, someone once told me that you should look at everything in life as plot potential. It’s certainly one way to help keep us sane through these discoveries. Instead of killing our darlings, we should kill these former owners–on paper, of course! 😉

  6. Syrl Ann Kazlo says

    Geez, And I thought I had it bad when I found out I had a ghost living in my house.

  7. Oh no! So sorry! We weren’t rushed quite as much as you when we were house shopping for this house, but boy did we end up with things we never expected when we closed on it. It was only 8 years old when we bought it. The garbage disposal broke our first day in the house. And we are not heavy users of disposals as we scrape off in the trash before we wash. The stove was gas and only one burner worked. Within the first week, I got the oven turned on and almost couldn’t get it turned off. So that was replaced, and while we were at it, the microwave wasn’t working either. We had to replace the shower in my daughter’s bathroom within the first month. The grout was actually crumbling and the shower head came out of the wall and caused a small amount of water damage in the guest bedroom closet on the other side of the shower wall. The previous owners were also apparently heavy users of cooking with oil, as oil residue was caked on the appliances, countertops, cabinet doors, and even the wall outlets and switches. It was gross! But it looked clean before we closed on the house, or so we thought. My husband also put in custom closet in the master bedroom. There was actually soot on the cloths racks, as if they had left candles burning in there. ??? Anyway, I should have just made a long story short and say that I feel your pain. I hope everything goes more smoothly for you from this point forward!

    • Renee, how awful! I feel your pain! I wonder if that soot in the closet was because the former owners were heavy smokers. I can’t imagine anyone being stupid enough to leave burning candles inside a closet, but you never know. There are a lot of people in this world who do really stupid things.

  8. We found a lot of things here that we didn’t expect. We changed the carpets and painting, but then we went ahead to update the sink faucets and shower fixtures. The back door needs replacing, and we had a gap in the roof letting in animals. Critter Control has now critter-proofed the house. Not to mention the leaves from a big oak tree clogging the gutters. We had to get permission from the HOA to remove trees. And we replaced the a/c units, although we knew about that one. You don’t really know what you are getting until you move in. Good luck with all your fixes, Lois. It gets done eventually.

  9. The only time we moved was into a new house we’d built. If we were to pull up our kitchen tile, one of the construction guys drew plans for an elaborate dog house on the boards. Right now we are having to pull up all our carpet and have it replaced after a pipe in the bathroom burst and flooded the house while we were at work. As we’re having to clear rooms and move all the furniture I’m hoping find the little green ball my cat lost months ago. She really liked that toy.

    • Plumbing leaks are the worst, Alicia. This house had the hot water heater on the second floor. Why? I have no idea. It could easily have been placed in the garage where many houses without basements have hot water heaters located. Having had two hot water heaters go on us in the past and cause basement flooding, we knew the first thing we had to do was swap the existing hot water heater out for a tankless one. A flooded basement is bad enough, but if that hot water heater in this house burst while we were away, it would have caused thousands and thousands of dollars worth of damage.

  10. Not too many issues in the townhouse I just moved into, other than the zillion spiders that want to cohabit with me. (I’m on a small lake) However, I am thinking of killing a stager in my next book. My mover told me if I wrapped her in bubble wrap, no one would notice the smell for a while. Good luck, Lois. That was one big move for you!

  11. I’ve been lucky not to have raving disasters. However, early in our marriage I wasn’t sure DIY was our jam. We were installing cute vinyl wallpaper in the baby-to-be’s nursery. We’d already put up a chair rail and painted the bottom half of the wall a glossy mauve to match the alphabet-laden wallpaper (it was the 80s okay?). Anyhoo, my engineer of a husband with his plumb bob kept pulling the vinyl strips off the wall to get them perfect. Soon we had the biggest mess of imperfection but nobody ever noticed. Luckily we moved before that paper needed to come down. Never again will we wallpaper. If it becomes The Thing again, we are sourcing that out! Glad you’ve moved closer to family, Lois. That’s something we all need to consider as our days accumulate.

    • Maggie, many, many years ago when our first-born suffered through his first cold, the humidifier we’d set up in the nursery caused the ceiling paint to start flecking off. We decided the smartest move was to wallpaper the ceiling. What a disaster that was! It taught me that some tasks are best left to the experts.

  12. I didn’t realize you’d moved down my way. (I’ve been in Nashville since 1992.) Yes, the real estate market here is crazy. It’s been getting worse over a period of time, but my husband – who’s a realtor – has never seen it as bad as it was this spring. It has calmed down a little now. We also sold our house over the summer, after buying a fixer-upper in February. So far, none of the discoveries have been bad, though. Except maybe for the perfectly rectangular hole in the backyard we discovered a month or so after closing. (It’s a very large backyard.) Still not sure whether someone took something out or planned to put something in, but it’s unpleasantly coffin-like.

    • Jenna, that hole sounds like it needs to go in a book! Yes, we’re now in TN. It will officially be a month on Monday. We should plan to get together for coffee at some point after this Delta craziness subsides.

  13. Our houses have all been old and needed major work; so, not much surprised us. Except for the twine instead of a wax ring at the base of the toilet. 🙂

  14. We moved in to discover all the light bulbs had been removed! This was a licensed residential facility for women with developmental disabilities we took over. Found porno magazines in a big cupboard. A case of peaches in the pantry was so old when we opened several they exploded. Threw them all away. In the freezer were stacks of TV dinners. Guess what the poor women ate every night. There was lots more. It all changed when we moved in.

    • Marilyn, lightbulb removal seems to be a thing with some people. My in-laws had the same experience with a house they bought years ago. In our last house, the former owners removed the light fixture attached to the master bedroom ceiling fan and the entire outdoor fixture that lit the path to the front door. We discovered both in our walk-thru before settlement. Our lawyer made them reimburse us to replace both.

      We haven’t discovered any porn magazines, exploding peaches, or TV dinners, though. However we did discover someone had left Christmas ornaments, dolls, a suitcase, and framed photos in the attic. Everything was very old. The dolls were all from the 70’s and 80’s. The photos looked like family portraits from the 50’s. But the house is only 17 yrs. old, so I’m not sure where they came from or why they were hidden in the attic.

  15. cherylhollon says

    We’ve been lucky with our house moves, but I think that’s probably due to the fact that we’re so laid back. Having skills also helps. We had some water damage in a 1920s Mediterranean Revival ceiling that we decided to restore with the original lath and plaster technique. Wow! That was a lot of work for not much difference if we had just used drywall. Fun, but we never did that again.

  16. Whew. Only minor things in our lovely home we moved to about four years ago. The owners had mounted a microwave too low over the stove, so we had to get a custom-built cabinet to match at the proper size for microwaves. I also had to paint over some lettering about their particular faith on one wall. That seems REALLY minor compared to your challenges, Lois.

    • Christine, one of the things the home inspector pointed out was that the microwave light didn’t work. We figured the bulb just needed replacing. We bought a new bulb, but the light still didn’t work. It turns out there’s no way to turn the light on and off. You can only program it to go on and off at set times. How weird is that? And that function isn’t working properly. No matter how you program it, the light never turns off. So now we keep the cover off and the bulb loosened. I tighten it whenever I need to see what I’m doing on the stove. This is a high-end Kitchen-Aid appliance! Tried calling them but their customer service is non-existent. Like so many companies nowadays, they don’t want to talk to customers. If you can’t find the solution to your problem online, forget it.

  17. Only once: we bought a home where we hated the kitchen wallpaper. Thinking it was an easy task, my husband and I proceeded to follow directions to take it down and ended up putting holes into the wall. Our cousin, who was an interior decorator, gave me the name of her best wall fixer/paper hanger and he agreed to tackle the job during a lunch break as he was working in a condo not far away. He came and discovered how much damage had been done so what he thought was going to be a little job took longer than he anticipated. As I sat in the kitchen with him, explaining how I hated the paper that the previous owner had loved (I had nodded when she told me how much she loved it), we heard someone enter the unlocked door behind us — it was the former owner. Seems it was her new condo he was supposed to be working at. He’d slipped that he was running over to our place to do a little job … and she was irked he wasn’t back yet. Not a good moment for any of us.

  18. Diane A.S. Stuckart/Anna Gerard says

    Holy Moly, you’d think people would have a bit of pride. My husband is a home inspector and sees some odd stuff, but most times the houses, even if cluttered, are clean (I proof his reports so I see all the photos). Let’s hope Madam Karma intervened and your seller had the same lovely experience with HER new house.

    • Diane, from what I understand, she was renovating a McMansion she bought. I have to wonder, though, how long it will take for it to look like the mess she left us. She was only in this house for 5 years!