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Monday, May 07, 2007

Home Maintenance

Did you ever walk around an older neighborhood and really take a good look at the homes? I live in a very nice neighborhood. The homes are probably between 20-30 years old. But the trends are disturbing. It seems that homes get very neglected over time. I'm trying to understand why that is. What is it about human nature that allows us to so badly neglect things?

I went out for a stroll this morning. There's one house not far from here that has totally dead grass clear across the front. Not surprisingly, the shrubbery is totally overgrown and filled with weeds. Moreover the windows are filthy, screens are torn and the house is badly in need of a good painting. This is a creek-lot home, probably appraising in the upper $300's range. Continuing around the corner, I spotted another. Grass was still alive, but the paint was deplorable. Trim is rotting. Gutters are full of junk and falling off.

Are these "divorce houses?" I used to live in a neighborhood where I was on the board for the homeowners association. There were two houses in that neighborhood that we had trouble keeping up. The HOA was constantly after them to keep up their houses. Both were occupied by single mothers who had gotten the house in the divorce, but apparently not the income to maintain it. (Do they consider such things when fighting to get the house in a divorce?)

Are these the homes of senior citizens? Do the owners just get too old and feeble to properly care for their homes? Are they living on a fixed income that won't support proper maintenance of these homes? Or are these the homes of eccentric artists who are too busy arguing the existential existence of mankind to be bothered by nuisances such as cleaning out gutters, painting trim, washing windows or trimming bushes?

Whatever the case may be, do they realize the stewardship issue at hand? Do typical home owners have any concept of what it takes to properly maintain a home? I read somewhere last year that a good rule of thumb for home maintenance is to budget five percent of the value of a home for annual maintenance and repairs. My own personal experience suggests that this would be pretty accurate. And that wouldn't allow for major renovation projects --- just routine maintenance and repairs. How many people put that in their budgets? How many people live in such a way as to have that kind of money available for such expenditures? I suspect not that many.

I have to confess that I have a personal bias here. My wife and I are particularly drawn to older homes. We've purchased several homes over the years, and only one of them was brand new. All of the others have been more than 20 years old. And each time, we inherit a pile of "deferred maintenance." Filters not changed, motors not maintained, cracks not caulked, chimneys not cleaned, you name it. The expense is considerable to bring the home up to date with maintenance. And then we work to keep it that way while we live in it.

But based on my own experience and observations walking around, I suspect that when we sell a home, it falls back into the hands of those who would neglect it. And I wonder why. But you see, I have plenty of time to sit and think about such things. I'm at home today, while the plumber is fixing a leak under our foundation, waiting for an electrician to re-wire the greenhouse and a pool repair company to replace the pump and motor on our pool. Yes, they're all scheduled today. I wonder if I'll get more opportunities to think about this next month!

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