The Pain Of Home Ownership – Our $3,000 Headache

Water

Upon arriving at the laundry room in our basement, I noticed a small patch of water on the floor and another patch in the carpet area near that room’s door.

Part of me was puzzled “Where did the water come from?”

I tried to calm myself down and reasoned that someone might have spilled water there.

I cleaned up the water leak and then forgot about it.

After two days, the water mark on the carpet started spreading slowly but surely.

I saw another patch of water on the floor of the laundry room.

This time I got worried.

I checked the ceiling and the nearby area to see if any water was leaking from somewhere.

I didn’t see anything.

Related: How We Bought Our 1st Home

The unknown

Over the next week, we called three different plumbers to look at the problem, and none of them knew exactly what was causing the water leak.

One simply said he didn’t find any problems and left.

One said it was a broken pipe underground, and that we needed to call the water company in our area so that they could send someone to look at the pipes.

One said it might have been a crack in the foundation where the rain water was coming from. We freaked out.

What does it mean exactly? Do we need to dig up the concrete floor to find out what it is? Should we start peeling off the carpet to make sure?

The water leak started small.

In moments like this, I just wished that Mr. FAF were more of a handyman who can troubleshoot and solve a repair problem instead of frantically calling expensive professionals.

The good thing is that the plumbers who came to our house weren’t sure what the problem was, so they didn’t charge us.

But that didn’t make us feel any better. We’d rather pay someone and have them tell us how we can fix the water leak.

Mr. FAF started calling basement waterproofing companies, but they didn’t even call us back. He called our realtor for a handyman recommendation, but she was not responsive since we no longer do business together.

I contacted our home insurance company and opened a claim. Someone would come to assess the damage and recommend the best course of actions for us. In a nutshell, we got really stressed out and even had a fight about what to do.

Actually, we argue almost every time there’s a big problem with our house. I’m not even sure why. But the stress and frustration is certainly part of the reason.

Related: The Costs Of Marital Conflict

Dreading home ownership

During those days, I started to dread owning a home. I reminisced those days when we were renting and had someone fix a broken disposal or a dysfunctional fridge after a day or two.

We didn’t need to worry about the maintenance fee or purchasing new appliances. It was all covered in our rent. I even wished we were renting instead of owning a home.

Then I started doubting my wish to be a landlord. Do I want to deal with troublesome tenants and seemingly endless repairs that cost a ton of money or do I want to be stress-free with my money in a stock brokerage account?

Lily at The Frugal Gene might be right. Owning a rental is no fun. I don’t even enjoy fixing things around my own home. How will I deal with even more problems in two houses?

Even if I outsource management to someone else, they will just call a plumber or an electrician. We still have to pay. They don’t care if the problem is fixed or not. Only we do.

I dreaded owning a home and having to deal with all the repairs so much that I asked Mr. FAF if he still wanted to buy a rental, hoping that he would say no. To my surprise, Mr. FAF said yes. He reasoned that this is part of life.

In a way, he’s right. I can’t just live in a bubble forever. The fact is that we are now homeowners. As with everything in life, home ownership comes with perks but also carries with it risks. We can’t just enjoy roses and chocolate forever. We need to get our hands dirty.

I vaguely realized that maybe I was just being too chicken to face challenges. I thrive on stability. But life is not always stable. In fact, life is full of surprises many of which are unpleasant.

I really didn’t mind paying thousands of dollars for the repair. I just wanted to know what the problem was so that we could put a stop to it. No professional could tell us what we wanted to know.

The fear of the unknown was overwhelming and debilitating. I went to work thinking about the water leak. When Mr. FAF and I were supposed to spend romantic time with each other, we started talking about what to do about the issue and started arguing.

If we can’t even keep peace because of one house repair, how will we survive a major renovation or multiple repairs at a rental? I didn’t even want to think about the answer.

I started dreading owning a home. 

Neighbor to the rescue (or not)

Out of desperation, I posted a picture of the water leak onto our community Facebook page to see if anyone had had a similar problem with their basement. After all, our townhouse models are pretty similar.

My wonderful neighbors responded within minutes. One gentleman in particular said that since the water leak was so close to the water heater, he guessed that the water heater was leaking.

It was one of the biggest eureka moments in my life. Three professionals came to check the problem plus one married couple could not pinpoint what the issue was. A helpful neighbor diagnosed the problem for us through a tiny picture on Facebook.

I thanked him profusely and contacted a water heater company right away. They said they would charge $110 just to come and take a look at the problem.

Having had professionals come free of charge since they didn’t find the source of the leakage, I was determined to look up another company that offers a free diagnosis.

I don’t mind paying for the repair. But if they come and tell us the same thing “I don’t see any problems,” it would be such a waste of money and a huge disappointment to us.

Alas, I found a company that sent someone to look at the water heater for free. He told us that the tank was already at the end of its life (9 years old) and was rusted out from the bottom where the water was leaking from. He said it could have been much worse.

I breathed a sigh of relief and signed up for a package that included a new water heater, an expansion tank, a 10-year warranty that will offer us a free tank and free replacement service if the current one breaks. It was $2,791, including a $45 fee for them to haul away the old water heater (a total of $2,836).

The plumber spent almost 3 hours replacing the tank. He came to our house at around 9:30 AM, checked the water heater, went over the different price options, and left to get a new tank. He then came back at 11:20 AM and didn’t leave until 2:30 PM. He basically spent pretty much the whole day fixing the water heater problem for us.

Without the expansion tank (to release the pressure from the main tank) and the free replacement service (estimated to be $700 in the future and $500 if we purchase it now), the total would be about $1,600 (tank, labor, 10-year warranty).

At that time, we were ready to spend $4,000-$5,000 or even more on the repair, so both of us were relieved when we heard the price. We went with the most comprehensive package that cost us $2,836, including tax).

Related: Why We Don’t Buy Home Warranty

More problems to come

And then the leak started to spread.

After dropping almost $3,000 on the water heater, we were relieved and happy that the problem had been taken care of, or so we thought.

We ran a fan next to the water leak 24/7 for two weeks. However, the water leak didn’t go away. It kept spreading.

This time, we saw patches of water in other areas of the basement carpet as well.

I freaked out. Again.

My stress level went through the roof. Mr. FAF blamed me for being so sure that it was the water heater which cost us $2,800.

I fought back saying I just listened to the pro. If I had known what the problem was, I could have gotten it fixed by now.

In a nutshell, we argued. Tension engulfed our house. I dreaded home ownership. Again.

The solution

A 5th plumber came to our house to check out the problem and was puzzled as to where the water might have come from. He checked everything and even poked a few holes in the ceiling of the basement bathroom, but he didn’t find anything.

After an hour of constant checking all the walls and the floor and all the possible nooks and crannies, he was about to give up. He told us to call a specialized company which can use a sensor to detect water behind dry walls.

It would cost us $1,000 for the diagnosis alone. My heart sank.

Seeing my disappointment, he said he would check one last place again. And boom! He found out what it was. A pipe was improperly installed behind a drywall he had torn.

Water was gushing from the pipe when we turned on the faucet in the basement bathroom. That’s why other plumbers couldn’t find it. They would have to tear out the drywall and turn on the faucet, which none of them had done.

I breathed a sigh of relief. It cost us $175 in total.

A somewhat happy ending

Frustrated and angry with the previous plumber who assured us that it was the water heater that was causing the problem, I called the company to complain and ask for a partial refund.

At first, the company denied any responsibility and said that the water heater might have been part of the problem. We went back and forth for hours over the next couple of days.

In the end, I showed them evidence of the gushing pipe and asked them if they had any evidence to back up their water heater claim. They had none. I asked for a $1,400 refund. They came back with $700. And we agreed on $1,000.

We got $1,000 back. They also offered us a free one-year plan valued at $150 which we can used to have technicians check for problems with our plumbing, electrical wiring, water heater, and HVAC (no repair) once a year. I didn’t think the plan was that great but agreed to take it anyway. After all, it was free.

In total, the new water heater cost us $1,836. And our water leak problem was fixed.

I don’t know what our next big repair will be, but I will try to stay calm and positive about being a homeowner and a problem solver. And a rental property? Maybe. We’ll see.

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13 thoughts on “The Pain Of Home Ownership – Our $3,000 Headache”

  • Wow, and we’ve been looking forward to purchasing our first house this year. Stories like these truly scare me, and i start to wonder if i really have it that bad renting.

    We want to finally make the plunge and buy that first started home in a good school district as my daughter is just entering school age. And a few characters have moved into our apartment complex lately, my neighbor who lives right on top of us plays loud music into the wee hours of the night. Frankly i’m just tired of dealing with that type of crap as well.

    Glad you all finally found the problem, yikes! scary

  • Whoa, that was stressful. We replaced our water heater a couple of years ago. There should be a pan below the water heater. If there is moisture in there, it means the tank is leaking. I kept an eye on that and replaced our tank when it started leaking. Usually it is a very slow process.
    Good thing you found the problem. That sounds like a difficult one. The basement at our rental has water problem too. When there heavy rain for 4-5 days, we’d get water down there. The foundation is just too old and it’s porous. When the ground get saturated, water comes in. Repair would cost over $10,000. It’s an unfinished basement so we just put a dehumidifier down there and turn it on whenever it’s wet. Actually rarely happens so no big deal. Just need to dry it out when it gets wet.

    When we’re old, we’re going to rent, for sure. Owning a home is too much trouble.

  • Water troubles are the worst because they always come with the dread of a majorly expensive fix. It sounds like you came out pretty lucky. I’m glad you got it figured out!

  • Good for you for being insistent about getting some money back from the water heater installation. Water issues are the worst. I’m glad you got it figured out. Luckily, there are far more good days when it comes to home ownership (or even owning a rental property) than there are bad ones.

  • “Lily at The Frugal Gene might be right.”
    That’s right, she’s a smart lady! :9 REI is for people who are handy enough and not afraid to deal with stuff like this. For me, our rental was good but the smallest problem made me crazy. We dealt with it but it was just… moments of boredom splashed with moments of “wtf help me idk what I’m doing pls call me back.”

    Stocks, I love stocks 😍😍

  • Sorry to hear about the nightmare! These things happen more often than they should, and I’ve been through my fair share. I guess over time, we can learn to become more resourceful from our mistakes.

    When I realized that many of these jobs cost way more than my hourly rate, I made an effort to at least learn the basics of home repairs, maintenance, and DIY. I still call the contractors when there is heavy lifting, but at least I feel more confident that I’m less likely to be scammed now.

  • Dang, water leaks are always so stressful! I had to this winter I think, but luckily I found it was just a clogged drain in our light well. The good thing is you have a new water heater that will last for hopefully 10 years! When they burst, they flood a room as happened to me before. Better to fix it before bursts. I can’t deal with too many rentals anymore. It’s a young person’s game.

  • Good for you for getting a partial refund from the water heater company. Even if that wasn’t the source of the problem, it was a good idea to replace your water heater if it was 9 years old. You don’t want that to burst on you (ours almost did).

    Water problems are a potential issue in every type of residence. We live in a ground floor condo, and have been flooded twice by the third floor neighbor who let her bathtub overflow (yes, twice). It was a major repair project (and a huge hassle) both times, but thankfully it was covered by her insurance. Make sure you get the carpet and walls completely dried out, otherwise you could eventually have a mold problem.

    And renting is no guarantee you will be free from such problems. A woman I know had her apartment flooded by an upstairs neighbor, and she ended up having to move. It was a major inconvenience, but she didn’t want to risk living in a moldy apartment. I don’t blame her.

  • Wow that is quite the stressful story right there. I own a home and do not enjoy when it rains or there is any chance that there might be a water issue in our basement. Like you, I would not have been happy/pretty upset after the third plumber told me that they could not find it. Despite the fact that it took a while and it was expensive (although you battled the you know what out of them and cut the cost by $1,000!), it is nice to hear that you left with a resolution to the problem and it wasn’t worse. Nice job getting the cost down as well!

    Bert

  • Water related stuff is so stressful! We’re dealing with a bit of that at the mo ourselves. That said we also dealt with it as renters and had a LL who tried to blame it on us (he was a crappy LL with no money and really no business being in RE)

  • Water leak is a very stressful thing. We had a similar problem with our rental property and couple of years ago. The tenant noticed the water from the wall. Like you, I had no idea what to do as I am not the handiest person. Fortunately our tenant was a plumber so he proactively try to seek out the issue. He ended up replacing the water heater too and thought that was the issue. It was only part of the issue. When the water heater broke and flood the pipes,it damaged some pipes too. Not to mention a coat closet and bathroom wall that he also helped replaced to prevent any mold issues down the road. Final cost was about $2,000.

    It was a stressful time for myself and I was just lucky to have a tenant who was very handy! He has since moved out to purchase his own home. 😔

  • I own four rentals as well as my own home. There are many types of issues you can face with rentals. It helps to at least know basics about home repair and maintenance. While your situation may have been more difficult than average to diagnose seeing as how a few professionals could not find the problem (wow, I am surprised), in the spectrum of home repairs, it ranks as fairly easy. It’s probably good to understand if you have the temperament for owning rentals.

    I think you were cheated on the water heater, although your old one was already 9 years old so it got some good use. If the water heater was causing your problem, it should have been pretty obvious to cause that much pooling inside your house.

    I have owned trouble-free and extremely troublesome rentals. The most troublesome rental repair-wise was a 100 year old single family home that was not well maintained over the years. There were leaks all over the house from the outside, and over a period of decades, one corner of the house rotted away. The year I took over management of this property, I spent close to $100k in repair work. It took months of patience and research to find all the leaks. In the end it was worth it because the property value has skyrocketed (almost a million dollars in appreciation) and cash flows $40,000 a year after expenses. But it ate up almost a year of my time.

    Not only do you have to deal with property repairs but you have to deal with tenant screening, misbehavior, and demands. It takes a calm personality, decent communication skills, and some technical knowledge. That said, I knew very little about rental properties when I first started real estate investing but now I can diagnose and handle just about any situation. It took a few years of experience and study, though. Helps with home repairs in your own house too. You develop a good sense of how much work is involved and how much it will cost when something goes wrong. As with everything else in life, you can look at it as frustrating or as a learning process.

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