Friday, February 25, 2011
And here I almost fell for Punxsutawny Phil’s prediction of an early Spring this year! I guess it just goes to show you that weather people and weather creatures of all species are never 100% accurate.
Knowing this to be the case, my motto is: Always be prepared. And although my intention is not to terrify anyone, I’m going to share a couple of experiences I’ve had with winter property issues, and to some of you they may come across sounding more like horror stories than anything else…
Back in the 1980’s, I had a listing on an unique cottage on the Ocean Drive. It was a lovely site, an historic property overlooking the marshes near Cherry Creek.
Shortly after the holidays, which is when real estate typically slows way down and sellers sneak away to St. Barth’s, I received an unexpected request to see the house. I say unexpected, because this was right after a major blizzard! But I drove out to the house, parked on the road (didn’t even bother with the driveway due to the 2+ feet of snow that had yet to be plowed), and trudged up, key in hand, to get inside and turn the heat up for the showing.
As I got closer to the door, however, I noticed something a little out of the ordinary; there was water running under the door and over the sill! “Oh, &*%$!” I thought. I opened the door, only to discover that the radiator next to the door had cracked open, and a huge chunk of cast iron was sitting on the floor, with water spraying everywhere! The front foyer had become its own winter water park, with a lake spanning the hardwood entry and streams of water cascading downward to the sunken living room and onto the owner’s favorite Persian rug.
I headed to the basement, only to discover that it was full of water too! Feeling like an intrepid explorer on a spelunking expedition, I waded and groped my way through the murky darkness until I found the shutoff valve and turned it hard to the right.
Back upstairs, when the potential buyers and their agent arrived, I politely informed them of the situation and suggested that they might want to come back another time. I then got back in my car, my feet frigid as my pant legs froze over, drove back to my office on Bellevue, and made the calls to notify the owner and the oil company to check the furnace. (Just to clarify for some of my younger readers who may be confused as to why I had to drive two miles to get to a phone: don’t be afraid, but yes, there was once a time before cell phones even existed… Terrifying, I know. And yet somehow, we survived!) It turned out that the oil company hadn’t been able to deliver because the driveway was unplowed (!) and the owner had simply assumed everything would be fine because they had an “auto fill” contract!
Here’s another one! An investor who bought the parish house from a local church was from out of town, and he was unfamiliar with our New England winters. According to the gossip at the time, he figured that he could close the property up and let it sit until it was ready for development. He remained blissfully oblivious that his property had a problem until he received a water bill for tens of thousands of dollars! The heat had been off and the household pipes had frozen, thawed, and then filled the basement with water, and it was running out the windows and in a babbling brook down the hill towards Thames Street!
Needless to say, New England weather poses challenges for real estate owners. Early in the cold season, you should have your heating system cleaned and checked, arrange for automatic fuel delivery, and leave the thermostat no lower than 55 degrees – especially if you are going to leave town for any period of time. Make sure that you also make arrangements to have your drive plowed, walk cleared and have someone check the property regularly while you’re gone. This is especially important in case there is a power outage that lasts more than a few hours in very cold weather; your property manager will need to shut off the water and drain the pipes.
There are a number of reputable property management firms in the area that, for a small fee, will be more than happy to look after your home while you are away. Hire a firm or have a friend who knows your plumber, electrician, and handyman check your house regularly, so that you can bask in the sun without worrying about coming home to Loch Ness.