Monday, April 16, 2012

The story's end

More than a month ago, I wrote about how we were house hunting, something we’d been working on for a couple months by that point. That saga ended on Friday when we took our house off the market. Naturally, there’s a bit of a story to that.

The day after I published that post last month, we accepted an offer to buy our house. That offer was conditional, as almost all real estate offers are. On the seventh day, the fifth business day, we received word that the offer had failed because of the buyers’ builder’s report (actually, a report from a home inspection company) they’d commissioned.

Most of the defects listed on the report were incredibly minor, even insultingly trivial (like a loose doorknob!), a few less so, but almost all were unimportant. They also found moisture in the walls in two small areas, and it was that, ultimately, that killed the deal.

New Zealand is in the grip of a national paranoid hysteria over what’s called the Leaky Homes Crisis. This began when the Fourth National Party Government changed the Building Act, reducing building standards to cut costs for the building industry, especially the big construction corporations who tended to support the National Party. As a result of the loosened standards, the codes were changed to allow the use of untreated timber in exterior wall framing.

At the same time, Mediterranean-style design (what I often call “faux Tuscan”) became popular for houses, despite its obvious unsuitability in a wet climate like New Zealand’s, especially Auckland’s. This style usually used monolithic cladding on the house, that is, plaster on fibre cement sheets with little or no gap between the cladding and the untreated timber it was fixed to. So, the design style often let water penetrate the wall cavity and the wood framing would rot.

The crisis will cost New Zealanders approximately $11.3 billion (by some estimates, up to $25 billion) and affects up to around 89,000 buildings (mainly homes and apartment buildings). A related result is that all plaster or stucco-clad houses in New Zealand are now assumed to be leaky buildings, regardless of when they were built or how they were built.

Fortunately, our house is NOT a leaky building. It’s constructed using a system called Cornerstone (their promotional video is at the top of this post and available for download from their site), which is basically reinforced concrete pillar and beam exterior walls, the spaces between the pillars filled with concrete poured into polystyrene forms. This gives the exterior walls high insulation value, great strength and—most important of all—NO timber, treated or otherwise, meaning there’s nothing structural that can rot. However, the house does have plaster cladding, and it’s that, ultimately that caused our problems.

We hired contractors to fix all the issues, the whole process taking about three weeks, during which there was no marketing of our house. At the end of all that, we held an unadvertised open home, and had renewed interest.

We had a new offer within days, again with the same conditions. Because of the Easter holiday weekend, the countdown didn’t actually begin until the following Tuesday, but on Friday, we received word that this offer, too, had failed, also because of the report this buyer had commissioned.

This new report was quite different and, ultimately, worse. The guy who did the report was clearly and obviously biased against the Cornerstone building technique, and sounded sceptical that it was any good. While some of the “issues” he raised could, theoretically, become actual issues one day, so, too, could the house be crushed by a falling meteor. The point is, he was stating supposed risks in the most extreme terms and based entirely on his prejudice against the Cornerstone system. While there may possibly have been some theoretical validity to the problems he mentioned, the reality is that those problems were greatly exaggerated both in scope and implication.

Nevertheless, that killed the offer on the table, and realistically, any other offers. The house had been “on the market”, technically at least, for some six weeks at that point, in a market in which houses are selling within days. Add to that the exaggerated risk and it became unlikely that we’d get an offer at all or, if we did, it would be dramatically below the house’s actual value. Right now, we’re just collateral damage, as a friend of mine put it; it’s totally unfair, but there’s nothing we can do about it.

So, where to now? Well, in one way, clearly nowhere: Since we can’t sell, we’re staying here, basically restarting the old adventure before this story began. Fortunately, we actually quite like this house (it’s a lovely home) and its location; neither were ever the issue. Instead, it’s just that our needs have changed over the years, and we anticipate further changes in the years ahead. So, instead of moving, we’ll just make some changes to this house so it better meets our needs.

And one last thing about this change: The week we went on the market and got that first ill-fated offer, I got a gout attack, a pretty bad one, actually. That attack continued, in one form or another, ever since, sometimes really bad, other times just mostly discomfort, but always with stiffness and pain, even when it was only more or less an ache.

Saturday morning I woke up and was instantly aware I felt NO pain. It was as if my body was releasing me from the pain I’d experienced all these weeks because the cause was gone.

And that’s a really good place to begin the new old adventure. Reboot.

No comments: