We love our home, a 100-year-old row house in the West Harlem section of New York City. When we purchased this place 14 years ago, we couldn’t believe our luck. It was the ideal space for us to raise our family, we thought—and perhaps even to live in forever.
But no matter how perfect a home might seem at first glance, you can rest assured that reality will soon make itself felt, in an array of jarring and often unwelcome surprises.
After we moved in, some crazy things caught us off guard—a few of which we probably should have anticipated. Others, though, were simply shockers through and through. So here’s what we learned after moving in.
Read on, to prepare yourself for the nightmarish surprises that inevitably accompany finding a dream home!
1. Our adorable couch didn’t fit
We moved from a spacious two-bedroom, prewar apartment on the Upper West Side to an old, 16.5-foot-wide house with tiny nooks.
Our living room barely fit two club chairs, and the huge, traditional couch we lugged in didn’t work there at all.
Our next thought was to put it in the basement den for TV viewing, but we couldn’t squeeze it down the skinny flight of stairs. In the end, we had to abandon our beloved couch on the street (sob!), where it was quickly snapped up.
Lesson learned: Measure every room and passageway of your new place before you commit to bringing all of your old furniture. We knew that this smaller setting might be a tight fit for some of our larger items, but we figured that we’d somehow make it work. (Obviously, we were wrong.)
2. Not all the bathroom pipes were hooked up
Our young girls took a bath together the night after we moved in, and played Stormy Seas, which, of course, is a competition to see who can create the best waves. Alas, the overflow to the tub wasn’t connected to the main drain, and water poured down the wall into the dining room.
Lesson learned: We now know that on the final walk-through before buying a home, you should make sure to turn on every faucet in every sink and tub—and fill each one up to see if you spot any leaks.
Then, poke your head inside the bathroom vanities, to check for any drips or dampness. Had we done that, we would have realized that something was up with that tub, and been able to negotiate for the seller to repair the problem before we moved in.
3. The glorious skylights had leaks
At first, we were thrilled to see skylights. The problem? During the week we moved in, a huge rainstorm revealed that these lovely skylights were riddled with leaks, which dripped straight onto the floor.
After the tub debacle, I was convinced that water damage would ruin this house in our first month there.
Lesson learned: If possible, try to tour your home in rain, snow, or other inclement weather, to see how the roof holds up. This is particularly true if you have skylights, which are notorious for leaking—even the best ones.
4. The cozy fireplace was ridiculously tiny
We were thrilled to buy a home with a working fireplace, but when we went to build a fire, we found that only two small logs would fit. The firebox was the size of a microwave—something we hadn’t really considered because we’d never had a fireplace before.
While ours does throw off a decent amount of heat, we would have been wise to have asked more questions, rather than just swooning and saying, “Oh, a fireplace, how romantic!”
Lesson learned: Ask the listing agent about details you’re unfamiliar with. For example: How much wood can fit in a fireplace and what’s the strength of the flue’s draw?
Even if the fireplace looks functional, make sure you ask whether it is. Sometimes, fires, even in functioning fireplaces, aren’t permitted by condo boards or can pose safety risks.
5. The backyard had bugs
At first, we were delighted to discover that a wooden deck had been built outside the kitchen’s backdoor. However, we didn’t look too closely at what was underneath that deck, because it was late winter and we didn’t feel like checking it out.
As the weather warmed up, however, we saw that the space under the deck had become wet—a prime breeding ground for flies and mosquitoes, which soon filled our backyard.
Lesson learned: Know that dark, enclosed outdoor spots can become a problem, and try to get a sense of what lies beneath. Had we investigated this area, we would have noticed the clogged drain, and realized that the wetness would attract mosquitoes and other critters.
We’ve since replaced this wooden deck with a new one that allows the space underneath to air out. That keeps it bug-free.
6. We found a hidden closet—3 years later
This one was also a shock, but a pleasant one. Because the bathroom door on the second floor slides open, it covered the closet door behind it much of the time. To let the bathroom door roll freely, the handle on the closet had been removed, which made it look like a plain old wall.
This closet remained hidden until my husband noticed it one day and popped it open. To this day, we call this spot the “secret closet,” and now we finally have storage space for luggage and holiday ornaments.
Lesson learned: A floor plan is easily obtained from the listing agent, and this was something we should have checked carefully, so that we were aware of every closet and built-in cabinet.
Be sure to open all the closets, and make sure that all the space feels accounted for. You never know what you might find!
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