Saturday, May 10, 2008

Anyone Looking To Buy a Home Should Read This

The book is called The Virgin Homeowner: The Essential Guide to Owning, Maintaining, and Surviving Your Home by Janice Papolos.

It has both positive and negative reviews on Amazon. Here is the review I wrote today:

I *adore* this book. I first bought the 1997 version (I hear there is a new one?), right around the time we closed on our very first home in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The house was a 1963 ranch style home.

Another reviewer mixed this up with a novel-style book. In fact, it is a narrative-style. I am a "reader," so I appreciated the narrative spiced with good humor admist all the technical bits. Like the author, I was moving from a city I loved to a town I liked but did not love. It covered a lot of ground and helped me feel less alone in the emotional experience of first time home ownership (particularly involving a relocation). The narrative style made it a very quick read for me, despite how inadept I am mechanically.

What the book gave me primarily was an understanding of how the systems of homes work, and what all that meant for me as "the average inexperienced homeowner." You can't get that in a how-to and fix-it book. Generally, those books look very narrowly at systems and their failures. This book gave me a basic foundation to actually *understand* the how-to and fix-it books.

There may have been pieces of information missing, which the author might want to consider adding to a future addition, such as what a previous reviewer mentioned about the question of whether to wash air conditioners annually. But I found the author provided a good basic guide to maintaining a home. Advice included everything from what type of firewood not to burn in a fireplace to how to how to pest-proof a home.

The author also advises her readers on how to find quality home care professionals, how to establish good relationships with these professionals, and what type of regular contact is necessary with these folks. In the case of "when things go wrong," she gives a basic guide as to what to look for, what to do for immediate steps, and when to call a professional. This includes everything from a sink clogging to a furnace not giving off heat. She gives good "starter" advice on purchasing replacement equipment when it comes to the major components of a system: toilets, water heaters, air conditioners, and so forth.

When I sold my first home, there were even a few tidbits in the book that helped me with that process too.

Now I am finding myself in the middle of purchasing my second home, this time in New England. Though this book is geared to the "virgin" homeowner, I am still finding it to be a very helpful guide.

So far it has been useful in figuring out the right types of questions to ask as we've been hunting for our new home. This last week, we put an offer down on a house (a 1920s colonial), and in the coming week, we'll be doing the inspections. I am pouring over this book right now, soaking up so much stuff I once knew but have forgotten.

And I feel waaaaaaay more prepared this time, having this book before my home inspection, whereas last time I didn't get it until closer to our closing. It has already helped me hire an inspector with whom I feel I can place total confidence, and I feel like I have been asking the right questions and seeking the right kind of information this time around to really know what I am getting into.

The section on home inspections has some great little tips that will really be useful for me in making the most of it, and now I am re-reading all of the "home systems" sections.

I already have a list of great questions to ask about my home's systems during its inspection, and I know exactly the types of things I will be looking for in the report...and how anxious I should get about each possible problem.

Not only that, in both the case of purchasing my first and second homes, the book has helped me avoid major anxiety attacks during critical moments in the process. Even the author's occassional affirmation that you will be in a financial panic any time you buy a home is helpful.

I only wish I bought this book much earlier the first time around. For such a small book (the perfect size for a book of its type), it contains an amazing amount of information, as well as helpful and supportive narrative.

For what it is worth, though I am gushing about this book, I can see a few limitations. For instance, in the child-proofing section of the book, I think the author's advice is presumptive about parenting style and overly limited in scope. She also recommends some products in that section that I have used and found to be unhelpful or "cheap" in make. Nonetheless, the book overall is a complete and total gem!

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