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Owning a house - The American Nightmare

Updated on December 2, 2010

Welcome to the American Dream

What do you do when the American Dream turns into a nightmare?
What do you do when the American Dream turns into a nightmare?

It's not the American Dream... it's a nightmare!

People say owning a house is “The American Dream”. I am still trying to figure out the dream aspect because as far as I am concerned, it has become more like the American Nightmare!

My husband and I have rented several houses over our marriage, and I will admit, dealing with landlords and rent payments can be a pain, but overall, I have never had a bad experience while renting. We always paid our rent on time; we have always maintained their property like it was our own; and we have always gotten our security deposit back when we left.

Eventually in life, the question always comes up, “Why are you giving your hard-earned money to someone else when you could invest it into your own house?” Well, let me tell you, I had no problem giving away my hard-earned money when it came down to problems being fixed right away and the landlord pretty much keeping to themselves. The problem started when the landlords wanted to raise our rent to more than a $1000 a month. It just so happened that same week we drove past the ugliest house you have ever seen, and it was for sale; the open house would be on Sunday. Curiosity got the best of us. We wanted to see what an ugly house looked like on the inside.

Without really planning on buying a house at all, we arrived at the open house, ready to see the vile ugliness that was encompassed into a yellow-sponge bob colored house. Upon walking into the living room, I fell in love. The fireplace stood tall in front of us, rugged with an old-country appeal. The rest of the house had character and potential. Without a second thought, we put an offer on the house. We weren’t really looking; but a five bedroom, two bathroom house for $122,000 was a deal we couldn’t pass up.

Months later, we were moving in. This was our first big step as a married couple. We finally owned our own home. Little did we know this was the start of a very complicated, painful, emotional and depressing adventure. Four years later, I think back and wish we would have never bought the house in the first place; owning a home was more of an “American Nightmare” and not the “American Dream” everyone told me it was going to be.

So the key here is, when you see a house that has potential, you should turn around and run… and run fast. Potential is the danger zone. This is when you feel like you can take this house and mold it into your own… and not by just hanging a few pictures. This potential is spelled by tearing down walls and creating new spaces.

It starts in the kitchen...

The first disaster was the kitchen. The people who owned the house previously had it decorated with white painted cupboards, floral wallpaper and dark wooden wainscoting. It was functional, but all in the same time, it was ugly and definitely not my style. So, mid-conversation with one of my friends about the “potential” of the kitchen, I decided to show her the piece of wallpaper that was coming off. Within seconds, the whole piece was off the wall. I never knew removing wallpaper could be so easy. While I was only showing her the small rip, it ended with my friend and I ripping down all the wallpaper off the walls and removing the boards from the top of the cabinets that connected them to the ceiling. I guess this is what happens after a full pot of coffee and talking about dreams!

Initially I was excited… until… I… saw… the water damage that was hidden behind the boards above the cabinets, the exposed electrical wire draped over the top of the cabinet, the little mouse holes exposed once the wainscoting was taken down (which, by the way, I electrocuted myself a little by removing them!), and last but not least, the 100 layers of paint that covered the cabinets! We definitely had our work cut out for us.

I got down to business. I plastered the corner with the water damage; a feat I might say was next to impossible without having much for backing to stick the joint compound to, especially since I had the motivation but very little knowledge. But I was determined. It is now a sunken drop where the walls meet the ceiling, but at least there isn’t a hole anymore. The next task, get rid of the loose electrical wire on top of the cabinets. While we were going to weave it through the wall, we found the backing was nothing but a wire mesh, making this nearly impossible. I popped a hole down the length of the wall and plastered over the top. My dad stepped in when I asked the dreadful question whether the new light fixture would stay if I put enough joint compound around it! (It should be like glue - right?!) With some minor errors fixed, we attempted to update the electrical plugs, but with old and brittle wiring, the attempt failed and we had to call in more help.

Now it was on to the major task. We hauled out all the kitchen gadgets and food and plates out of the cabinets. It was time to strip the paint off and bring it down to a natural wood color. To make a long story short, the wood had so many layers of paint on it, even after sanding, it would be impossible to make them look good. So, we repainted in defeat. We also switched the hardware and attempted to hang the now weakened doors. (I swear - the layers of paint must have made them stronger!) Once the walls were painted - the kitchen was about as far as it was going to get. It looked horrible!

Taking the first hit!

This was only fun for the first couple of swings... it got old fast!
This was only fun for the first couple of swings... it got old fast!

Exposing the truth

It's not what you see on the outside that matters... sometimes it is what is underneath!
It's not what you see on the outside that matters... sometimes it is what is underneath!

The Recession hits... lets remodel!

That was just the start. When the recession hit, my dad was laid off of work and looking for a project to do. While initially we were going to fix the leaking roof on the garage, things got a little out of hand. We started talking about the bathroom that was too small and how we wished our master bedroom had a little more “master” to it. Unable to get the permits my dad wanted to fix the roof (he wanted to pitch it and so we needed blueprints drawn up!), we decided we should tackle the inside. After all, talking got us excited and looking at the potential, how hard could it really be? Stupid question!

We started the project in the inside of the house while I was 2 months pregnant. We had the money saved up and my dad forecasted that the entire project would be done by June. I was game. After all, we would have a new bathroom, a new bedroom and a nursery for the baby. What could go wrong…. Except Everything!

We started tearing down the first bedroom. The first swing was the easiest. We were motivated. We were excited. We were stupid. After a half hour of swinging a sledge hammer and covered in dust, we realized how stubborn plaster stuck to wire mesh really is. This was going to be a bigger project than intended.

We continued on until the room was finally emptied. The piles of broken plaster were piling up and there were a few things that fell from the ceiling that frankly, I am not so sure I know what they were (or if I really want to know at all). We removed the carpeting, which we found was actually wet and moldy underneath. Now I am assuming this is why you don’t carpet concrete! And here we just thought it was cold.

We finally got into the second room. This was our bedroom, so we moved into the tiniest room in the house. We were crunched in, but it should only be for a little while… right?! Our bedroom was just as bad. We removed the carpeting and found old tiles over the concrete. Lucky for us, this room did not have mold on the floor. We managed to crunch down the walls. When it came time to remove the wire, this is were we had issues - my husband tore his muscle in his ribcage by hanging all of his body weight from the ceiling. Obviously the wire is stronger and more stubborn then he is, even with his full weight hanging from the wire, the wire wouldn’t budge.

So while you make think (by following the writing) that this project is going fairly fast, you are wrong. We are now into May. We started in March. We have accomplished nearly nothing and have already had my husband and my dad injured. (My dad got a pinched nerve in his neck and ended up being out of commission for awhile as well!) Still, with my belly growing bigger by the day, we continue to push on… even though I was the only one that seemed capable of physical labor! (Everyone else was getting injured!)

What do you do from here?

With the walls down... now what?
With the walls down... now what?

Welcome to the world

Our little boy is finally here!
Our little boy is finally here!

The remodeling push... baby is born!

By mid-July we were finally in the bathroom. This had to be the fastest moving project because we have now removed the lower toilet. I refused to have to run upstairs 20 times in the middle of the night because of my pregnant belly. The rooms were finally cleared out and framed. We were getting ready to move the plumbing around. The plumber was lined up and things were going smooth… at least we thought.

I was making supper for the boys (a big spaghetti dinner to give them energy); my dad was in the bathroom cutting out the copper piping (since all the plumbing was being changed over); my husband just got home from work. I was just finishing up when I heard some very bright and colorful words escape my dad’s mouth before I heard the stampede of what sounded like a thousand elephants running to the basement. I walked back to look and saw the cascade of water flowing from the pipe in the bathroom. My dad hit the wrong pipe. Our water was now shut off. With the plumber gone and us lacking the tools to recap the pipe, my spaghetti dinner would have to be cleaned up later.

This episode was just the beginning. The plumber came back later in the week (we still had no water and officially moved out), this time to move the pipes in the floor. Problem - we were unable to find the pipes. Drilling down further and further, we figure someone had buried them at least 12 feet under concrete. Now my theories for this much concrete --- the person who built this house never intended for it to be torn down; someone hid dead bodies in my bathroom floor (hence all the concrete); or someone is just down right dumb. It is only necessary to have pipes 6 inches down. It only took two men, a jackhammer, a concrete saw, 4 hours and $350 later to finally get to the bottom of this.

This was not the end. We now had to move the pipes around, re-concrete the bathroom floor and get things moving. Slowly but surely the house was starting to take shape. Next problem. The shower we bought was too big to fit through the door. The whole plan we had was measured wrong! What a disaster, time to go back to the drawing boards. We did finally get the shower in (through a hole cut in the side of the house), only to have to return it because the seat my husband had to have in the shower was now on the wrong side! To top it off, after concreting in the pipes - our toilet no longer fit - so we had to go out and buy a much smaller one!

This whole process was getting worse and worse. By September 1st we finally had water in our house again and were able to move back in. Now remember, this project was supposed to be done in June; I was also now only a month and a half away from having a new baby. With the whole back half of my house torn up, we were forced to put our mattress on the floor in the living room, which was now our new bedroom. I used to joke that I had a 56 inch TV in my bedroom. While that wasn’t nearly inaccurate, it really wasn’t the bedroom we were sleeping in. We were coming down to crunch time.

I remember the day clearly. It was Oct. 8th, 2009. It was one of the happiest days of my life. (No, my child was not born!) I was finally able to sleep in my new bedroom. It was done. The bathroom was done. While we were still half under construction, the walls were coming together. We had doors, we had lighting and most importantly, we now had a room. All the plumbing was new, the heater ran through the floors, and all the insulation was doubled. (Hopefully that would cut down on our energy and heating bills)!

The next day I went into labor and we were blessed with a beautiful little boy, who I had to bring home to a house still half under construction.

Even with a newborn around we continued to push. My inlaws were coming at the end of the month and the nursery (and the room they would sleep in) was not even close to being finished. With push come to shove, we eventually got the one room done with a baby on the hip, yet, this story doesn’t end there.

Hanging our head in defeat

Now, it is about 20 months later and my house is still under construction. We have been left defeated with absolutely no help and little motivation even left. Even after everything we have done, the house continues to be inefficient. The winter was filled with space heaters jumping up the energy bill, and the summer proved to be just as defeating. Even though the ceiling fans were nice, the house still roasted us like marshmallows on a fire. To make matters even worse, the construction was the least of our issues!

I hate that I am playing the same song on my tiny violin, but it seems that Murphy and I have become rather close. With the lack of help, the lack of time (with a newborn), and the lack of knowledge, the construction has sat. I no longer care about the construction since everything else that could go wrong seems to be consuming me!

So that is when summer hit. The heat and the rain moving in. While we started having problems with our basement awhile back, it wasn’t until this year the true problems really showed their ugly face. With our house under construction, several of our possessions ended up in the basement. Some stored in cardboard boxes, some stored in plastic totes. It was... well... very unorganized. There was no room to walk; everything was stacked from one corner to the next. I was just fortunate I could still reach my washing machine. That’s when it flooded; and then it flooded again; and again; and again. And then… we had a mudslide. Some patch in the wall broke loose and let the mud flow in over the water.

I don’t think my basement has been dry all summer. Meaning - half of my possessions in the basement are also wet. Fortunately, some of the possessions were far enough away from the water to be recoverable. The others were stacked high enough to still put them in okay condition. The month of July didn’t prove to be much better. On top of the water in the basement, our water softener died, the dehumidifier gave up on life, and our computer crashed. Yet, with vacation in sight, I refused to let this get me down. I refused to think about it until after I got back.

Things don’t typically get much better. We got back and the basement continued to flood. We are now heading into colder times and our house is starting to lose the temperatures that were once roasting out. In fact we are downright cold. The heater goes on - the heater isn’t working. Once again, I am so disgusted, I am trying to ignore it.

It was the end of the September and just when you think the rain is going to stop and give my basement a chance to dry out, we have another huge storm. It is my birthday and I am not going to let anything get me down. I woke up to what sounded like a rush of water in my basement. I went downstairs to investigate, and while it wasn’t any wetter than it has been, you can see the wall is soaked. After working so hard, the sump pump had broken the pipe leading the water to the outside and the water was a fountain soaking everything I might have been able to save. By the end of the day, the waterfall was constant. The sump pump was pumping water out and back into itself. It was a mess; the sump pump was unplugged. Not knowing what to do, we called my dad in for the rescue!

As we headed into October, half of the basement has been cleaned out and put into the garage to dry. Another storm hits, this time, our leaky roof now has it raining harder inside than it is outside. There is no winning it seems. To top it off, once we finally have a full week of no rain, I walk down stairs to find the basement once again wet! Confused because of the dry weather, I find the source to be my now leaking furnace!

Overall, the house has caused an immense amount of stress on my family. We are constantly snipping at each other because of the problems and it seems we are over our head. To make matters worse, each of my three kids have been sick with a terrible cough they can’t seem to get over. They are a lighter of the case. I have been sick since June, with a terrible cough, fatigue, headaches and the occasional nauseousness! After doing research, I found we might have a mold problem in our house on top of everything we have to deal with!

The utter disgust I have with buying a home has put me in a funk. I don’t even know which way to turn. What do we do? Do we give our house back to the bank and have them deal with it? It would definitely be a fresh start. Do we attempt to invest more money into a house that is a losing battle? The price tag is constantly rising on the fixes that need to be done. We are in a crossroads in our life and it is all because of what one person may call the American Dream has turned into my family’s American Nightmare!

Make a choice

What would you do?

See results


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    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 5 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      @Efficient Admin - I completely agree. We had a rough run with this house and ended up getting in over our head. However, we did learn a valuable lesson and at least we learned it early enough in life that we can still bounce back! :)

    • Efficient Admin profile image

      Efficient Admin 5 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      I'm so sorry you had to go through with this house from hell. Owning a home really is over-rated in my opinion unless it meets the following criteria: 1) it's below your means and 2) it's a place where you know you want to retire in. Whatever did you and your husband do? Did you get rid of it? I agree with you that anything with "potential" I would run away as fast as possible. I like a house that is move-in ready, well-taken care of and updated and doesn't have a lot of problems to fix.

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 6 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      @SweetiePie - Great suggestion - Thank you! :)

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 6 years ago from Southern California, USA

      You know this might make a good book, if you are looking to publish one. Right now so many people are going through struggles to keep their houses, or are losing their houses. Sounds like a good topic to cover!

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 6 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      @SweetiePie - I probably could have stared in the new version of the Money Pit with everything that happened to us... alhtough happily - no one fell through the floor! :)

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 6 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I know this was written awhile back, but watching the Money Pit always makes me feel better about home repair disasters. I really wish they would make and update of that movie circa 2011.

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 6 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      @Realhousewife - I probably will eventually, but I do know that I will ask a lot more questions... lol - i have definately learned my lesson.

      @Truckstop Sally - I will be the star - especially if they give me a new house with little complications to have to deal with as a grand prize! LOL I don't know how people can do that to others. I guess it is better to be someone elses problem than theirs. It really isn't fair. I don't think I could do it, I would just feel way to guilty and that would eat me alive!

    • Truckstop Sally profile image

      Truckstop Sally 6 years ago

      They should make a reality show about people screwed with houses. You and my sister could be the stars. She has spent so much money and time on architects and the project . . . but not able to take occupancy. Why can't folks be honest and hardworking?

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Yes you will buy another house but you'll ask more questions:) I want to live on a yacht!

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 6 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      I would feel horribly guilty if I knew I was the middle man for potentially causing another person several issues. The house became overwhelming and we couldn't deal with it anymore. I am still holding my head in shame over it, and I probably won't ever buy another house! But, it is in the past now, so hopefully it won't bite us too hard in the future :)

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Well it's here nor there for you now. Any house you buy can have huge unpleasant surprises. Even brand new ones. Have to inspect those too! Exactly that is why I don't want to be an agent anymore - so many people try to hide things and I knew agents that got right in the middle of everything. Who wants to live with that hanging over your head?

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 6 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      We thought about it, but I don't know if we could have. After all, we had an inspector come through and inspect the place. Upon looking at our agreement with him, it said that we could not sue for items missed because the inspection is done to the best of their ability. I think the worst part of the whole situation was they wanted us to have the house because they thought it would be great to have another family move in and live there while raising their kids. Wow - little did they know the place would become trashed.

      I hang my head in shame because I didn't want to walk away from it, but it was like the movie the money pit. I will forever regret the decision we made. It wasn't an experience that I would wish on my worst enemy.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      you should have sued for non disclosure! Of course, I am not sure if you have those laws in your state. In Missouri if you find damages that were not disclosed to the buyer you can sue the seller. How awful for you!

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 7 years ago from Sweden

      Your hub, brought back so many both sad and fun memories! We bought a house with much potential too, and spent the next 15 years in a building mess, with tools, dust and unfinished projects. We did finish the renovation, and then we sold the house! Instead we bought another house, that doesn´t need so much renovation. Great hub, and good luck to you, I am sure that it will be great when completed! Try to finish one project or one room at a time before continue to another!

    • Inspired to write profile image

      Dale J Ovenstone 7 years ago from Wales UK

      Barbergirl I wish you & your family all the very best what ever you chose but so far, you haven't given up yet cos it seems like quitting s not in your nature.

      The two comment posts above are very good advice & very inspirational.

      1 being, try to distress from your turmoil of your ongoing action concerning the home & the situation because your relationship with your guy & children may become a neglecting factor also, 2, chose the most important jobs in your home first & focus on sorting & totally completing that room before attempting any others.

      You have been through a lot it seems but I hope you all make it.

      I have created many e-books on DIY & one being, concerning your interior ceilings & walls preparation' decoration' ideas' & repairs' step by step guide & I would gladly pass you a copy for free if you think you can use such material, if you care to e-mail me from my profile page & I will send you a copy via e-mail.

      In the meantime, I know you have things in the home you just must have to do, but please try to slow down & spend more time with those you love.

      Regards Dale

    • saradillinger profile image

      saradillinger 7 years ago from Kansas


      Your house sounds like the Money Pit, the movie with Tom Hanks. Oddly enough, as I was reading your article, I became conscious of the sound of running water. I knew that my kitchen faucet had been dripping for some time, but when I went to investigate, it was no longer just a drip. Time for some DIY plumbing. I emptied the other side of the double sink (where my dishes were draining) and got ready to go get my toolkit. All of a sudden, I became aware of silence. The faucet was now over the other side of the sink and it wasn't dripping.

      Back away slowly, then turn and run.

      Sometimes it is a matter of learning the fine art of compromise. What can you live with and what can you just not stand? I can live with a faucet that doesn't drip over one side of the sink. When it starts leaking on that side, then I'll deal with it.

      Your house has put a terrible strain on your budget and on your relationships. Turn your attention to those important aspects and away from fixing up the house for the moment. Do only what absolutely must be done to the house and work instead on healing yourself and your family. If that cannot be done in that house, maybe it is time to cut your losses.

      Best wishes for a brighter future!

      Sara Dillinger

    • rachellrobinson profile image

      Rachel Woodruff 7 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      I watched my Parents go through similar things when they bought their house, only difference was three forths of the kitchen floor was missing because of leaky pipes when we moved in. They put the kitchen temporarily in the living room while they tackled that.

      It's taken them almost 18 years, and they are still working on it, but their house is amazing. My advice, don't let it overwhelm you, pick one project a year by level of importance and work on it, and in the future when you look back you probably won't see all the bad experiences, just that a lot of hard work got you the house of your dreams.

      If you decide to move out of the house, realize that the next house is going to have issues that you will want to fix, and take those in smaller lumps. It sounds like you tried to tackle a lot at once.

      Being a single Mom, and home owner I look around my house and think it would be nice... for instance they didn't put a light in the hallway, which to me seems silly since you can't see walking down the hallway without a light, to sweep I have to open all the doors and turn on all the lights, I bought a light to put in this spring, now I just have to get up the money to pay the electrician to do it.

      I think someday things will improve and you will be happy with this house, all of this will be something that you look back on and laugh remember how awful that was... I hope, and pray for your family that is all it is.

      Be strong.