I look at houses all day, five days a week. I've been doing it for a long time. Even so, there are some things that still surprise menot because they're unusual, but because they just don't make any sense. For instance...
The lighthouse: I want to know who came up with the idea of the two-story, 16-foot-high foyer with a chandelier hanging from the ceiling, shining through a supersized Palladian window.
Maybe it's just me, but I think this arrangement makes the victim house look like a wannabe lighthouse. Worse yet, there's no good way to change the bulbs in the chandelier. You need a 16-foot ladder just to get up there. Most people don't have a 16-foot ladder and don't want one. Those who've climbed up a 16-foot ladder to change light bulbs know that it's a hard job, and dangerous besides. I say that if you need a fireman's ladder to change your chandelier bulbs, you need a different light in your foyer.
Power washing: There's a cottage industry devoted to using water-blasters to blow fungus off asphalt-shingle roofs and wood decks, and to clean concrete drives and walkways. The people who do this work, and the people who hire them, call it "power-washing."
Believe me when I tell you: There is nothing on your houseand nothing in your yardthat needs power-washing. Power-washing can destroy a perfectly good roof or deck, and it puts years of wear and tear on drives and walkways.
If you decide something at your house needs power-washing, try this test first: Take off your shirt, hold the power washer an inch away from one of your nipples, then turn the water on, full blast. If the water hurts your nipple, it will hurt your house.
If you're buying a new house, tell your builder you don't want anything power-washed. Just about every time I go into a new development, I see workers blasting away at houses, trying to knock errant paint, crud and mortar off siding and brick. Often as not, the water gets into walls or attics, where it doesn't belong.
Anything at your house that needs washing ought to be washed with a gentle flow from a regular old garden hose. Use mops or brushes for wiping.
One possible exception: If you're removing paint or decades-old grime from the outside of your house, you'll have to find a contractor who knows how to do low-pressure power-washing. So far, I've seen only one guy do it right.
Sealing: Sealing is the evil twin of power washing. You can't watch a football game without being bombed with ads for deck sealers and driveway sealers. The ads tell you that your wood and concrete will crumble like a sunstruck vampire if you don't get out there and do some sealing during halftime.
I've seen thousands of wood decks, old and new, sealed and unsealed. After about 15 to 20 years, they all look the same. Eventually, wood that's exposed to the weather will split, crack and splinter. From what I've seen, sealing a deck doesn't slow down the process.
Sealing a concrete driveway is just crazy. Big bridges are held up by concrete that stays underwater all the time. Nobody seals that concrete, and it works just fine.
Sealing an aggregate driveway or walkway isn't just crazy, it's a little dangerous. Those aggregate surfaceswith all the little rocks and seashells sticking up out of themare born slick. Coating them with sealer just makes them slicker. If you ask me, money spent on sealer would be better spent playing the lottery.
New-house lust: I know that people like to have new thingsthings that were made just for them, untouched by previous owners. I know that a lot of people just love the idea of owning a brand-new house, fresh out of the ground.
I don't want to pop anybody's bubble, but I've got to tell you: By the time you move into a "new" house, it has been peed in, pooped in, cooked in, slept in and probably humped in. It's as used as a Bonnaroo porta-potty.
Add to that, nothing at the house is really new. It's just earth and wood. The earth part is 4 billion years old, and the wood part is probably older than you are. For all intents and purposes, the permanent parts of your new house aren't much younger than the permanent parts of Monticello.
With few exceptions, older houses are better than the new ones. Here's why: Best I can tell, the workforce building today's housing isn't as skilled as the workforce that built houses, say, in the '50s and '60s. A lot of new houses have problemssloppy construction, cheap parts, leaksthat will only get worse. From what I've seen, the best houses in our part of the world were built between 1955 and 1970. If you can't stand the idea of living in a house that old, then buy one that's between 5 and 10 years old. By five years, most things that can go wrong probably will have gone wrong, and some of the problems will have been fixed. After 10 years, things like roofs and heat-and-air systems start to wear out.
Or you can be brave and buy a really old house. Mine was built in 1914, and except for the sewer that blew out a few weeks back, it's worked just fine.