How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes

How do you know it's a dead person's house?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Once every few weeks we open the front door of a house at the beginning of an inspection, pause, and one of us whispers “Well, this is definitely a dead person’s house.” Why we whisper I don’t know, because we are often the only people in the house, letting ourselves in with the combination number in a key lockbox. The signs are unmistakable: 

  1. All the good furnishings are gone. What remains is a dark brown or blue recliner and a battered sofa. Maybe a tube TV. The kids have already taken or sold anything of value.
  2. There is a dish drainer next to the kitchen sink with a coffee mug, a couple of spoons, a plastic cup, and two small plates in it. A drying towel hangs over the end. For some reason, most old people don’t use a dishwasher; maybe because there is not that much to wash.
  3. Although the walls are largely bereft of any decoration or artwork, a few very personal items remain, like a faded wedding picture or a framed prayer.
  4. There is a walker, folded up and leaning against the wall in the garage. The home in the photo above, that we inspected just last week, was unusual in that the walker was in the living room, unfolded and ready to go for a stroll.

    Fifteen years ago it was an amusing game for us to guess whether it was a home of someone recently departed. I would later ask the realtor the very polite question: “Is this house an estate?” And we were almost always right, unless you count the occasional “no, but she had to move to assisted living” as a bad call.

   Now that we are both senior citizens ourselves the guessing game is not as much fun. It is our future. And also the future of almost every house—to be a dead person’s house—because houses typically outlive their owners, no matter how many years they stay in them.

   We are always conscious during a home inspection that we are dealing with people in the midst of a transition of some sort in their lives, both the buyers and the sellers. Sometimes their emotions flare up while we are there, due to the tension of the change, and we have come to expect that. Then again, sometimes the homeowner has already transitioned before we arrive. 

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