Think you know your new house? Readers tell tales of the unforeseen SURPRISE ENDINGS

August 14, 1994|By Patricia Horn | Patricia Horn,Sun Staff Writer

The first year, let your house to your enemy;

the second let to your friend;

the third, live in it yourself.

# W. C. Hazlitt, 1869

Your home is your castle, your best refuge.

Or so all those old proverbs say. As some Sun readers can attest, a homebuyer's dream sometimes doesn't match reality after closing.

Two weeks ago, The Sun asked readers to tell us about their surprises as homeowners.

Few called to tell us of happy surprises. There were no jackpot lottery tickets waiting on the mantle. A few reported comic moments, a few hazardous ones. More typical were stories about frustrating home defects or just plain bizarre mysteries. Readers found that they shared their houses with termites, or that under a layer of sod, the yard was clay instead of dirt. They found alarm systems that turned on mysteriously, or that a previous owner had committed suicide.

A shocking experience

"Houses don't come with instruction manuals," Pat R. Bahn, a Bethesda homeowner, said. "There is weird stuff in houses. If you didn't install it, you don't know it."

He should know. His first few months as a Maryland homeowner had their death-defying moments.

Mr. Bahn, now 30, moved with his mother from Chicago to Bethesda in January 1985. They bought an ordinary-looking two-story white Colonial in a quiet suburban neighborhood near the National Institutes of Health. They didn't have it inspected.

A few months after moving in, Mr. Bahn was installing a dryer vent in a basement window. He was standing on a step ladder when he brushed against a fluorescent ceiling light. An electric charge traveled from the light's casing down his arm to his hand and out the dryer vent. The force of the charge knocked him off the step ladder.

"It was really a very startling thing," he recalled.

A previous owner, it turned out, had improperly wired the house. Still, Mr. Bahn feels lucky. If he hadn't been touching the dryer vent -- grounding himself -- the shock could have killed him, he said. That electrifying moment sent him to investigate the rest of his new home's wiring. He finished the inventory with a three-page list of defects.

And that wasn't Mr. Bahn's first brush with death in his new home. Shortly after moving in, technicians from the gas company were in the neighborhood working and had to shut off the Bahns' furnace and water heater. When a technician returned, he could barely restart the furnace and heater.

The chimney, the technician discovered, wasn't pulling enough draft and without the draft, the Bahns could die from carbon monoxide building up in the basement. The Bahns called in a chimney cleaner. The culprit: a squirrel's nest blocking 90 percent of the chimney opening.

"The house was a fixer-upper, but it should have been advertised as a handyman-with-heavy-life-insurance special," he said. He also discovered pipes sealed with clear packing tape that leaked water into the bathroom floor and Reynold's Wrap lining a ceiling.

A taste for wood

Termites turned out to be homeowner Susan Rose's big problem.

When she had had the house inspected for termites, she had used the service the seller had recommended. Now she says she would not be so naive. After the closing -- on April Fool's Day in 1985 -- she tore up the particleboard covering the living room floor and the metal sheeting on the basement ceiling.

She found that termites had eaten so much of her house, she had a new passageway to the basement.

"It was a miracle no one fell through. I have pictures you would not believe," she said.

Dual-purpose caulk

Nicotine and toothpaste were two of Christine A. Gangi's surprises when she and her new husband moved from Essex to Edgemere in Baltimore County in 1985.

Shortly after moving in, she de cided to clean the walls in a former office used by a heavy smoker. The walls were yellow with nicotine. As she scrubbed an area where two walls joined, pieces of the wall started coming down with the sponge. She smelled it and her husband smelled it: It was mint.

NB Instead of caulk at the joint of two walls, it was toothpaste.

The road less traveled

Karen Witkoski bought a house in a neighborhood called Whispering Woods. Today, its residents might choose a slightly louder name.

She, her husband and son moved into their new home in Annapolis three years ago, near U.S. 50 and College Parkway, two roads that run parallel.

At the time that the Witkoskis moved in, only a bike path, known as Jones Station Road, connected the two roads and the area was mainly grass and trees.

Little did they know that the field and bike path between the two roads would become a major throughway.

"It's really no big deal," she said of her new back yard. "It's only on nice days outside, when we open the windows during the day, and go to sleep with them open at night. You have a lot of young people that have their bass very, very loud and you feel it pumping into your heart."

A taxing experience

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