I’ve worked in the home improvement industry for over a decade, and as a result of that, I will never own my own house. I know people who seem to manage it just fine, and some who even thoroughly enjoy it. Maybe you’re one of them and are laughing at me right now. It’s just that there are so many abject terrors a house of your own can casually cast on you. I’ve seen too many folks left with their asses hanging in the breeze. So whether you’re planning to build a house or scoff at the very idea, at least do yourself a favor and read this. You won’t be sorry.
(You will be sorry.)
#5. Poop Lurks Around Every Corner
One of the worst nights of my entire life can be handily summed up by the first minute or so of this scene from Dogma:
Yes, it’s the shit demon scene, and yes, it’s a damn documentary.
There I was, blissfully enjoying the fact that I was not currently covered in human shit, when suddenly I heard a gurgle from the bathroom. Confident that it was just another gremlin infestation, I sighed, got up, and went to give them a karate or two. What I found instead was poop. So very much poop, coming out from all the available orifices the bathroom had to offer. This was noticeably less sexy than it sounds.
There are good moves and bad moves in this situation. The good move: whimper a bit and call an expert. The bad move: panic, flush.
Have you ever seen a poop geyser? I have. It was thankfully less spraying and more bubbly than you’d expect, but still far below what an average person would consider glorious. By the time I was done containing the spillage from the fine raw sewage backup I had just experienced, I was literally scooping shit in tiny cardboard party cups because they were the only barrier I had between liquefied feces and my hands. Note: There is no amount of gloves in the world that can make that job any more pleasant.
Hot chocolate, anyone?
Two deservedly sarcastic plumbers, some extremely spirited cleaning, and several very, very careful showers later, things were finally more or less back to normal. My only positive memories of the event are the several, for once not hyperbolic “I can’t make it tonight, got caught up in a shit storm” messages I got to send out.
That specific incident made me realize that poop is everywhere. Poop is running under our streets, poop is under the floor, and poop is in the walls, in the ceiling, and in the sea. We used poop to build the world, then shoved it unceremoniously out of sight like the unwelcome neighbor it admittedly is. And like that same creepy neighbor, it’s just biding its time to pop up to say hi and hang out in our house for a while.
There are many reasons Poop Napoleon could suddenly descend on your shit hole like it was Austerlitz. Clogging from sanitary products and too-many-ply toilet paper. Tree roots that decided to tear through your main sewer line. Floods. Construction errors happen: I’ve seen sewer lines that do their level best to climb uphill and thus start barfing finely aged terror farts (and sometimes more) at you during wet seasons. Maybe you bought a house that was built before the 1980s and your sewer lines are made from bullshit 19th-century wood pulp piping known as Orangeburg pipes.
Really? Orange? That’s the color springing to mind here?
Still, as unnoticeable as most of these issues are until it’s too late, when they do happen, taking care of it is as simple as calling your landlord and saying, “Your house just exploded in a geyser of shit.” But if you own that house, you are now stuck with the choice of paying several thousand dollars to fix it or wading through a literal sewer in blind hope that it’s something you can take care of on your own (Hint: You cannot).
#4. Older Houses Feel Haunted For A Reason
You’re sleeping in the house you own as the lord/lady of your domain, with no worries in the world save for the crushing mortgage, when suddenly the loudest noise you’ve ever heard jerks you back to the waking land. After calming down, you put it down to a sleep jerk or whatever and slowly start drifting back to sle-
OhGodohGodohGod! What in the everfucking shit was that? It’s like someone literally dropped a wrecking ball on your house. And then it happens again. And again. As you sprint to what you insist is your panic room but is really just a pillow fort in the corner of the study, you fully expect WWIII to have kicked into full gear and brace yourself for the inevitable invasion of space Nazis.
“Don’t be silly. We’re not due until 2018.”
Sorry, no extraterrestrial fascists for you tonight! That shit was just a frost quake — a wacky phenomenon where cold weather contracts your house’s building materials, causing them to groan and bang and turns the whole place into an audio bomb. Did the seller forget to mention this? Don’t worry! It’s totally harmless. Usually. If your house is well-built. Which it totally is, right? Right?
Frost quakes are just one of the many bullshit things you can encounter during your house-owning endeavor that there’s no real way to brace yourself for. According to a friend of mine who used to work as a building inspector — we’ll call him Frank Buildinginspector — there are so many ways to encounter insane bullshit, the world would run out of trees if all of those ways were put on paper.
Did the previous owner have at least two males in the family? You can rest assured there is some extremely localized water damage in the bathroom. Or maybe the piping (including sewer lines, because, like I said, poop lurks everywhere) has been constructed in such an asshat way that it’s borderline impossible to inspect or maintain, leading to situations such as the one Frank names as the worst in his career: extremely elderly sewer pipes, directly attached to the ground floor and long since burst because of fucking course, managed to render both the ground floor and the soil underneath into hazardous waste. The owner of the house only thought to inspect the situation because of a “kinda funny smell.”
“Also, is it a little warm in here?”
And then we have the outright horror-movie scenarios that Cracked has already told you about, like the mold in old houses that can make you see ghosts and malfunctioning fans that can … also make you see ghosts.
In fact, you know what? Just outright embrace all that shit. Even if there’s no way you could peacefully live there, I’m betting if you combined the ghost stuff with the frost quakes and strange smells, you’d make a killing by turning the place into a haunted house.
#3. Poison Is Potentially Everywhere
I realize I’m running the risk of sounding less like a fun, harmless-when-not-too-drunk-and-at-dropkick-distance Internet columnist and more like a screeching fearmonger, but poisonous houses are totally a thing, and I think we can all agree that it’s better you hear it from me than a reliable, certified expert, because hard facts are easier to swallow when laced with liberal dick jokes. Hehehe. “Hard.” “Swallow.” “Dick.” See?
If you’ve ever even glanced at a house with a twinkling intention to throw money at it, you’ve probably heard about radon, an odorless, colorless, and fucking radioactive gas that lurks in soil and may seep in through any ol’ crack or seam. Smoking aside, it’s the biggest culprit for lung cancer we know about (we’re talking 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year), it can’t be detected without a special test, and an estimated one in 15 houses have radon leakages in the U.S. alone. Are you feeling lucky, punk?
“Sure. They threw in this suit; have you any idea how much these things cost?”
Luckily, even if you wind up buying a house without insisting on the test, the issue is fairly simple to fix with radon removal systems (if you notice it, that is). That fixes a minuscule damn fraction of your poisonin’ issues. There’s still carbon monoxide (400 deaths and up to 20,000 ER visits per year), potentially poisoning you from leaky heating systems and blocked vents. Does your house still have all the original surface materials, you hipster, you? Fuck — you might be looking at a lungful of hazardous lead paint, or fiberglass insulation, or plain old asbestos, or formaldehyde, or random pollutants from carpeting. Or mold. Or that goddamned ghost mold I mentioned earlier, why the hell not?
“I’m made up of the souls of the previous homeowners.”
I’m not trying to paint a picture of every house as a poison-filled death trap that is just waiting to take your money and your life. I’m not here to fearmonger — tons of people live in their own houses and are so happy they joyfully cry tears made out of Skittles. Still, I feel it’s worth pointing out all the weird bullshit that might bite you in the ass somewhere down the line if you don’t do the shit out of your homework before signing on the dotted line.
Besides, if I wanted to really monger fear, I wouldn’t be talking about pesky bullshit like poison seeping through the walls. I’d be talking about stuff like …
#2. Your Neighbors Are Crazy
I went into this column with the assumption that I’d be writing exclusively about how even the most dream-fulfilling, expensive house can turn into a shit soup at a moment’s notice, sometimes literally. However, the more I talked with house owners, the more a certain trend presented itself: In the house-ownin’ world, hell is not the occasional renovation. It’s other people.
I’ve heard many stories detailing the horrors of owning a house and being surrounded by the wrong kind of people, but for the purposes of this entry, we’ll focus on the one that best embodies them all. Consider the story of a friend of mine, whom we shall call Diana Womanhead. A few years ago, a relationship that for obvious reasons would not last (we’ll get to that in a minute) took her from the life of a big-city apartment-dweller to that of a small-town house owner.
“So, do I have to provide my own banjo, or are they complimentary?”
The first shock was the neighbors. You’d assume that having a house of your own would provide you with some sense of privacy and security. Not so: Almost immediately, neighbors started borderline forcefully introducing themselves, ambling to the house despite locked gates and cracking open a beer on their front porch. Sometimes, they had a six-pack. Other neighbors liberally used their yard as a toilet for their dog and occasionally screamed at them for “making too much noise.” Sometimes, they had an ax. While Diana was somewhat concerned by this, her guy was cool with literally anyone tumbling in. This included his many friends, who abused the situation by turning up unannounced for a barbecue, emptying the fridge, and occasionally sneaking into their guesthouse to pass out after a boozy Saturday night.
“The pillow mints were the perfect refresher after vomiting on the front lawn. Five stars.”
And then it turned out that the guy barely had enough money to deal with the house, let alone any interest to keep it in any kind of shape. He just happened to come from a culture where it is customary to own one, so he had to have one.
Still, at least Diana managed to get out without too much undue hassle. But remember Frank Buildinginspector from earlier? A friend of his bought a house with her significant other, only to be cock-slapped with a limp pecker of divorce. One day, when she was out, her soon-to-be ex-husband chose to torch the place, because fuck you. Too bad the dude was still one of the owners, so although he was caught for arson, the lady isn’t going to receive a dime for insurance.
#1. And Chances Are You’re Crazy Too
I am a terrible neighbor. I’m a long-haired, bearded man with serious resting bitch face syndrome who dresses almost exclusively in black and is generally too reserved and/or preoccupied with whatever deadline I’m wrestling to even say hi to my neighbors. I’m positive at least one of them thinks I’m a serial killer, thanks to a freak accident where my leg went to sleep when I was chopping onions in an awkward position, and I spent a good while limping around the place while still holding the knife and making nasty faces thanks to the onions getting to my eyes — only to see a horrified older woman stare at me through the window.
The clown makeup probably didn’t help my case.
But, again, I’m a humble tenant. The second the whole neighborhood inevitably grabs their pitchforks and torches to chase me back to the abyss where I belong, I can just piss off and start my reign of terror somewhere anew. No such luck when you’re financially tied to the area — if you’re the shitty neighbor, congratulations! You’re married to the house until the whole town gets tired of you and straight-up murders your ass.
“But Pauli,” you say. “Just because you’d be a pathetic, black-hearted excuse of a house owner and, for that matter, human being, it doesn’t make every potential house owner a dickhead.” That’s true, it doesn’t automatically turn you into one — only potentially.
Like The Shining but for assholes.
It’s so, so very easy to get caught up in neighbor shenanigans to the extent that you’re elbow-deep in petty dickery yourself. Sometimes, all it takes is one asshole and a situation where you both own your houses and are thus unable or unwilling to move away. Take the story of yet another one of my friends, whom we’ll call Andy Mandude. For years and years, his family was tormented by a total asshole of a neighbor who kept stoning their dogs, deliberately blocking their car on the narrow road they shared, physically picking fights, and generally acting like a five-star asshat, usually running back to the safety of his own property at the slightest chance of getting a comeuppance. Over the years, the situation escalated into a terrifying real-life version of the many imaginary battles between Donald Duck and Neighbor Jones, including (but not limited to) antics such as:
– a full-hearted attempt to chainsaw down a flagpole
— ongoing, liberal verbal abuse
— several physical wrestling matches
— actual freaking death threats
— stoning and shooting of pets
Even Biggie and Tupac kept their beef human-side.
– a reluctant, ongoing truce that Andy fully acknowledges can and likely eventually will break right back into horror shenanigans.
And that’s hardly an isolated case. Google “neighbor arguments” and you’ll find thousands and thousands of assholes you’d gladly pick a fight with if you found yourself living next door to them, or just read some of the best ones right here. Who’s the asshole in those fights? Ask both parties, and they’ll point the finger at each other. Which means that if you’re in even a mild, petty neighborhood argument, you are automatically an asshole. Even if you are in the right.
Eventually, you’ll get tired of it and decide, “Fuck every last second of this. Owning this house isn’t worth an ulcer or a heart attack.” Or you’ll get old and realize you have too much space to take care of … or you’ll have a family and realize you need more space. So you’ll sell your home and buy another one. And the person who buys your house will inherit all of the old fuckery you had to deal with. They’ll complain about your half-assed repairs and their new psychotic, dog-shooting neighbor. They’ll bad luck their way into an exploding sewer pipe and blame you for being negligent. Meanwhile, you’ll be doing the same thing at your new house. And that, friends, is the Circle of Homeowner Life.