House Horror Tales

Did your dream house turn into a nightmare?

A Fixer-Upper in Deposit, NY
A Fixer-Upper in Deposit, NY. Photo by Leland Bobbe Studio Ltd./Moment Mobile Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

If you've ever built, remodeled, or purchased a home, then you know that simple matters can stir strong emotion. The plumber installed the wrong faucets! The cabinet knobs don't match! Something foul is seeping through the basement floor! If mishaps like these aren't justification for murder, surely they rate a small nervous breakdown.

Our readers have been writing compelling stories about houses and house mishaps. Sometimes dream houses turned into nightmares, and sometimes nightmares transformed into happily-ever-afters. Sound familiar? Here are some of their tales.

Carol Halsey's Tale - New House Disasters

Well I finally made it. I bought my first home and closed on June 27. Twelve hours after I closed, a semi-truck went down the street. This is not a truck route. The semi clipped my phone lines and ripped them out of my house. Also taking the siding with it.

Moving day is June 30th and the truck doesn't show up. Ten days later my Dad passed away. (God rest his soul.)

On the 17th of July we received that terrible rainfall in Illinois. I ended up with 4 feet of water in the basement and no sump pump.

A couple weeks later it floods again with 6 inches of water. Luckily, I have been dry ever since then. Not bad for a house they said never leaked.

Yes, this is a true story and it all happened within one month.

Donna's Tale - New House, Bad Plumbing

I'm a single mom who bought the model home in our development three years ago. It has been a nightmare! Within the first 6 months the sewer backed up, the sump-pump quit, and the toilets did not flush, and the basement flooded.

We have been in the house now for three years and it has flooded five times! I was told by the builder that he fired the plumber who did the work. Three different plumbers that I hired all said that the plumbing is illegal in the house, that the drains and the sump-pump are not vented! The traps are at too sharp of an angle. (That's why the toilet does not flush right.)

My daughter and I have been sick since we moved here. We have been extremely tired, and have flu-like symptoms once a month or more. The builder was given plenty of chances to fix all of this and has not. The building inspector has passed this house—twice.

Rafi's Tale - Noisy House

Three years ago, we bought a house in the Hollywood Hills area in Southern California. A year after we moved in, we started hearing these noises in the master bathroom which is located on the second story. The noise sounds like a wood crackling and sometimes as if somebody is hitting a piece of wood with a piece of metal. The noise sometimes is loud enough to wake us up.

It has been a nightmare. We sought the help of structural engineers, architects, soil engineers, home name it, we tried it without any results. We are really desperate at this point. The noise is not only persistent but it is increasing. This has been going on for two years.

Jean's South Dakota Tale - Dream House or Money Pit?

Looking towards retirement in a few years, we were anxious to move to an acreage in the country. WE WERE BLIND. All we could see was open fields and a 'blank canvas' to paint our own picture. Being in a rural area, this house is heated with propane (everyone has their own tank in their yard). The day we took possession, we drove to our new acreage—it was SO cold in the house—the propane tank was empty! Tack on another $400 in!

The two-stall garage, with 'lean to' was painted hot pink inside—wonder why we didn't see that when we looked earlier! There was only one overhead door, the other stall was just open. One evening after I came home and put my small station wagon in the garage, I pulled down the garage door—it fell off the tracks, flat onto the roof of my car!

We pulled up all the carpets and removed heat registers and cold air return registers to clean—found dead mice, baby bottles with solid-green stuff, a quarter pound of margarine, toys, phone book—but, alas, no money!

The first rain gave us a small lake right in the middle of the driveway! The second bedroom had one window pane made of a Gateway computer box—but, it was caulked!

In the five years since that purchase, we have put on a new roof, new windows, doors (all exterior, including storm doors and interior doors), totally new kitchen from floor to ceiling, including cupboards, all new plumbing, wiring, water lines, furnace, well, bathroom fixtures, new insulation (after tearing off all drywall - exposing water-logged 2"x4"s and insulation, and 'mouse runs' in the insulation), new drywall... We should have had the house bulldozed and started anew!

We currently have the cement block walls and poured concrete floor in the basement, the studs and the roof joists—those being the only original parts of the house left! What a nightmare - and, as I said, we were just a few years shy of retirement—so we are old enough to know better. We will never be able to tell our kids to 'sleep on it' or 'think about it'—not after what WE bought!

The pink-interiored garage is now gone, and a new one built; our gardens are flourishing, we have added a small barn, chicken shed, and a "Potting Shed" for me! It's been an experience!

The Thomsens' Tale - How We Saved on Remodeling

We didn’t exactly intend to remodel our whole kitchen, but we had a problem. You see we had a drop-in stove which my wife was tired of and it had a broken knob which was irreplaceable because the stove was discontinued and we couldn't find parts for it. Also we had a cabinet fitted oven/broiler that was too small and it so happened that the oven was next to the stove top. All we really wanted to do was remove the stove and cabinet under it which meant that the countertop it was sitting on needed to be cut and removed as well.

So, we called a reputable cabinet contractor to send someone over to see what could be done and a salesman came over and took measurements and while he was there he told us that in order to fit a standing stove we would need to remove the oven/broiler and the countertop needed to be cut and there just wasn't room. We then asked him if we removed the oven could he replace the oven with a cabinet door?

A Small Home Improvement Turns Big

The salesman said he didn't know if he could match the existing cabinet door, so then we asked about removing the entire cabinet with the oven and replacing it with an upper a lower cabinet and replace the entire countertop. He thought maybe that would work and took more measurements and while he was doing that, we asked just for the hell of it what a new kitchen would cost. He said between $20,000 and $30,000 and then he left. The next day he called back and said his boss didn't want to do a job that small and yet so aggravating, but that because of the economy they had to lay off some workers and he knew of one who could use some work. We then agreed to have him come over and see what he could do.

When the new man came over, he took a look at the job and said he might be able to do the work we wanted and even make a replacement door, but it would be obvious that the work would look like a patch job at best. My wife and I talked about it and decided that we should just replace our aging kitchen anyways, but we couldn’t afford to spend THAT much. We then asked him if he could do the entire kitchen and he said yes, but that he would need to hire a helper or two for a few of the tasks, but he wouldn’t call on them till that time came and we agreed. He then took us shopping for cabinets along with his wife whom was not only the prettiest thing I’ve seen in a long time, but she was an actual decorator who had wonderful taste.

Save on Kitchen Cabinets

We shopped at one of the larger retail home improvement stores where they had a computer program that showed us exactly what the kitchen would look like finished and drew up blueprints at the same time. This was very convenient. However, we went to a different discount lumber liquidator to buy the same cabinets at a lower price. (I can't say which stores we used, but if you shop around you can save a lot of money.)

Be Safe, and Be Legal

Now remember, the man we used wasn’t a licensed contractor, he just worked for one. But they recommended him, so we felt secure with using him. We checked with the village about permits and they said if we didn't mess with any bearing walls and just replaced the cabinets, we wouldn't need a permit. I recommend you check with your town hall about permit laws in your area before starting any such projects.

Find Tax Advantages

So, back to the story at hand and to round things off. That left us with what to do with the old kitchen. Our man suggest we donate the kitchen and all the appliances to Habitat for Humanity. By doing that we not only recycled, but we got a $5,000.00 tax credit, not to mention the federal and factory rebates for new appliances. In 2009 this was pretty substantial due to the economic relief the government offered at the time. (Thanks to Obama. I’m glad I voted for him.) Plus Habitat for Humanity came in and in one day had removed everything themselves. That saved us on labor for deconstruction.

Expect Delays

One thing you will have to consider when remodeling a kitchen with mostly one man is you will be without a kitchen for at least two months. (Your worker may say he can do it in one month, but count on two.) You have to order a lot which takes time, and there are always little set-backs. For example, our floor ended up needing replacing because we used to have a peninsula, but decided against replacing that for more room. When you get your new cabinets, one or two may have a flaw or be broken in shipping, which means another two weeks to replace it. This did happen to us.

However, because of the money we saved we decided on real hardwood floors instead of the floating wood floors, which are so popular these days. Because we got our floors at the lumber liquidator, we got them for half the price. In doing this we had to also replaced the living room and dining room floors as well, because it just wouldn’t have looked right to have only the kitchen in exotic wood floor and not the entire floor.

Another thing we did because we saved so much using an out of work carpenter was every day he worked and we had to eat takeout due to not having a kitchen was we fed our man and his occasional helpers. Sure workers usually bring their own lunches, but that was just our little way of tipping, I guess. They seemed to pay more attention to little details that wouldn't have been a big deal to us, but they went above and beyond what we expected.

Remember people may work for you, but they aren’t slaves. A little kindness goes a long way, all in all, instead of paying $20,000 to $30,000.

~H. Thomsen

Famous House Tales

Every house has a story, and some of those stories find their way into best-selling books and great literature. There are the ghastly ghost stories where passion to own a beautiful home turns to terror. There are the melodramatic stories where dream homes lead to heartbreak... and possibly even murder or suicide. And then there are the heart-wrenchingly true stories of real people struggling to build something special.

From The House of Seven Gables to The Amityville Horror, writers have put architecture on front stage. For tales that range from buyer's remorse to mayhem and murder, check out these popular books:

  • House by Tracy Kidder
    (Read Review)
    In this true tory, Kidder describes mounting tension between architects, builders, and would-be home owners during the construction of a suburban house.
  • House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
    Lust for a single small bungalow leads to murder and suicide in this compelling novel.
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • This ghostly tale unfolds amidst towers, buttresses, Gothic spires, gargoyles, strange angles, and rooms within rooms. Hill House is, according to the author, a foreboding place "without kindness, never meant to be lived in...."
  • The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
  • Talk about buyer's remorse! According to the author, this pretty Dutch Colonial house on Long Island was the site of terrifying paranormal activity. The story turned out to be fiction, but the house is real and you can drive by it if you ever visit Amityville, New York. Two movies have been made about it!
    Buy on Amazon