Thursday, October 28, 2010

When a home improvement goes astray........

It is bad enough that many, if not most, properties are not marketed properly or as well as they could be. Having created and critiqued thousands of a wide variety property descriptions and advertisements over the years, I am still amazed at how agents with many years of experience leave out important selling points and/or fail to target likely potential buyers of certain properties.

While many of these same agents point to the marketplace rather than marketing, one result is that investors are not always able to get the exact information they need in order to make the best decisions. Now, a story I heard about this week has me wondering whether or not potential investors will also need to research home improvements while exploring a purchase.

It turns out that the owners of a very old Victorian house in the Chicago suburb of Evanston IL decided to upgrade an upstairs bathroom, having an enlarged marble based bathroom put in which extended out slightly over what was a balcony area to increase the size of the bathroom. What they did not take into account was the significant weight of a marble finish, and how it soon caused the house to begin a slight slant all the way into the ground. It is not yet determined whether or not there is any additional structural damage, but this information is scary enough. I’m glad I’m not a neighbor.

This raises a ton of questions, and I have absolutely no involvement in this. I can only begin to speculate about liability. I can see the contractor saying they did the work contracted for and had no knowledge of weight being an issue while arguing non-disclosure by the home owner. While the home owner is probably pointing fingers at the contractor, or perhaps a previous owner of the house. This can’t be easy for the insurance companies involved either, especially with the house having moved, aside from the possibilities of structural damage.

If and when that marble is removed and the bathroom in question is redone, this could be a major setback come the day of wishing to put this property on the market.

Back to why this is a marketing issue. As unfortunate and devastating as this is, there is a need for this to be dealt with publicly. We need answers from everyone involved in this.

Did the homeowners have any idea that adding the weight of marble finishes while expanding the size of the interior could cause such a problem? Did the city have any idea when they would have (or should have) issued a permit? Wouldn’t a professional contractor be aware of this prior to accepting the job? Was the home insurance carrier notified (considering it changed the size of the insured interior) of this change prior to the work being done?

More importantly for all of us, how does a home owner go about learning of the risks in order to make a major improvement? Let’s face it, while the owner(s) of this Victorian may well have wanted the benefit of an enhanced bathroom, the likelihood of this increasing the home’s value come sale time had to have been a factor in the decision to do this.

I’ll easily admit that I never would have thought of something like this happening either. I don’t know that, personally, I have ever heard of anything like this before. Yet, I’m sure that this event is not the only addition or home improvement which would bring on this sort of risk, in this instance to the current as well as any future owner of this same home.

While I’m sure lawyers from all sides will be racing to place the blame for this mess on someone else, the point is that a lot of people did not have sufficient research about the Victorian. And not giving this matter more publicity prevents that from happening.

Just as many realty agents do not market and advertise their property listings as well as could and should be done, it is similar to how there needs to be more information about making changes to these properties as well. There is a similarity.

For many, the first reaction to this story is to think “That home will never sell after this happened”. Yet, it might – if marketed properly. A builder or rehabber capable of handling that type of possible structural damage (or at least capable of adjusting the level of a home) might be able to work a significant profit.

Chances are that such a buyer/investor could work a major discount for the house before it is fixed, restored, or whatever actions need to be taken. By doing the needed work themselves, this new “owner” would save money, and wind up with a full restored Victorian and proof that the work was done. That would overcome the problem of the previous owner.

However, finding the builder/developer/buyer to do that takes the right advertising campaign, as well as the research on the property and the incident being available.

A fully restored Victorian in Evanston IL would command a pretty penny on the marketplace, especially being “good as new”. In advertising and public relations, this would be a classic case of turning a negative into a positive. “Own this fully restored Victorian…..” would make for an attractive advertising campaign. The aforementioned incident of the marble bathroom and a complete restoration would provide opportunities for additional publicity leading up to the sale. I have to believe that TV crews would be interested in video of before and after, and area residents interested in seeing a home of this caliber preserved and kept under ownership.

That’s what could happen, but with the right agent. Unfortunately, there are too many agents out there who would take the “new” listing, and their advertising would start with “Rehabbed Victorian with plenty of TLC……”, not invite any media publicity, and miss the whole point.

Let’s see what happens with this opportunity to rebuild this house AND rebuild market research and advertising. The real estate community depends upon it.

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