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It’s an officially spooky season, and we’re celebrating the best way we know how: sharing horror stories. While we’ve all heard scary tales of ghouls and ghosts, we’re sharing something a little different that’s still bound to send a chill down your spine. To get you into the spirit of the season, here are five haunting home improvement horror stories.
1. The Nightmare Fixer Upper
In December 2016, Sarah Sain and her husband purchased what they thought was “a very livable fixer,” only to find out it would be the source of their nightmares for the foreseeable future. With their new house, newborn baby and a young son, the Sains’ uncovered problem after problem.
Upon moving in, they were forced to shell out a small fortune (or freeze to death) when they quickly learned that the heating in the home barely worked. False inspection reports meant that the ductwork and HVAC systems required repair. From there, the Sain family dealt with a tree falling on the garage, a flooded basement, myriad of electrical issues and a summer without air conditioning after their HVAC system failed yet again (yes, the same one they had repaired when they moved in).
During the demolition stage of their basement remodel, they found cracks in the foundation, water damage and that “almost none of the walls were attached to the floor and could be moved back and forth with a little force,” said Sarah Sain.
And while their house was sold to them as having a “remodeling kitchen,” the Sains came to find that the cabinets and countertops weren’t nailed or glued in, so they were constantly falling apart, “sometimes even splintering into pieces,” Sarah told Forbes Advisor.
And to top it all off: pests.
“We’ve also had our unending battle with mice in the walls, a centipede infestation, snakes in the garage [and] a groundhog we just can’t seem to catch,” said Sarah.
That said, the Sains are thrilled to report that although this house would have made most of us shriek in terror, they’re “rounding the curve in making this our forever home now,” said Sarah.
2. Bubble, Bubble, Double Flooded and Troubled
Shawn Hill and his family came home from a camping trip to find their finished basement was flooded, and “the carpet was soupy and it smelled horrible,” said Shawn. While this situation was anything but ideal, they were lucky to have a home warranty, so they filed a claim right away, and a plumber came out to assess the damage. Unfortunately, the plumber found that the bottom of their water heater had completely rusted out and they needed to replace it right away.
While the Hill’s home warranty covered the call to the plumber, it did not cover the water heater, which they had to pay for out of pocket. “It was a stretch for us after just buying a home and being new to my career, but we dug into savings and replaced it,” Shawn said.
So the Hills shelled out the cash, and their water heater was replaced the next day. Problem solved? Not so much. The day after that, the basement flooded again.
“Turns out, it wasn’t the water heater. It didn’t rust out and cause all of this water damage. One of our kids put a toy down the toilet and the main line was jammed. Getting the mainline cleaned was 100% covered by our home warranty. We got duped by the first contractor we ever hired,” said Shawn.
3. It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
Jeremy Yamaguchi hired a company to take care of replacing the windows of his home. Unfortunately, neither Jeremy, nor the company he hired to do the replacement, remembered to check the weather forecast that day. Almost as soon as the old windows came off, a storm rolled in.
“I swear I have never seen it rain so suddenly, leaving us no time to prepare. The company eventually was able to install the new skylight, but not before the room under it was completely soaked and my couch was ruined,” said Jeremy.
4. What’s in the Box?
Vicki Liston was getting sick and tired of porch pirates stealing her packages, so she decided to take matters into her own hands, and she attempted to come up with a solution that was both budget-friendly and would also maintain her home’s curb appeal.
“Store-bought metal security mailboxes were both ugly and carried a price tag of about $800, and I was sure I could better. So off I went to buy lumber and to figure it out,” Vicki said.
Using 1-by-4s and 2-by-2s, Vicki began crafting a farmhouse-style package dropbox that would sit in her front yard and allow packages to be dropped in, without allowing someone to reach inside and take the package out.
“After some brainstorming, I came up with a bracket-and-plywood combination which I attached to a heavy lid. It seemed to work! So I continued to finish up the project, which was a solid 90 pounds,” she explained.
For the final step of assembly, she needed to attach a RFID lock to the inside of the door. However, since both parts (the part on the inside of the mailbox and the other part on the door) needed to be perfectly lined up, Vicki was having trouble getting this right from the outside.
“Naturally, I thought that climbing inside of the box and pulling the door shut would be the best course of action. I’m a very small person, about 100 pounds, so I’d be able to get in and line everything up exactly where it should be … right? I grabbed the flashlight and the drill, climbed inside and pulled the door shut,” she said.
Everything was going to plan, and from inside the box, she was able to line up the pieces perfectly and secure the RFID lock.
“I set the drill down outside of the box and pulled to test the door one more time. The lock clicked into place. It clicked. I pushed at the door. It didn’t budge. There was no battery in the unit but I’d tried a couple of tests beforehand and didn’t know it was set to lock the next time the latch was inserted. Where was the battery? Outside of the box. Where was the sensor key? Outside of the box. Where was my phone? Outside of the box. Where was the drill, so I could unscrew the lock and get out? Outside of the box. I was stuck!” she said.
Getting out of the locked door was not an option, so Vicki resorted to attempting to squeeze through the lid. Thanks to a small design flaw in her bracket and plywood mechanism, she eventually made it out.
“I had to go back to the drawing board on the mechanism. If I could squeeze out, that meant a porch pirate could squeeze out a small package. But I was able to make it better. And up until now, no one knows what I went through to make this DIY.”
5. Little House of Horrors
Amberlyn Sacchetti and her boyfriend went to look at a single-family home in August 2020. The house needed some work, but they saw the potential, so they put in an offer that was accepted later that day. Everything was great, and they were really excited… until it came time to close.
“The agent told the owner he could stay in the house after it became ours just for the night. We were stunned. That’s not how things work. But my boyfriend being my boyfriend, he let the man stay the night,” said Amberlyn.
The next day, when they went to check on the house and make sure the previous owner had left, they were greeted by a shock.
“He left everything. Used soap, used deodorant, used razors. He left clothes in the dryer! Needless to say, there was a lot of work ahead of us. We started throwing and giving things away. There was just so much stuff. We had a dumpster in front of our house for weeks,” she said
And this was just the preparation that needed to be done so they could move it. The house still needed a lot of renovation work. They started by ripping up the carpet to find hardwood floors underneath, however, they were completely stained and ruined.
“The stains on the floor looked like someone was brutally murdered then dragged to the door. Throughout the whole house. Obviously, I knew that didn’t happen, but the floors were ruined. We had to redo them ourselves, and I’m telling you I still have sawdust in my sinuses,” said Amberlyn.
From there, the couple started the kitchen renovation. That’s when they found out the whole house wasn’t insulated. And the bathrooms were so bad, they were forced to completely gut them and start from scratch.
“It was one thing after another. It’s been over a year and we still have projects that aren’t finished,” she said.
Despite all of that, Amberlyn said that they were able to create the home of their dreams from this little house of horrors.
How To Ensure Your Home Improvement Project Is No Tricks, All Treats
While these stories may have spooked you away from wanting to tackle your own home improvement project, fear not. We’ve put together some tips to help your project go smoothly, so you can avoid having your own home improvement horror story.
Have a Plan
It may seem obvious, but blindly diving into a project is rarely a wise idea. Sometimes, figuring out where to start can be the hardest part, and going in without a plan is a recipe for disaster. Having an end goal in mind will give your project a solid starting point and can help you better map out a project plan. The end goal may change as the project continues, and that’s okay. A flexible plan is better than no plan at all, so sit down and write down your project goals before breaking out the toolbox.
Know What Your Projects Should Cost
Having an idea of what your project should cost can help ensure that it gets completed the right way. Whether you’re doing it yourself or are hiring someone to do it for you, paying way over or way under the average for what your project should cost is usually a red flag. Before you go out to buy what you need or start calling pros to get bids, do your due diligence and research the average cost of a project like yours. Obviously, there are some factors that could make your specific project cost more or less, but knowing the average cost allows you to make informed decisions.
Know When To Call a Pro
Just because you can do a project doesn’t mean that you should, and knowing when to make this call is one of the most important tips for avoiding a home improvement disaster. Generally speaking, if you have the time, ability, knowledge and tools needed to complete a project, it might be possible to DIY.
If any of these are lacking, you are probably better off calling in a professional. And even if you are fully prepared to take on a job, calling in a pro still might be the best move. Don’t push yourself to take on a project yourself just because you have the means to do it. More often than not, homeowners spend more money trying to DIY a project (in particular, doing it wrong and then having to call in a pro to fix it) than they would have spent if they just hired a pro off the bat.
Get Multiple Bids
If you do decide to hire a professional, taking the time to get multiple bids (even in an emergency) can help prevent a home improvement disaster. By getting at least three bids, you’ll be able to tell if one is way too high or way too low. While a low bid might be tempting, keep in mind that this could be a reflection of low-quality work. Choose the pro who is highly rated, has experience doing the type of work you need done and has a bid somewhere in the middle.
Get It in Writing
No matter how big or small your home improvement projects are, make sure there is a contract in place that has been discussed, underwood and signed by all parties involved. A contract serves as protection, for both you and the pro(s), and is only ever a good idea. Make sure the contract outlines the details of the project, the timeline, information for everyone who will be working on it, costs and any other important project details. If there is something in the contract that you don’t agree with or understand, make sure it is discussed, clarified and updated before you sign your name on the dotted line.
Keeping open lines of communication between you and anyone working on your project is a simple and effective way to help ensure the project does not go awry. Make sure you have the contact information for anyone working on your project, and vice versa. Encourage conversation, ask questions when you have them and be respectful. You’re all here for the same common goal, to make sure your project gets done, and gets done well.