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It's November 2020, day four of living in my new home as a first-time homeowner. Having spent the past 16 years as a renter living in one-bedroom apartments with limited access to laundry, the thing I'm most looking forward to about my new home is doing my first load. That, and not being surrounded by a perpetual cloud of weed smoke from my stoner neighbor downstairs. Bucket For Bucket Elevator
My last apartment had two coin-operated machines in the basement, several elevator-less flights down, where tenants were left to fight one another for access. Which became especially high-stakes with every fruitless trip down the stairs to see if the machines were finally free.
I'd even lived in buildings without laundry and spent countless hours I'll never get back killing time in laundromats trying to read while screaming children chased each other around and around and old women slept, until I worked out a system for doing the groceries during a wash cycle, popping back in to move some of the clothes to the dryer, and carrying the others home to hang-dry as I put away the groceries in just enough time to run back and rescue my clothes from the dryer. Oy.
But the day I'd been longing for had finally come: I was going to christen my near-pristine stackable washer-dryer in my very own home. I wouldn't have to worry about rescuing my clothes before another tenant could unceremoniously remove them, letting them fall where they may. The machines weren't new, but they were beautiful and they were mine and on the second floor of the house, no less. Boom!
I gleefully put a load in the machine and return to the work of unpacking. Not long after turning my attention to unpacking I hear the sound of rushing water that doesn't sound quite right and immediately brings fear into my heart.
I follow the sound to the cellar (the basement's more primitive ancestor) only to find that the ancient laundry sink that the washing machine empties into is overflowing. Horror of horrors: What's backing up in the sink isn't only the water from my first load of laundry in my new home, it's ... sewage! Waste water from the city sewage pipe is flowing onto the drainless floor and washing away my short-lived homeowner's honeymoon.
Having just moved from a big city, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the city responded to my desperate call for help. After months spent in near isolation during the pandemic, it was a shock to suddenly have five large men in my house, tromping up and down my cellar stairs and wading through waste water. I couldn't watch.
After what felt like hours of noisy work, they called me down to the cellar to show me, by way of a tiny camera, that the pipe, original to my turn-of-the-century home, was no longer round, but flattened like a sad and flaking pancake.
And then came the really bad news: The flattened pipe needed to be completely replaced immediately, it was on my property, I would have to foot the bill, and it was going to be $$$ expensive emergency repair work.
My first call was to my real estate agent to get her recommendation for plumbing and excavating companies and to see if she could find out if the former owner had known about this potential issue — not one of the many issues my home inspection had revealed. I hadn't budgeted for this!
My next call was to my homeowners insurance provider and emergency plumbers and excavators, who arrived on site later that same day to quote on the massive job that would mean digging up my driveway, nine feet deep, and almost to the back of my property. Yet more men flooded into my home.
The man sent to evaluate the damage for the insurance company took photos, listened to my sob story, and left me with an industrial-sized jug of disinfectant. I spent the last night of my mini-vacation that I'd taken to get settled into my new home cleaning waste water out of my cellar using only a mop and bucket that I'd later need to burn, and crying and hoping I hadn't made a terrible mistake buying a house on my own in a town where I knew no one, in the middle of a pandemic.
Bright and early the next morning, the plumbers, excavators, and insurance man arrived and set to work ripping up my driveway. The team completed the job in one day and provided me with paperwork for the insurance company that resulted in a reimbursement of around 60% of the total cost of the work. It was a miracle and, honestly, way better coverage than I expected.
The woman assigned to my file at the insurance company was friendly, efficient, and processed my reimbursement within two weeks so that I could pay down my credit card, which had never seen such a hefty charge. The experience almost made me long for the days of renting and collecting coins to do my laundry.
Two years later, almost to the day, my poor driveway still bears the scars of my initiation into homeownership. I'm reminded of my baptism of fire — or, more accurately, baptism of waste water — every time I see that driveway.
A ripped-up driveway wasn't on my list of repairs when I bought the place and so, it will remain a reminder of my resolve to stay the course in the new life I'm building for myself as I work my way down the triaged list of home repairs and work hard to love my century home back to its former glory, one budget line at a time.
If it hadn't been for the safety net of my homeowners insurance, telling the harrowing tale of the first week in my new home would have been more tragedy than comedy.
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