Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How do you know?

One of the basic premises of all formal scholarship is that it is very difficult to really, really know something. We are taught to doubt our first impressions, gut reactions, instincts, and to look for proof (of facts), for reason and evidence (in support of arguments and interpretations), etc. We learn to be suspicious of any easy or obvious explanation, and to guard against oversimplification. And above all we're taught to be vigilant against the thing that we *hope* to be true, lest we unconsciously massage our research toward showing it to be true despite evidence to the contrary.

While I feel ultimately that such a rigorous model of knowledge is important and useful - I think much popular and civic discourse suffers from an insufficiently rigorous standard of knowledge, honestly - it can also be a personal handicap. We are in the process of buying a condominium, which would be our first owned home, and we are in the middle of home inspections and asbestos testing and reviewing the condo documents and all that entails. As a result, we are being asked to review and evaluate whole categories of information that we have never encountered before or are unequipped to readily understand. Despite the fact that we are two of the most overeducated people you could ever hope to meet, it is proving a challenge to draw conclusions from all this data, especially when they are (a) potentially expensive conclusions, (b) legally binding conclusions, and (c) made under deadlines that have to be met for the whole process to finish up by the closing date in late December. But add to that the intense consciousness of how ill-suited our experience and intellectual toolset is to the task we face, and the result (for me, although not necessarily for my extrovert husband) is a sense of deep trepidation.

I suppose the only comfort is the immortal words of Zorba the Greek: "To live is to ask for trouble."


Ronald van Loon said...

The point is that with houses, you don't know. Where in academia you can peel away layer after layer, with houses (a condominium still sounds like a shop for the prevention of conception) you cannot really do that as easily - if at all.

What we have found when living in a house that at first glance only was dirty after not being cleaned for what appeared to be decades and had been in use by heavy smokers, over the course of the past four years we've found:

- concrete rot
- vermin (mice)
- holes where they were not supposed to be
- a roof where the structural integrity was lacking and which had to be replaced

We were lucky that the house is not our own. We were unlucky in the sense that we had to live in it for the past four years and that our children may have health problems because of it.

Golden rule for buying a house: *never* think that a problem is easily solved - it it would be easily solvable, the previous homeowner would have done so as defects decrease value.

Also, examine everything:
- structural integrity
* if wood, check for rot
* check status of paint - paint can hide a lot
* isolation
- unwanted materials
* asbestos
* VOCs
* isolation
- essentials:
* plumbing
* electricity
* state of switchbox
* gas
* heating
- isolation

then make a list of all the things you need to invest to bring it up to speed. If you then still want the house, negotiate the price down, preferably by the same amount.

I think your first paragraph is actually exactly what is needed to buy a house. Never take anything at face value. People lie.

atlanticmo said...

Let me tell you what Uncle Mike told me when we were buying our house.
"You've just got to jump on that Merry-Go-Round."

mindy said...

When I was in the market, I bought a lot of books and called my dad a lot. (And yet, I am still a renter.)

melinda said...

welcome (soon) to the homeowners' club! it's a hassle, but a worthwhile one. you'll do fine. it can be very edifying to be confronted with a situation in which you are in over your head and yet muddle through anyway. good prep for parenthood. :)