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Make the biggest purchase of your life a smart one

MARC CARLISLE
special to the daily

When you buy a car, you can readily find out where every part was manufactured, where the car was assembled, even the day assembly was complete.

When you buy a microwave, you can just by examining the sticker to find out where it was built and by whom, what kind of materials were used and the ratings and capacities of the electrical components inside.

If you’ve ever bought a painting, a sculpture, a first edition, even a dinosaur bone, the item’s provenance identifies who painted or carved or published or found the item, and where it’s been until the day you came on the scene.

For cars, microwaves, and paintings, large or small, new or antique, regardless of price or value, the key information was there to help you make a decision.

But when you buy a house, the most costly purchase you’ll ever make, in most cases you’ll never know who designed it, who built the place and with what kind of materials, and who lived there and how before you moved in.

Over the years, I’ve bought two houses, both from the original and only other occupant ” in fact, one from the guy who designed the house and supervised the construction.

In both cases, the blueprints were available, and if I had a question they knew the answer.

Only now, as I look for house number three, do I realize how unusual that was, and wonder how consumers let realtors sell so much to so many with so little information for so long.

Consumers deserve disclosure and in this day and age it would be easy enough to put in the little brown realtor boxes, along with the keys, a flashstick with the blueprints for the house, the name of the builder and his CV, the name of the general contractor, the name of the plumber and master electrician, the building permit and a review of variances approved and rejected.

For $100, small cameras could be placed around a house to take a photo record to go in the flashstick.

If you’re a builder, aghast but waiting for the other shoe to drop, don’t; everything that goes into a Big Mac gets tested and inspected, and the results recorded, and so too should a house.

Think of a visual record of construction as your contribution to “Buy America.”

Though costs would rise, surely consumers would hesitate to buy a house shown to have been built with illegal labor.

And wouldn’t buyers (and so too the builders) make different choices if they knew the total board feet of wood used, and the amount hauled to the dump in semi truck sized rolloffs.

Think of it as a truth-in-building statement, just like the truth-in-lending requirements for mortgage lenders.

And if big appliances come with an estimate of power consumption and cars with fuel efficiency estimates, then a house should as well.

New homes should have a dollar and BTU estimated use for heating and kilowatts for electricity, as well as sewer and water.

I like to think that Tiger Woods might have made some design changes to his new home if he’d know that he’d use 3.7 millions gallons of water every year, even though he’s a veritable Fremen compared with his neighbor and fellow professional golfer Greg Norman, whose house absorbs 6.3 million gallons of water yearly.

Ideally, instead of a flashstick of information, new houses could be online, downloading utility bills, lessor information, as well as any record of police or fire calls.

Consumers should know whether the house was once a meth lab, or whether the fire department put out a blaze caused by faulty wiring.

And that, after all, is the reason for disclosure, the consumer’s right to know.

In broader terms, if disclosure means consumers buy better and buy more energy and resource efficient houses, we all benefit.

To top it off, a disclosure statement could be done at any jurisdiction, by a town or city, or by county government, with a planning and permit process without vast new regulations or rules, just the collection and provision of information.

To a good builder or a skilled craftsman solo artist, detailed disclosure inviting comparison with other house products would be a powerful marketing tool, to say nothing of mitigating liability because everything’s at the consumers’ fingertips.

Of course, some will still buy stupid, based on color or address, but the rest of us will hopefully make the biggest purchases of our lives smart(er) ones.


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