Cautionary tales thus far

So far into my journey, there have been any number of moments that would have given a more critically oriented thinker pause. A more reflective person might have taken a beat and said, hmm, I need some help. Or maybe I need to stop this process.

To avoid becoming your own cautionary tale, here are areas where I highly recommend you seek out expertise:

  • Have a home inspection done. Offend everyone in the process, but get an engineer in early. Not an architect.
  • Trust your gut. If those holes in the door frame look like woodworm, they probably are.
  • Don’t take the realtor’s advice at face value. He doesn’t know if there’s asbestos or not. Wasn’t he surprised by the report!
  • Get estimates and devis for work in advance and in writing.
  • Take your time. Take your time. Take your time. Don’t rush.
  • Don’t assume the engineer you found in a google search will actually be competent.

Should I have bought this house is an irrelevant question because I did buy it.

Part of the reason that home inspections are not part of the cultural landscape here is that the market is for sellers. There is such a limited amount of housing stock that unless there’s something wrong with the property, there is usually significant competition. There won’t be a bidding war, but there won’t be time to investigate as thoroughly as you might like.

Looking back, I can see where I could have helped myself more. I chose the architect because when I was looking for someone to do the CECB+ for the house, I wanted to hire a woman. One of the few women on the list worked at an architecture firm. When I emailed her, she bounced me up to her boss. I invited him to come look at the house with me. They are a very eco-friendly firm, and had done a couple of renovations (according to their website), so I thought this house might fit with their remit. It did not. It was a tiny project relative to their usual work. I paid them for their work: the sketches AND the development of the variations on a scope of work to get the project done (it was like chf2400 for the two documents) and that was that.

In the end, I still needed an environmental engineer. By September, I was calling the cantonal office of energy because the list on the website was so outdated that half the people on it were no longer involved in the companies they were listed with, and a few others just didn’t provide that service anymore. Thankfully, the office gave me three names of engineers who had submitted CECB+ reports recently, and the first one I called that had an appointment, we met. He was the first person in whom I had absolute confidence in his expertise and professionalism. I didn’t feel dismissed by him; I felt listened to and well-advised in turn.

I brought in an engineer in August because I wanted to know if I could knock down a wall at the back of the kitchen. He made a few site visits. Never really took notes, took some photos. Used the sketches by the architect to base his report on, never noticing that the sketches were not quite accurate in some areas, or not caring. In the end, his report wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on (once I printed off the pdf). All I wanted to know was if that wall could be taken down, and I still didn’t know by the end. The firm sent a bill that made my jaw drop, and we eventually negotiated it down to about half. That took months, though. I first received the bill in November, we didn’t settle it til April. And then I still needed an engineer…

Part of my cautionary tale is cultural. Geneva is small. There’s less than 500’000 inhabitants in the canton, and about 200’000 in the city itself. Firms don’t advertise or have a huge presence on the internet. Their reputations precede them, and word of mouth is their preferred method. This makes it extremely difficult for a foreigner who is not French mother tongue to sort out the reputable from the not as professional. If you don’t have someone already on the inside to guide you, you will make mistakes. Which is why I am still so thankful to that person in the energy office who gave me the environmental engineer’s name.


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