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House manual – a real need

September 2004

It's unconscionable that a new house doesn't come with an instruction manual.
A Rubic's Cube does. And a bicycle. And a calculator. And ...
I bought a calculator a while back for $20. With it I got a fully explanatory manual that describes all the features of the machine, with detailed examples of how to use the more esoteric functions. By now I have several such manuals on my shelves, some running more than 50 pages. One from Casio has nearly 200 pages of instructions. (That was a $40 machine.)  But what do I get in the way of instruction manual when I plunk down $200,000 for a house?  Nada. Nichts. Rien. Zippo! (Well, with luck I might get manuals for the installed appliances.)  And somehow this is accepted without question by homebuyers. For the most expensive, and one of the most complex, products we are ever likely to buy, we get nothing in the way of a meaningful manual. Bizarre, isn't it?

If you're thinking, "No, that's just the way it is," you've somehow bought into the home builders' arrogance, their attitude that you "take it or leave it", that they don't need to do anything beyond the minimum to make a sale. And that they're not in the least concerned about your maintenance of the house after the sale.

Let's think about what information we really need about the house we've bought: I need to know about matching replacement parts for siding, roofing, carpet and other flooring, paint, paneling, doors and windows, drapery, hardware, light fixtures, etc. And I need to know the details of the electrical circuitry, rating of pumps and fans, routing of air ducts, plumbing and telephone lines, insulation, sprinkler and drainage systems, types of lawn grass and other landscape plants - with care instructions, etc., etc. All this is information that the builder has, but generally chooses not to pass on to us as buyers.

We may as well face the fact that builders will not voluntarily provide such a manual to home buyers. Although I generally favor fewer prescriptive laws and rules, I believe in this case that legislation is needed to give home buyers what they need and what the open market has not provided them with. My proposed legislation, recommended to legislators in California and North Carolina, would require house builders to provide to buyers a manual as described above. This manual would be an integral part of the house, would be expected to be updated by the owner as necessary, and would accompany the house at each subsequent sale. Thus, after a transition period, no house would be sold without a house manual.

Consider your next house purchase. How would you feel about being presented with a manual that tells you everything you need to know about the house? The precise color blend of the paint, the manufacturer and style of carpet and bathroom tile, the type and rating of insulation, and the like. Such a manual will be a godsend a few years down the road when repairs and replacements will be needed. But getting such a requirement in place can apparently only be done through state legislation. If you like the idea, get active: contact your legislator and propose it.

© 2004 H. Paul Lillebo

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