I Bought a House With a Pool, and Wow, Was I in Over My Head!

June 11, 2019

AzmanL/iStock

I live in a house with a gorgeous in-ground pool. When my husband and I bought the property in 2012, I swooned over visions of pool parties filled with floaties and endless summer fun.

It’s a good thing I didn’t start sending out those pool party invitations too soon. Because first, we had to figure out how to repair and maintain a swimming pool, which is no small task. Here are a few things I learned about what it takes to have a home with a pool.

Lesson No. 1: Renovating a run-down pool will drain your bank account dry

The home we’d purchased was a distressed property near Seattle that had been empty for years. Thieves had stolen anything they could, including equipment and wiring. My neighbor talked about chasing off groups of teenagers who trespassed onto the empty property and sat around the pool, throwing rocks and bottles into the water. By the time we’d bought the place, the pool water wasn’t just green. It was a menacing green, a black, lumpy morass.

We were about to discover just how expensive and harrowing pool repair can get.

swimming pool before
We’ll just clean this up in a week, right?

Sally Herigstad

For one, the pool equipment needed to be replaced. A new, energy-efficient heat pump cost $4,500. We bought a pool-cleaning robot for about $800. Just to get the pool running, we spent about $10,000.

It wasn’t just money, either. Because draining a fiberglass pool can cause the shell to shift, we had to actually clean the existing water in the pool rather than draining it. So we spent weeks dragging rubbish and rotting debris out of the murky depths. We evicted hundreds of croaking frogs and salamanders. We cleaned out gallons of pine needle sludge before the pool was even clean enough to start using the pool robot.

The day we could see the bottom of the pool was a long-awaited victory.

Lesson No. 2: Once it’s up and running, swimming pools rock!

And yet: Once all the repairs were done, our first pool party had me hooked! Friends came, and friends of friends. They brought food, and babies, and laughter! It’s a good thing I live in the country, because the shrieking and carrying on would have been heard for blocks away in the city.

I discovered why playing in a home pool is much better than going to a lake or a public pool. I control the temperature, for one thing. (I think 86 degrees is about right.) I test the water myself, so I know the chemicals are all just so. We follow our own rules, with all the floaty toys and basketball games we want.

kids love a swimming pool
Kids love a pool party.

Sally Herigstad

Lesson No. 3: Even when your pool is fixed, maintenance costs a pretty penny

I’ll admit that my expectations of pool ownership were different from the reality. I had thought that once it was fixed up, we could add a few chemicals and run the pump filters every so often, and spend long, lazy summers lounging by the pool.

First, we live in the Pacific Northwest. So which long, lazy summers? You don’t know how short our summers are until you’re scanning the weather report, looking for enough sunshine to open the pool. I’m lucky if my pool doesn’t look more like this:

pool in winter
Down season for the pool

Sally Herigstad

Second, pools require a lot of maintenance, and inevitably, repairs. Sometimes we say we should just throw cash in the water, for all the chemicals we buy and dump in the pool. Last year, the pipes sprang a leak, and the summer was half over before it was working again. We spend a significant portion of every summer working on our pool. Last summer, we spent about $500 on repairs, plus another $200 on chemicals.

Lesson No. 4: Sometimes, a pool can’t be saved

In 2015, we bought another house in Puyallup, WA, intending to use it as a construction office. It came with a gigantic old concrete pool. We thought about filling it in to create more parking space, or filling it in part way and creating a koi pond. It seemed a shame to fill in a nice pool, though, especially after the previous owner told me how long ago her mother had won $20,000 in Reno and spent it on building this one.

Eventually, we dropped the office plans and started fixing up the property to sell, at which point I thought that perhaps the pool might even be an attractive feature for the next owners. Despite my husband’s skepticism, I started watching YouTube videos on restoring pools.

My daughter-in-law Sherri was game. We fished shoes, branches, milk cartons, and other junk out of the pool.

Working on the pool
Cleaning an old concrete pool is serious business.

Sally Herigstad

We pumped it out and started scraping the loose plaster. I bought crack sealant and plaster-patching supplies. Sherri and I spent days hauling buckets full of old plaster from the depths of the pool and spraying muriatic acid on the walls so the plaster patches would stick.

Cleaning concrete pool
Muriatic acid cleans the pool, but it’s nasty stuff.

Sally Herigstad

Removing old plaster from concrete pool
Loose plaster in the old pool must be scraped and hauled out.

Sally Herigstad

Unfortunately, the more we scraped, the more the plaster came loose. It became clear that we wouldn’t just be patching the pool, we’d be resurfacing the whole thing.

To get it done right, I looked into hiring a pro—and got a bid for $20,000 to replace all the plaster, tiles, and steps. Oh, and the pool equipment would be extra. That was money we didn’t have, considering that we had already spent more money on this house than we’d planned. We eventually cut our losses and sold the house with the pool “as is” rather than risk doing an iffy repair job or spending too much money.

Lesson No. 5: Get a pool inspection first, to know if you’re getting in over your head

If you’re looking at a house that comes with a pool, how do you know whether the pool can be saved, or whether you can afford to save it?

If you have your heart set on using a pool, consider having a pool expert inspect your property before you buy the house. Be reasonably confident you can afford to fix the pool and maintain it, or no one will be having any fun with it.

While the pool at our house has lived up to all my expectations of how much fun a pool can be, I hate to think how much money we’ve spent on it. I’m sure we could have gone on some fabulous vacations with that much money. But whether my pool has a dozen small children laughing and squealing in it for hours, or I’m all alone floating in warm water and looking up at the blue sky and tall fir trees, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d rather be in my own pool than at any exotic location on earth.

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