And they thought everything was fine.
Then they launched what seemed like a simple project: moving the washer from the kitchen to the laundry room.
They thought wrong.
"We had a plumber-friend redo the drain pipes under the kitchen cabinetry, through a brick wall, for $800," she said. "We turned on the washer, and the drain was blocked. Then we tried snaking it, but the pipe was blocked and possibly broken."
The couple brought in a professional, who determined that the pipe was indeed broken, and that the drains needed to be redone.
"Of course, they were imbedded in the concrete slab under very old cabinets," she said. So they ripped out the cabinets, and brought in a jackhammer to get to the pipes through the concrete.
While they were there, the Babillises decided to rewire the kitchen.
The same theory led them to dig up the backyard, and replace the cast-iron drain pipe.
Insurance paid $10,000 for the cabinets, the concrete floor and walls, and everything else needed to repair the pipes.
But that was just the start.
Before we go further, you should know that the Babillises still say they have no regrets. Eventually, this will be the "house of our dreams," something that Steve, the chef, Robin, the part-time legal assistant, and their four children have always wanted.
However, "we had hoped that we could start on the things we wanted to do, like re-landscape the front of the house to give it curb appeal," Robin said.
They finally paid $800 to a professional to dig up the trees and plants that had overtaken the front yard.
"Steve gets one day off a week," she said. "I convinced him that we would take years if we did it ourselves."
The landscaper did it in two days.
"We had a vegetable garden this year," she said. "Not a big one, but it was a start."
Did they have an inkling that the house would need so much before they bought it?
There were signs. The house sat on the market for two years. A lot of people had looked at it and decided it would require too much work.
The asking price began dropping from $127,000, which is what most of the surrounding houses - in much better shape - had been selling for.
When the Babillises happened on the house, six months into their search for an alternative to apartment living, the price was a bit more in line with what they thought it should be selling for.
"Our real estate agent, who is a friend of the family, tried talking us out of it," she said. "He's such a nice man."
The home inspector, while not allowed to make a pronouncement one way or the other, noted that the plumbing was old and would need to be replaced "somewhere down the road."
Then the road rose up to meet them almost immediately after they bought the house.
Four months after the kitchen isfinished, a bathroom fixture bursts, spewing hot water onto the concrete slab for three to four hours.
"Every carpet soaked and ruined," Robin Babillis said. "The water wicks up the walls, and gets to the electrical wiring."
The plumber arrives. He determines that the water pressure coming into the house is 120 pounds per square inch instead of the desired 60 pounds.
Pressure valve, new carpets, new wiring.
Price: $12,000, with the insurance again paying $10,000.
"At this point, we're getting paranoid," she said. "Does the house need an exorcist? What will go next? The roof? The radiant heating system imbedded in the concrete slab?"
As luck would have it, the radiant heating system was installed before builders began using copper pipes, which tend to corrode from the salt in the concrete.
Still, to be on the safe side, the couple spent $5,000 to re-roof the house and the garage.
Times passes. One day, the Babillises notice moisture in the kitchen wall coming through the floor.
"After much thought, we determine that the moisture is coming from a spot between the foundation of the addition that is one-quarter of an inch from the main foundation," she said.
So they get a jackhammer, and take up the front and back walkways to install French drains.
Price: $600 for materials. (They're doing the work themselves.)
While they're at it, they have the below-ground oil tank dug up, pumped and cleaned, and have the above-ground tank moved to install the drains.
So the question remains: Was this house a mistake?
No, Robin said emphatically.
"It was everything we wanted: town, neighborhood, convenience to work and school, and not far from my mother-in-law."
"So far, I've had no regrets buying this house," Steve Babillis said. "But so far, I haven't botched any of the jobs."
For Steve, the kitchen flood was the biggest downer in the two years they have owned the house, but "when we moved in, we knew we had to do these things, and we're doing them."
"After you've lived in a house for a year, you pretty much know what the problems are, and you set up a timetable to take care of them," he said. "Unfortunately, you soon find yourself on the house's timetable.
"I've not finished with the French drains yet, but I've enjoyed using the jackhammer and putting in the new sidewalks."
Even though this is his first house, "I've always done a lot of woodworking and have built furniture," he said. "I've collected a lot of tools over the years, and what I don't have, I'll rent when I need them."
"I helped my Dad on a project or two when I was a kid," he added.
The neighbors have been helpful and sympathetic, even though they are amazed about the work that goes into what the Babillises describe as the worst house on the block.
But if they had to do it over again, there are a few things they would have done differently:
If it takes more than two weekends, hire someone to do it.
Take no more than one week of vacation time per year to work on the house. "We spent three years saving for the house by taking small vacations, weekends at the shore, and such," Robin Babillis said. "The first year in the house, all our vacation time went to working on it. You just got to get away."
Research and use contractors who live in your development or have done extensive work in other, similar homes.
For really big insurance claims, hire a good adjuster. "You wouldn't go to court without a lawyer, would you?" Robin asked."Think of your insurance company as a judge."
Leave pest control to the experts.
Buying the cheapest available isn't necessarily the best decision.
Hire a tree expert.
Take the lessons learned, and apply them. "After a flood ruined our carpets, we reevaluated how the old carpets were working," Robin said. "Beige carpet in living room and dining room? Not with three kids. What were we thinking?"
Get along with your neighbors. Neighbors are a great source for information on your home and the neighborhood, she said, "especially the ones who have been there 10 years or so. They can usually tell you when your roof was last done, when the heater went, and so forth." And, she said, "their own home horror stories will inspire as well as entertain."
Alan J. Heavens' e-mail address is email@example.com.