TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY!! PICS!!!! Issues...

Questions and answers relating to houses built in the 1800s and before.

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TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY!! PICS!!!! Issues...

Post by SquarePark »

Ok, we know this is long but if you want to take the time to read and share ideas/opinions, we welcome them and appreciate it. And I know WE ALL love to hear about these houses so here is a bit of a hashing out of what is inside these walls of these pictures. This property is currently 6 apartments.

1. Ornate, carved, original finish oak woodwork, great condition
2. Original windows with original finish and newer aluminum storms & screens (56 of them)
3. Original Oak floors throughout first and second floors
4. 10 original fireplaces, some double decker, some with mirrors, original tiles, original finish,
great condition, on all 3 floors, Gorgeous!
5. 5 clawfoot tubs, 6 sets of old fixtures including bathroom sinks and kitchen sinks (we think
most are pre-1920, at least one bathroom has the tiny old floor tiles with beautiful design and old tile around the walls) the faucets on sinks and tubs have to be original, they are like spickets/spigots!
6. High, high ceilings (above drop ceilings), second floor doors have transoms
7. finished third floor, half is not finished, tower is not finished
8. 2 sets of pocket doors still remain
9. there is an attached garage
10. 2 second floor porches
11. steam heat, entire house is connected, newer boiler in the 1990’s, house is over 5,000 sq. ft.
12. old kitchen cabinetry
13. it does not appear difficult or costly to connect the units again, because no hallways were built in, etc., and the floor plan remains relatively open in all of the units, rooms open into rooms, etc.
14. servants staircase all the way to the third floor
15. property is residential but can also be commercial because it sits on a mixed street, although what is around and across the street is residential but what is beside it is commercial
16. house is on the historic registry for queen anne architecture
17. a lot of the interior work is cosmetic updating and would not be costly
18. double door entry with tile (doors are uneven)
19. Eastlake colored glass on third floor
20. huge windows, arches, lots of light
21. all walls are plaster (a mess to knock any out)
22. it does have a buffer behind it of only one rental property and then a parking lot
23. beside it is a business, not a rental, and between the two is a nice side yard that is secluded (an old clothes line is there)
24. can have rental income while re-habbing the property
25. we may qualify for city-funded rehab assistance!
26. some crown molding
27. sandstone foundation looks solid
28. the home has more original features than less.
29. I have allergies so radiated heat is good for me!
30. the home was built by a prominent person of this STATE, not just the city, and trust me, the house is a special house. It is not your average house! It’s a mansion

1. Stained glass windows taken out in various places years ago, we are unsure of where
2. Missing the staircase (this may be hidden in behind a wall, but we think it is gone completely,
part of the rail, spindles, and newel post are in the basement)
3. aluminum sided (the entire thing)
4. partial dirt floor basement (whole thing probably needs cemented) (huge)
5. assumed ceiling problems above drop ceilings
6. no outlets/no electrical in some rooms!
7. at one point, there were more fireplaces (we heard) – up to 3 were taken out
8. a staircase has been added in the middle of the house, dividing it into 2 units down, 2 units up (there is also one unit at the back of the house, second floor, and one unit on third floor)
On first floor, part of the wall is only paneling and can see through to the other apartment
Doorways that used to unite the sides are gone (can see the cut up baseboards and replacement plaster walls)
On second floor, the added middle staircase still acts as a divisive feature, although an old hall remains at the top of it.
31. assume plumbing is very old
32. old electrical, 5 or 6 different meters
33. 5 or 6 separate gas units for stoves
34. most bathrooms do not have windows (moisture)
35. neighborhood is not good (but not the worst), property value on the streets behind the property is some of the lowest in the area, all homes in neighborhood streets behind the property are rentals. Because they are lower-income rentals, drugs have been trafficked in this area before
36. sits right on a one-way side street, although does not get much traffic but does get people walking through
37. there is a retaining wall that needs attention, could soon be a code violation and is a likely insurance issue
38. porch wood-rot issues
39. missing some down spouts, some do not drain into original old drains, gutters need attention
40. old slate roof, has had some repairs, but will need replaced eventually
41. pipes run from floor to ceiling outside of the walls in some rooms (up to second floor) ( I know this is common)
42. the house has been divided into 6 units, it was in the 1920’s, but even the original owner from the 1890’s rented out part of the house somehow and we are not sure how
43. $750 monthly (12 months) budgeted gas bill, this will probably go up with the increases but with less tenants we assume if could decrease
44. radon infiltration with such an old basement
45. 5 units are occupied with tenants
46. no attic insulation (it is a finished apartment)
47. no inside basement entrance (it has been taken out) Basement entrance is from outside
48. on the other side of the street beside it sits a huge brick building built in the 50’s, currently used as a school, that may eventually be torn down, and who knows what could be put in its place. If the school goes, sex offenders could move in to the rentals around it (just a guess)
49. home has been owned by slumlords since the 1920’s!
50. one tenant lives in complete filth (possible cock roaches), his old kitchen will probably need completely ripped out (it is very small and narrow)
51. heat/water/sewer is included in tenant rent
52. no backyard
53. loan is commercial with a variable/higher rate, we would have to refinance once we cut down the number of units to get a residential loan
54. there are probably issues getting insurance on this house, current owner says his is $1200
55. inspection will be costly because it is huge
56. somehow, the 1st and 2nd floors have to get connected, a staircase has to be put back in wherever it used to be, or the one put into the middle at the front of the house has to be modified and accessible by the first floor.

Some pros may be cons, some cons may be pros, depending on how you see it. I just put them in the list, not necessarily how I see them, and definitely not in any order.

Situation: The owner has not taken care of this property. There are problems we must assume we have no idea of. But it has been occupied continually with tenants. We know there are ways to get the heat bill down, (less tenants means less radiators turned up and running), but also mainly not using it in the not-so frigid months (is this possible?), but with the house being so huge, and so many bathroom/kitchen pipes in so many units, the idea is scary, although we know that with steam we do not have to worry about damage like we would if it was hot-water heat. Also, if we decided to convert this down to 3 units, we have a tenant situation that we do not know how to deal with. There are people living there. We would like to use some of it as income for a while until we feel that we can live there and convert it without losing our minds or all our money. Anyone know about tenant rights, rules, laws, etc? Also we think the bills are high for water/sewer with it being 6 units. The house is beautiful, but there are many issues, and some tell us it is too cut up into apartments and should stay that way. Mainly, the staircase in the middle is what has done this and if anyone knows how to deal with that please share. We are first time homebuyers, in our 20’s, but we do have experience in historic re-hab. We are low to moderate income. Obviously this house is huge for 2 people. In my mind, it would be nice to re-hab it so that a single family can live in most of it, but if necessary it can be put right back into units. I say this because changing it in the neighborhood it’s in scares me with the value of the property. If the value is truly in the fact that it is 6 units of income, then I do not want to sink our money into converting it back for nothing. I know location is huge. The street it actually faces is probably the best one to buy a house like this. It’s what is behind it that causes the location problem. And this house is not just a project, it is a HUGE PROJECT.

If you can give us your thoughts on some of the numbered issues, and your overall opinion of what to do, that would be great! We really don’t HAVE to buy this house. So share!

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Post by Greg »

This is a spectacular house and a massive project. I'm in the middle of something similar, although not quite to that scale. Mine was cut up in to 4 units in the 20s, with 2 more units over the garage. Mine was maybe not quite as damaged as yours in the process. I mainly referring to the missing stair case.

I had it stipulated as part of the contract to buy the place, that all tenants be evicted prior to the close of escrow. I had really bad people living in the house, some had stopped paying rent, and I wanted nothing to do with them. Priority one at the close of escrow was to get the two units over the garage fixed up and rented to decent people.

It’s hard to say how much work this will be because you don’t know how far you are going to go with it. I mean, do you go all the way back to a single family home or not. I am going back to a single family home, and I’m doing it on a very tight budget, so I don’t hire anybody. It is a ridiculous amount of work.

You can just assume that you need all new wiring and plumbing. These are things you can do yourself if the city will let you. Call down to the building department and see if they let you pull your own permits and do the work yourself. If not, you can just quadruple the cost of every project. I don’t know anything about steam heat.

The aluminum siding needs to come off and there’s no telling what’s under it, plus the gutters look to be in bad shape. I had asbestos siding and when I removed it, my original siding was intact and largely in good shape. There was some butchering though, and I spent a good 6 months just restoring gingerbread and sawed off window sills.

Cosmetic things, of course, you can do yourself. Those can still be costly and time consuming, but these are things that you don’t absolutely need to do right now. The costs can be put off and you can do them over longer periods of time. Get accustomed to living in a construction zone.

The real major things are the things you may not be able to do yourself and may need attention immediately. Things like roof, foundation, and any major structural problems. These are the things that will really make or break any project. Get a good inspection and crawl around ALL OVER the place yourself. I knocked 25% off the asking price with a good inspection in hand.

If you just put everything you’ve got in to it, and assuming you don’t win the lottery and are able to hire an army of people, this is a minimum of 10 years to do it right. By doing it right, I mean upgrade all of the plumbing and electrical and do a nice restoration of major parts to the house. And 10 years is being conservative.

S Melissa
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Post by S Melissa »

The house is great - and no doubt it can be saved. BUT, and the big BUT is you said that you are in the low to moderate income bracket. While few of us have piles of money even the most dedicated folks struggle with the costs of projects on old houses of much less size and complexity. You asked for opinions - given what you've said about the house and your finances, I'd opt for a smaller less challenging project now,and maybe in the future, you'll be able to tackle a project like this. Good luck with whatever you decide.
Canton, MI
1860 Italianate - Reuben Huston Home

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Post by al_roethlisberger »

I don't want to sound negative or pessimistic, but since you asked :wink:

We really can't know your complete financial, family, and work situation.... and wouldn't dare to tell you what you are capable or not capable of doing... but this honestly sounds like a mix of:

1) A very large, expensive, and time consuming project
2) A project that may have very mixed return on investment... time and money

It honestly sounds like you are letting your heart and excitement tempt you on this property, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But I personally think that based on your description of the condition of the home(known and unknown) and the other challenges, that you should let this one pass and find a smaller project.

The benefits of a smaller project are the obvious ones of affordability, and time... but also the often missed advantage of being able to achieve measurable milestones that can help recharge your batteries with a sense of accomplishment.

A project as huge as the one you are suggesting, as well as the daily challenges of being a landlord over problem tenants, is likely to be a heavy burden that could really diminish or exterminate the passion you feel today.

I guess I would say, don't be tempted by the potential this house obviously has, and instead find a project that has a much more achievable outcome.

If this house is really as special as it seems, perhaps someone with a lot of money can come in, gut and replace what needs done, and return the home to a single family residence. In a lot of cases, a house this large and fancy requires such.

And $750/mo heating on AVERAGE? That means some incredible heating bills in the winter months, and someone on low/moderate income is really going to feel pain.

Yeah, my apologies, but I'd recommend a pass.

Good luck on your search though. I'm sure you'll find something.

But if you get this property, I wish you luck. As it would indeed be a fine home to save.

Lewis D. Isenhour House

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Post by SquarePark »

ok, just a couple things. i have to correct my statement about income, although it's sort of how I see ourselves ---but we actually have a middle class income, but it is more like a one person middle class income. second, that heat bill is a budgeted bill, which means your bill is always that every single month. (when you cut that down to actual bill in the winter, you see that it is at least double that amount, except you don't pay that because you pay a bill in the summer). and thank you for your comments because it is part of the issue....we are not loaded with money

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Post by 1886QueenAnne »

Wow, reading your post - I felt you were describing our home.

We bought a huge, over 5,000 square foot Victorian built in 1886. I was so excited, it was beautiful. The previous owner was a slum lord, it was in a not very nice part of town, and it was broken into 5 apartments. But I thought we can do this, we can save this beautiful home. People are living in it, so it can't be that bad.

We purchased the home. We made it a condition upon closing to have the current occupants evicted - because our closing attorney advised us not to take on someone elses problems. We knew they were probably low income, but upon touring the home, it didn't "look" that bad. The occupied apartments looked ok and with furnishings looked pretty nice.

We moved it. The problems started coming out of the woodwork, literally. We found out after moving in, one tennant had a child poisoned in their apartment from lead paint. The previous owner never told us. He never rented the apartment after that and ignored the health department certified letters telling him to remediate the mess. We arrive and the health department knocks on our door informing us we have 90 days to remediate the entire apartment and repaint the outside of the home, out buildings and clean the soil. (Needless to say, we are now in litigation with the previous owner for non-disclosure.)

Then comes the house itself. We started to take out several of the small bathrooms from the apartments. The toilets were not bolted on, raw sewage was dripping on the walls, the floor beams under both upstairs bathrooms were rotted and unstable. The roofing job the previous owner said he had done with a 20 year warrenty was leaking like crazy. (We asked the owner who did it to get it repaired and his reply was - it wasn't a 20 year warrenty on the roof, just the shingles. :evil: ) We discovered huge water roaches throughout the home. It was a mess. It has all old knob and tube wiring, plumbing that drained under the house, (no wonder mold started showing up on the foundation after I was doing my washing :cry: ), there was no source of heat. There were gas hook ups, and this winter we hooked up a vented box style heater to a fireplace. We lived in one of the apartments. Well, the gas pipes run outside the house, up the side of the house, through the attic and down to the apartment. Somewhere.. there must have been a leak because our gas bill for one little heater was over 300.00 a month. We live in a fairly nice climate with no snow and the bill was huge. We have 5 electric meters, 5 gas meters, 2 water meters. Each meter requires a deposit to get them turned on. Our area: 75.00 for each electric and 150.00 for each gas. We needed electricity to be able to work and hopefully make them into one. However, the little circuit boxes are only rated to about 60 amps and the load we need to do all this wouldn't work with just an extension cord. So we had to turn on about 3 meters. It's an expensive mess..... I never understood the definition of a slum lord untill I moved in. I also was shocked at the fact the tennants were perfectly content to live in this filth and not complain. There is mold on the ceilings, the plaster in areas is wet and rotton.

Needless to say, our house insurance is covered under a "construction site" policy because we do not have good electrical, etc. Once that is done, our rates will go down dramatically.

I knew we were taking a huge jump into a major project, but honestly didn't understand the magnitude. I fell in love with the outside. But the "bones" of the home was screaming for help! Please know, appearances are not everything and what is under all these apartments is what is terrifying. Only because the previous owner wanted it done cheap and didn't care what damage he was causing to the home or inconvience he was causing to his tennants. He just wanted $$$$$$.

Please remember to get a good and complete inspection. Also check with your county and city health departments for lead issues, check with the city building code officials to see if they have a file on the home. We found out that they had a huge one on ours.

I approach this home as a great lesson learned in life and I'm still learning. I think the home will be beautiful after we face all the issues and make them RIGHT.

I just wanted you to know some of our issues so they don't happen to you. Please investigate the home prior to purchasing! You can find a wealth of information from local officials. (Including the police department) about the area.

Thanks for letting me share.

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Post by RioG »

Oh... my rehab old house lovers sould screams BUY IT!! That house deserves some love and attention after years of slum lords.

But my FTHB brain (did it last summer) says pass and move on to something smaller and more affordable, especially a smaller, less beat up old home.

Whichever way you go, I am sure you will find satisfaction, but if you choose door #1 just be sure you can withstand the guaranteed stress that is going to come along with it.

Good luck!!

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Post by BrooklynRowHouse »

I dunno. I've taken on some mondo renovation projects in my younger days, like converting a 5000sf paper bag factory to a residence and commercial recording studio. The place was so old and unmaintained that it still used DC electricity but in my case is was like new construction. There really wasn't anything to restore, and that's the time sucker.

No kidding, something like this looks like a 25 year project even for a committed DIYer. And, while my experience is limited to NYC contracting rates, farming it out could be prohibitively costly. Taking just one bullet point from your list, a new, hardwood staircase (one flight) will run 10-15 grand.

Of more concern to me... and, again, I don't know your local codes... when you convert a multiple dwelling or SRO back to a single-family you need a new certificate of occupancy. Otherwise you'll still get taxed commercially as a multiple dwelling and your insurance and utilities will be likewise surcharged. A new C of O practically guarantees that you'll need an architect, approved plans and a licensed general contractor to do the work, which will probably include upgrading your electrical, plumbing, egresses, etc to current code.

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Post by al_roethlisberger »

....and not to beat a dead horse :roll:

But I forgot to mention... and didn't see it mentioned in this thread.... that the old rule-of-thumb is: Take your time and financial budget that you *think* a renovation like this will consume, and multiply it by two.

The house we started tinkering with last Summer was/is in actually quite good shape, but even our fiscal budget ended up swelling by at least 50% once we tore into things(especially electric and plumbing) .... and although we thought the major issues would be a 3 month affair, we are still going on some of them 7 months later.

The bigger, more complex, and more unknown the project... the more likely this budget bloat and scope creep is likely to rear its head.

BTW, although for some reason a lot of buyers don't seem to realize this... you CAN ask to have the property inspected BEFORE you make an offer. Especially for older properties, I think this is the right way to go. That way you don't waste anyone's time, and you have a good foundation(pun intended) from which to base your offer. I'd definitely get a good experienced "old house" inspector in there before anything else.

Good luck!
Lewis D. Isenhour House

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Codes & Permits

Post by SquarePark »

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that we have already been to codes and permits and trust me, the case file on just the current owner is quite interesting! I'll give you a couple for some laughs:

This is a complaint from the neighboring house:
"roof has spouting that hangs in mid air and shoots water into our kitchen window"

tenant complaint: "living room has fallen in due to water damage"

tenant complaint: "infestation of roaches causing her to vomit"

Also, we know of a recent incident where the pipes did crumble because a tenant put drain cleaner down the pipes and sewage and water came down the wall for 2 days before it was fixed.

I HAVE ANOTHER QUESTION. TO petch house and others: Can you tell me how you successfully got this into the contract or escrow for these tenants to be taken care of by the former owner? Our realtor acts like it is not possible, but we don't think that makes any sense! Surely it can be written in. So please share how you did it so we can talk about that if we decide to get the house.

And that lead nightmare sounds just horrible and I cannot believe that seller has any right to get away with that!

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