Would $150K be enough?

palimpsestFebruary 17, 2010

This house is as solid as a rock and dry as a bone. It was re-roofed in 2008, and thoroughly cleaned up. (I think someone was going to turn it into a 3-unit property)

It has no furnace, three technically functional bathrooms, no kitchen.

All the windows are functional but the facade should be restored and at least 5 new appropriate windows.

Is $150,000 enough to make this a decent house? Its 3500 sq ft approx. Urban Northeast with a construction multiplier of 25-30% higher than nat'l avg.

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The HVAC system will be critical for cost. So would any structural issues so have an engineer look at it.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 11:53AM
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If anyone gives you a quote based on a couple of pictures, don't believe them.

It also really depends on your idea of "decent" and how much work you will do yourself. You could spend 150k on a kitchen if you really wanted to.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 12:46PM
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I've done several kitchens and never spent more than $50K and never more than $20K on a bath, although I think one nicer bath would be more than this. So if you had $90K in kitchen and baths, I wonder if $60K would get window restoration on the front facade and the heating system going. Its gas-fired hot water radiator, which I like, but no central air.

I am thinking that $150K would not be enough.

I haven't even made an offer. The plan would be to have a construction budget only, no loan on the cost of the house, and to end up with equal or less monthly carrying costs than I have now.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 1:18PM
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How updated are electrical and plumbing? You are likely to need a new breaker box for code if it has not been recently redone (the old alarms make me think not). Budget for floors and plaster as well,. Too bad someone took out the tall original windows. Definitely potential here, but I'm betting more than $150K without any cosmetics, unless you are doing a lot of the work on your own.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 2:12PM
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I should clarify that I havent made any kind of offer so this number is just something I am floating around in my head budgetwise, not based upon estimates. We designed a gut project for about the same amount of sq footage that was new from the party walls in and the joists up and that came in at under $300K, but this house, with its intact plaster, and intact floors will need to be handled differently than a gut (and more expensively).

I am assuming the electrical needs to be redone.

I wasn't even going to *look at this house based on the what they did to the windows--I was not expecting intactness to this degree.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 2:25PM
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What is your goal - rental? long term living for yourselves? flip it soon? What's the previous owner(s) history for upkeep/remodel? How good/bad is the electrical? and plumbing?

Our house is old and didn't have ceiling lights in most rooms and only 2 light switches per apartment. People can't believe how excited I am about light switches! We're doing a major remodel and spent a lot of money on unsexy items like - rewire the house (yes, the basement looks good but everywhere else was knob and tube wiring - I can now sleep better knowing my wiring won't cause a fire), replumb the whole house - some of our pipes were from the 1840's; (we had to replace the split kitchen return pipe from the 2nd floor and that included opening up and closing walls); additional support in basement and attic; additional insulation. What's the brick work like, the roof and chimney? Stuff you can see may look good but what's in the walls?? You can easily spend over $100K on these unseen items.

Period appropriate windows are reasonable. My husband and I are reglazing our 100 year old replacement windows but our 190 year old attic window was far beyond repair (the squirrel stuck in the attic 20 years ago tried to eat his way out). Don't tell my DH but I had a custom true divided window made for less than $1000 (in Boston). A vinyl window would have gone for $400. Windows, kitchen, bathrooms, heating system are easy to price - it's the unseen items that are the gotcha's. I don't want to turn you off to an old house but you need to go with eyes wide open.

I think you need to budget for additional plaster work and floor refinishing. Get an electician and plumber you like and have them give you some numbers too.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2010 at 12:59AM
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RE: Windows
Besides the costs of the replacement windows, a highly skilled carpenter & mason will be necessary to rebuild & install; I would assume all the inside trim will need to be replicated to period as well. You're also missing the brownstone lentils & sills.

Plumbing & Electrical
If the walls/plaster are in good shape, assume what's behind them is basically original - probably not a good thing. Even if you have a breaker box, it possibly means that old knob & tube wires are still what's in the walls & ceilings. You'll definitely need some new work & finding an electrician who will work with old plaster without totally destroying it can be tricky.
How is the water pressure? Are the drains free-flowing? Is the basement plumbed? If not, can it be? - some rowhouses in my neighborhood can't because they're lower than the city's sewer lines. Is there a place for a washer/dryer? Don't forget about a water heater.

Even though your plaster is in good shape now, don't count on it surviving plumbers & electricians without some major holes. In my area (mid-Atlantic VA), skilled plasterers are scarce & expensive but you may be luckier.

IMO, the majority of work needed is not DIY & will require highly skilled people if you want the house to retain character & not come off as a new house in an old shell. Sorry, but I think you'll need more money!

    Bookmark   February 18, 2010 at 10:37AM
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I think in evaluating the total cost it is important to remember that not everything has to be done, and not everything has to be done right away. Furthermore, not everything has to be done by you during your tenure as owner.

We often talk about stewardship of these old properties but forget that one bonus of that is a shared workload. There is stuff that needs doing on our house that will not be done by us but left for a future owner. You can sell later with some work done and the next buyer is looking at a smaller project so is likely to pay more than you did (market depending of course).

The thing about a reno like this is that much of what needs to be done is the unseen stuff and what you do affects the seen stuff - no point in finishing walls if you have to open them later, and so on. So sequence is an issue, especially on the question of moving in during/after work is ongoing. But you don't have to do it all.

Point is basically that even though that bathroom is not a pretty sight, it is likely quite functional and the cost of redoing it need not necessarily be in your initial budget. You can run new pipes into the wall around it if you are updating the plumbing, and save the actual bathroom reno for after the lottery win. Windows and exterior fancy work is another example that could be icing, not cake.


    Bookmark   February 18, 2010 at 11:18AM
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The goal would be to live in it, possibly with one rental unit that could either be an apartment or commercial space, as previously existed.

I've restored several rooms in an 1840 house that needed a lot more restoration, but it was a lot smaller scale of a project.

I do have access to a plasterer, someone who can duplicate woodwork, and skilled contractors, luckily. I *don't have any idea how much four ornamental lintels and four sills in cast concrete cost. They tend to stay away from real brownstone around here for repair since it is so unstable. --I would imagine restoring the four upper windows could easily cost $20K with all that needs to be done.

I am most worried about the electrical and the potential damage replacing it will do. The plumbing I am not so worried about, it is a straight vertical shot all the way through the house, so it would be contained damage.

All and all, despite the fact that this is the type of property I am looking for, and they become rarer by the year (some awful rehabs, and gutted half-rehabs I've seen)---I think this house is probably too large by a third or more.

The plan was to get into a property where my month-to-month is about what it is now, (or even less would be great:)...I could spend more rehabbing, but thats not what I want to do, if you know what I mean.

I feel for these houses. I lost the chance on a smaller, untouched house and its a ninety percent chance that it will go from a charming but run down 19th c. house to a drywall box tricked out with the cheapest off-the-shelf materials from Home Depot in a matter of months. I see it happen again and again.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2010 at 11:25AM
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The original window hoods may have been sand-painted wood or tin. There's no reason why they couldn't be duplicated in a high-quality hardwood and sand-painted once again. It's worth pricing out that way, as installation is much less costly for a wood hood than for cast stone. We sand-painted an entire three story facade way back in '94, and it has held up unbelievably well. The garnet sand (used over burgundy oil paint to simulate brownstone) takes all the weather, and the paint lasts forever; no UV ever gets through to the actual paint film.
I hope you can source a photograph or locate a local trim example to copy.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2010 at 12:41PM
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Electrical rewiring is a big expense. You should get a quote so you know what you are talking about. It can run easily up to 30K or more.I am doing it right now. I would not worry much about the plaster though. If you get an electrician with experience it should not be a problem. My guy opens holes that are really small, just enough to put the snake in and I was able to close all of those myself just with plaster alone. There were rooms that he didn't even make holes and my house is very complicated with wood paneling and wood ceiling. You need somebody patient, with experience and good attitude. I tease him that he is like a surgeon. However, it takes him twice as long as expected but worth the trouble I think.
Heat, depends what you put in but a "he" gas system run at about 15k in my area. Then depends how lucky you are. In my case I needed radiator work that I had absolutely not budgeted because all radiators look fine when we bought the house. Then they started leaking one by one and it became nightmare number 1 in my life.... A radiator can easily cost 400 or 900$ depends on the size....
Then there is the plumbing. You do not know before you look. Even if a bathroom appears functional does not mean it is properly plumbed. My house had all the ancient plumbing that we knew about but it had a shower installed the last couple of years which we though we do not need to redo. Guess again. When we opened the ceiling under to removed the lead pipes in horror we saw that the shower drain is done completely wrong and it is a miracle it is still going. So yes we do need to also fix the brand new shower. So again, get a plumber and poke around for a good estimate.
Actually plaster work is the only one that for me it is not a concern since I can do a lot by myself and I have a few friends that are helping me. Also ceilings and walls do not bother me because I can go cheap on them for now. Somehow a plastering mistake does not bother me as much as plumbing mistake....

So the thing with the old houses is you never know how much you need before you discover all the nightmares. If things go really smooth I think 150 might be enough for the major staff assuming you do some stuff yourself. Obviously not putting up kitchens and baths but for updating major systems, painting and making the house livable with minor kitchen and bath mods. My advise: For the jobs that you can not do yourself try to get a good estimate before you buy. Make sure the guys poke around and look at everything and they are guys that worked in old house before that nothing is "standard" and you need certain degree of ingenuity to fix problems.

I have no experience about brick restoration though.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2010 at 9:28AM
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Stephen Costa

I would say unless you can do a lot of work yourself, no $150k will not be enough.

Even if you run a really competitive bid process for the GC and subs, by the time you get done with electrical (it will need all new electrical, I am sure), new plubming (again, probably will need all replacement plumbing, plus new plumbing for new kitchen and any new baths, along with any additional hot water heat sources needed), you could spend $50k (and that's not including electrical and plumbing fixtures!).

Not sure if you considered lead paint or any asbestos abatement needed, but that could add a hefty chunk too. Don't forget insulation.

If you could squeak by on the inside, you'd likely wind up with no money left for the outside.

Hate to be pessimistic, but I do think $150k for this place is a tall order!

    Bookmark   February 24, 2010 at 8:47PM
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So, palimpsest, What happened with this house?? If I had the money, WE would fix it up and take turns living there after I am too decrepit to live on the farm alone.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2010 at 2:04PM
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It's still available at an asking price of $319,900.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2010 at 2:30PM
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It's still available at an asking price of $319,900.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2010 at 2:31PM
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This house is still available, and I also decided pretty early on that it is too much house. It also would not qualify for a mortgage because it would not get a certificate of occupancy,(no kitchen, no furnace) and we would also need to live elsewhere in the initial phases of the project, at least. I think you could do something with it for $150K but not what should be done with it. This house was being prepped to sell as a small 2-3 unit condo, as far as I can tell. Many of these houses are commercial on the first floor with two sizable or one huge apartment above. There are houses in the same price range that are occupied or ready to be reoccupied. This one has the reverse problem of many, a hideously mangled exterior and an intact interior. Most have the mess going on inside.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2010 at 8:38PM
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I'm not altogether a suburb-country kinda guy. I lived in Flushing, N.Y. and worked in the South Bronx one hot and hazy summer 40 years ago ; and, more memorably, I hung out in Greenwich Village.

But what is the appeal of this bit of Philly grit?

S. 1312 Broad>

    Bookmark   May 8, 2010 at 9:00PM
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Agreed, but directly across the street looks pretty nice:

    Bookmark   May 8, 2010 at 11:15PM
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I recently read, much to my amazement, that Long Island City (northwest Queens, NYC) is now a mecca of culture where many of the warehouses have been converted to hip condos. I used to work there, too, behind heavily secured gates. But we were sure to leave by 6PM when the streets reverted back to the ruling gangstas.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2010 at 11:13AM
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Philadelphia is very hard to describe when it comes to Center City. There are some neighborhoods that people associate with expensive properties and certain social classes just by the name.

However most neighborhoods are a mixed bag of property values and people. I know of two people who bought houses on one of the "most beautiful streets in America" in the 1990s, and one had trees growing in the back wing of the house, the other had pigeons living on the top floor.

Conversely in my current neighborhood there are three houses in the $5M + range: one was used in a movie, one is a church that was abandoned until a few years ago, one is a neo-tuscan "palazzo" for lack of a better description, that looks like it took the place of about seven typical row house lots. I am looking at a house that adjoins the back walled garden of the palazzo, and you would be shocked by the contrast. Everybody from the occasional billionaire to the skateboard rat live jumbled together in many neighborhoods.

All of these are within a 5 minute walk of a public housing project that was imploded in the 1990s and has been replaced with a more mixed used public housing project.

Its a block by block, street by street phenomenon that one would expect in neighborhoods that are being "gentrified", but the first wave of gentrification in my neighborhood was close to 40 years ago, and the second wave has been within the past 10. Some of this goes back to the early social fabric of the city. The building I live in is over 8000 sq ft and was at one time a single family house. The numbered streets have houses of the same era in the 2000-3000 sq foot range, and the alley streets between, houses in the 500-600sq ft range. Wealthy people in the main streets, merchants on the numbered streets, and the people that worked for them tucked in between.

The street that the pictured house is on has had some beautiful houses and some wrecks on it forever, but the street in general would be one I would be comfortable living on. I looked at a house a few blocks away, that I wasn't so sure I would like the night scene and some of the neighbors although the day light hours seem fine, and a few blocks behind this house on the other side is still blighted.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2010 at 11:56AM
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