Restoration advice appreciated

gamecock43May 30, 2008

First off~ If you are in the market to buy a historical home in Savannah, GA please do not open the link featured below. It is of a beautiful house that I have had my eye on for months and if someone swoops in and gets it before I have a chance to look at it, I will be crushed.

Second, I am posting this link because I come to this board with tremendous respect for the work, knowledge and collected wisdom found here. I live in FL right now, but plan to move to Savannah in the fall and have been watching real estate listings to get a feel for the market. I found this listing a few months ago, it is barely in my price range and I immediately assumed it would be sold tomorrow so I refused to think that this house could be for me.

It has not sold. The dang house is in my head. I have allowed my non-practical side to take over and booked a hotel, contacted a realtor and will fly to GA to look at this dang house in July.

I know there is soo much more to a house than a few pictures. So this might be a silly question...but ASSUMING that the BIG stuff is ok with this house (foundation, roof ect), looking at the listing, what work would you recommend for this house? What needs to be done/ what can be done/ what would you like to see done?

The kitchen appears to be a standard kitchen that a flipper would install, but how can it be changed to match the 'feel' of the old house?

I'm trying to learn numbers and workload amounts before falling more in love with a picture on an internet.

Opinions? Talk me out of it? Into it?

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I actually think the kitchen looks much better than you described it and do not think it is a standard kitchen. It is hard to see many of the pics very well because they are darker. I think that something simple, like changing the glass on the cabinets would do wonders with making it look more 1920 era. also adding appropriate tiling where needed.

What is that one room with bricks and so-on piled in it? I can't figure out what they are doing with that room.

I would not assume that the foundation, wiring ect are in good shape. This is something you have to see and check out. Right now (hard to tell w/ pictures tho) I think it needs some cleaning, maybe some window sash repairs (there is a piece of plywood in front of a window). The exterior picture shows that the exterior of the house could be in good shape (once again, hard to tell by pic) It looks like the original molding could be in the majority of the house still and the majority of it may still have a period feel.

The pictures make me wonder about who is selling the house. It seems to me that maybe someone bought the house hoping to fix it up and maybe became overwelmed and decided to sell.

This may mean there is a lot left to fix in the house.

I am NOT trying to talk you out of it but you should know it is very hard to predict how much renovating a house will cost. I can tell you we have a c1850 farmhouse that was cared for at some point and then NOT cared for so many of the fixes are bad, BAD and BAD!!! When we fix the smallest of things we always know it will cost 2x what it should because we have to fix something else that goes along with it.

I honestly find the "stupid little things" more irritating and expensive in the long run. They can really wear you down.

If you realize this and take it slow and appreciate the house and realize you may live with a bit of a mess for a couple years then you should go for it!

Without really looking at a house and seeing the general upkeep and care of the interior/exterior then it is super difficult to determine how much there is to fix and how much it could cost.

Also realize that you never need to make a house "authentic" to an era and I am not sure that you really could. Authentic houses have influences from many era's and owners. I think it is important to keep authentic fixtures, molding ect in a house but adding your own touches is a good thing.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 4:13PM
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Well, that was more positive than I was expecting! I cant see too much to change with the house but I figured thats because I am inexperienced and a trained eye will have a laundry list.

Heres what I THINK is the story of the house. I would GUESS it was a flipper house. Savannah is full of old homes filled with charm that are falling apart.

The housing boom brought in people who created victorian 'shells' and made the inside livable and modern. There are numerous listings of victorians on, but the inside looks like you're standard condo from down the street.
This house is much larger and has many more original details than the other listings. I think someone put much more effort into this house to really give it an 'estate' feel, but then stopped in the middle of the renovations for whatever reasoning.
Since they listed it for sale with pictures that are clearly in the middle of construction, I dont know if renovation stopped when it went on the market, or has been continuing over the months it's been listed.
Aside from that georgeous porch, I like this listing because it doesnt look like it was a low-quality/ high profit flip job where the work will hold for a year or two then start falling apart.
And if the homeowner ran out of money, but continues the construction, I would rather buy now-before low quality work and items get put into the house.
I will be doing a home inspection for sure.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2008 at 4:46PM
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This may be a little OT, but you need to investigate the neighborhood to see if it's a place you want to live. If it's a place you love to come home to, you'll have incentive to do the necessary work to the house; otherwise, it becomes a burden. Is the house in a protected historic district? Are other houses on the block being/or have been renovated? Do you feel safe walking around the neighborhood? Are the neighbors homeowners or transients? Old Houses are mostly not quick return investments so you'd better love the house & the neighborhood because you might be living there a long time to recoup your outlay.

A hint from an ex-realtor: The main reason a house stays on the market is that it's over priced. Many times an owner will start a renovation, lose interest or run out of money & try to sell it to recoup his expenses. Market value is not necessarily what he's put into it. Check with the county/city assessor's office to see what the property is assessed at & what the taxes are & how they compare to the neighboring properties. Most of the time you can do this online & find a wealth of information, such as what the owner paid for it & how much mortgage was loaned. You can also ask the realtor for a CMA (Comparible Market Analysis) of other properties that have sold in the neighborhood in the same price range. Better yet, contact a realtor of YOUR choice to act as a Buyer's Agent on your behalf (preferably someone familiar with old houses) & let her/him do the leg work.

Keep us posted on your progress!

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 1:07AM
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Another little bit of OT...before you actually set foot in Savannah to start serious looking, do some digging and identify a VERY GOOD old house inspector, preferably an inspector who actually lives in an old home. Don't settle for a good inspector who only works with new homes. Once you start looking in person, your best buddy will be this inspector. Yes, I know all the pros/cons about inspectors - that's why I'm suggesting you find a specialist.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 6:52AM
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Thank you. I dont know much about the neighborhood except that its on the border of a historic area that is currently undergoing renovation. So I am very curious about the neighborhood. And this would be my forever home. I can see myself keeping this in the family always. I get way to attached to things to sell them after a few years, I am lucky I feel that I can afford to look for my forever home and bypass the starter home, but I guess the starter home would have taught me alot.
I have been trying to look online at the chatham county assessors office but have just found a generic webpage with phone numbers on it. No real estate information. I guess I will call them to ask if the information is online.
And thank you for the tip about it being overpriced. I was told by one local that home prices in this city are just now starting to come down, but still have at least a year to go to be at normal levels. So this house likely is overpriced. So I must be patient.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 10:03AM
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I was able to access the assessors page! It provides two great pictures of the house dating back on 12/07. Do assessors take pictures of the house at the time a new owner takes over? It looks to be in the middle of construction.
You guys have already been helpful to me. But if anyone wants to look at the pictures and see if they can spot some problems, that will help me know what to look for when I look at it up close in July.


    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 10:32AM
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I looked up the assessors page & this is what I found out although the info is coded differently from what I'm used to & I may be reading it wrong.

It was bought in 11/2000 for $65k & in 11/03 a permit was pulled for $20k. In 12/03, a MAJOR FIRE occurred (37% fire damage) & in 1/04, another permit was pulled for $30k. In 5/05, the property was sold for $100k & in 6/05 a permit was pulled for $20k. In 1/06, the current owner bought it for $162,500. Tax assessment in 2007 is based on $116,600 with their estimate of market value being $177k. In 2006 the assessment value was $78k & in 2005 it was $67k.

2500 Barnard is a similar house (may be a little smaller) looks to be restored with the assessors market value being $257k & tax assessment being $191k, down from $256k in 2006.

What's across the street? Nothing pulls up for even street numbers for the 2400-2502 blocks.

I can see why you're in love with this house - the potential is enormous. But I think it was built 1900 or before. The other houses that I looked at all appear to be of the same era & have a very Victorian feel. Assessment records are notorious for being wrong & the average realtor doesn't have a clue about old houses.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 4:05PM
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wow. wow wow wow. I looked at that same page you looked at and understood a tenth of what you saw. I saw the word 'fire' and guessed there was a fire, or guessed it was updated with fire safety features. LOL.

And I am going to look at the document very carefully to match up where you pulled out the permit and previous selling price information.

One question: "with their estimate of market value being $177k" (in 2007). Would that number drop this year due to the declining market? The number $177 is listed as "total value", but then says "value by cost-market adj" And I dont know what "market adj" means. (my inexperience is showing here)

And if it was purchased in 2006 for $163k, no permits were pulled to do renovation work, and was valued for $177 last year, then the $240 price is VERY HIGH for this house. Or thats how I am reading this.

Here in FL there are very few Victorian houses and they have never been affordably priced. So my impulse went haywire seeing this house, but I need to remember that I will be overwhelmed with possibilities when I go to Savannah next month to personally look around.

But this help reading the assessors page has been an eye opening experience. I have many home owning friends and I dont think a single one of them has ever heard of this document. Is that normal? Is this document not widely known? None of my friends have told me to look for this information.

And since there was a major fire, is there anything I should look out for? I guess updated wiring would be one thing to make sure the house has.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 4:40PM
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If this house is WAY overpriced and could be reasonably sold for ?$180k? then its at the low end of my price range and leaves me with $$ to get immediately started with renovation work! I'm way ahead of myself here. But I just learned that a house I wasnt sure I could afford monthly payments on just not only became financially within my budget, but I will still have money in the bank too! Oh happy day for me.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 4:53PM
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Tax records are public & can be accessed by anyone. What information is included is a different story that varies by county & state. Their accuracy is also debateable & notoriously incorrect on items that don't affect the actual tax to be collected. Savannah seems to have more detailed records than a lot of places.

Municipalities usually have 2 methods of assessing that are controlled by state law. In VA, all properties are taxed on 100% of the market value (& trust me, in a bad market this figure is truly ridiculous & not much more realistic in a good real estate market for old houses); what varies is the tax rate applied to the value. In other states, & I'm guessing GA might be one, they value on a portion of the market value (it's probably state specific as to how they determine the portion) & then they set a tax rate or maybe that's state mandated. Like cities everywhere, they collect the amount of tax they want - it's just a matter of juggling one figure or the other!

In Richmond VA, tax assessment values are famous for going up (supposedly to reflect the price of r/e sales in the neighborhood) but they rarely come down when the market drops without a fight from the homeowner. I'm guessing, but I suspect the $177k is based on what the current owner paid for it in 2006 ($162.5k) & no adjustment has been made for the downward market trend. Or maybe no houses in the neighborhood have been selling & thus "no reason to change anything". I agree, $240k seems VERY high unless the work on the inside is exceptional which isn't apparent from the realtor's website.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 5:28PM
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I feel like this assessors page is my kryptonite LOL. Instead of looking around and trying to 'guess' the value of the house based on comps and relying on what my realtor tells me, I will have this tool to use before I even look at a house.
I feel like I finally found a light and made a large leap in my home buying education. Thank God for computers.
Wow. This piece of information has potentially saved me tens of thousands of dollars.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 5:39PM
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Gamecock, how did the house look in person? Did you put an offer on it?

    Bookmark   August 4, 2008 at 2:49PM
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