thinking of buying an old house, PLEASE advise!

Mia8080June 30, 2012

Long story short: I've come into some money (not a lot, $200000 ish) and I want to buy and restore an old house, not to sell but to live in for good, in Nova Scotia. Canada. I am 32, female and have absolutely NO experience in this area, no practical knowledge. I am, however, a cautious, detail oriented perfectionist with an innate need to get things done RIGHT and I have always, always, wanted to live in a beautiful old house. I am also definitely the 'put down roots' type - this is very related. I work from home and earn a decent middle class income (more than $50,000, less than $100,000). I understand a lot of this project will be about finding good people and utilizing them properly.

PLEASE talk to me and advise me, tell me I'm an idiot, hit me with cluesticks, encourage me etc., whatever you feel is appropriate.


- houses are cheap in NS (examples of houses I like: ,

- it is more than possible for me to get an unrestored old house of the type I want (basics: large, high ceilings, original features, esp. hardwood floors) for less than $150,000, even less than $100,000)

- building materials and builders are also comparably cheap (I do not have numbers here, yet, am working on it, just going on advice from various people who would know)

- I want this done right. For the right house, assuming I do not come into half a million (or however much is needed) right away, this is something I am fully prepared to work on for a number of years. If a house is not currently liveable, my plan would be to a)make it liveable (for me this means working kitchen, bathroom and internet connection) and b)get it up to a point where it is no longer in a state of decline. Put it in stasis, as it were, so it doesn't deteriorate further while waiting for certain jobs to get done. Does anyone have any specific comments on this? Does anyone have comments on the order in which to do things in/on an old house? Assume a solid foundation. Is it possible to go room by room?

- I would rather restore a basically untouched house, but am aware that a reno'ed old house can also be had cheaply - one that may not have been faithfully restored and is not perfect in my eyes, but one that would be far less likely to become a money sucking machine (probably?). Is there any reason to lean one way or the other here, given that I have the will/patience and, over time, the money, to do extensive restoration? Also that an aesthetically badly reno'ed house could, I assume, be superficially redone to be more to my taste?

- any advice other than hiring a structural engineer to check out the foundation when looking into specific houses? Is it worth getting tradesmen in to look at each system? I have heard some not great stories about useless home inspectors. I don't care if the lino is cracked, I do care if the place is filled with unseen mold.

- any thoughts on brick structures? pros and cons of 100yr-ish brick buildings?

- how low would you go in terms of a derelict or near derelict building? I ask because, for example, of places like this: (please click on 'More' below the main photo to see more photos, including one of this property in its original state as a grand hotel) - this place has mold, water damage, no services (theyre at the property line), but, it's also cheaper than a good car and would be absolutely stunning restored. Any thoughts on the costs of putting a place like this into the stasis I mentioned above, hooking up basic services, living in and restoring? There are MANY of these beautiful, old, large properties in this state for very very cheap, often in the $20,000 - $30,000 range. I'm just trying to get some idea of whether or not any non insane person would even consider ever trying to restore these houses or if they're only good for knocking down (note that hotel has a brand new roof, put in place, I assume, to help slow down the water damage that was taking place).

OK I've rambled on and on and keep going but I'll post this. Please give me your honest thoughts.

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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

You are an IDIOT! I think you must be my twin! Go for the second one with the big wrap around porch. I didn't see the price on it. It looks huge....can you afford to heat it? The kitchen pic is too small to see what you have to work with but the bathroom has everything, just needs spiffed up. That staircase is divine.

The photos are awfull dark so it's probably not in as good a shape as it looks. If I were closer I'd ask to go through it with you. Keep us posted. I would do it. Just remember the first rule of remodeling. There will always be things you didn't anticipate that cost a big pile of money. And the second, while you have it open you should fix this, too.

Well the photos on the first one finally loaded. I take back everything I said about the second one. Take the first one! Spend some money on the outside so it looks as good as the inside. All that great original woodwork! Doesn't look like it's ever been refinished. How lucky can you get! All those fireplaces bother me though. But maybe just because I've never had one. I wish I had one. But are they OK or need work? and can you close them totally when you aren't using them? Winter, you know. If only I were closer, you'd have one bought by now!

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 9:12PM
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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

You are an IDIOT! I think you must be my twin! Go for the second one with the big wrap around porch. I didn't see the price on it. It looks huge....can you afford to heat it? The kitchen pic is too small to see what you have to work with but the bathroom has everything, just needs spiffed up. That staircase is divine.

The photos are awfull dark so it's probably not in as good a shape as it looks. If I were closer I'd ask to go through it with you. Keep us posted. I would do it. Just remember the first rule of remodeling. There will always be things you didn't anticipate that cost a big pile of money. And the second, while you have it open you should fix this, too.

Well the photos on the first one finally loaded. I take back everything I said about the second one. Take the first one! Spend some money on the outside so it looks as good as the inside. All that great original woodwork! Doesn't look like it's ever been refinished. How lucky can you get! All those fireplaces bother me though. But maybe just because I've never had one. I wish I had one. But are they OK or need work? and can you close them totally when you aren't using them? Winter, you know. If only I were closer, you'd have one bought by now!

    Bookmark   June 30, 2012 at 9:59PM
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I know you have a maritime climate in NS, but isn't it still COLD up there in the winter?. I live in northern NY (couple of hours south of Montreal), but still a pretty severe heating climate.

Old houses designed without modern energy-saving insulation are dependant on cheap, cheap, fuels (wood, coal, oil) that are no longer affordable or practical for most people. Speaking as someone who does still heat with wood in a mid-19th c house: it's a lot of work and we are still much cooler (and not in the hip way) than most folks would tolerate.

Energy upgrades and purist-minded renos don't really mesh, or at least not as easily as you might infer from This Old House.

Can it be done? Sure! Can a single woman do this on her own? Of course! I'm a 60+ year old female and a couple of years ago I learned to slate roofs. Economy drove me to it but I discovered - again - that old houses are pure examples of the hand-made genre and what was made by hand can usually be repaired by hand, if you set your mind to it.

Will taking on such a thing alter the course of your life (possibly even not for the better)? Probably. You may find you don't like like the demands it will make on your time, money and energy.

My advice would be to buy the smallest and most intact structure rather a down at the heels grand dame. You're more likely to actually complete the work on a smaller place which would allow you a quicker exit if you discover you hate the whole experience. Doing the work without a partner to share the effort will take stamina and certain level of mono-mania.

Personally I would never buy a brick house because I don't really understand them, particularly how to repair them.

You might enjoy reading a book called The Impecunious House Restorer. There is actually tons of good stuff to read on how to work with old houses and if you go ahead -even assuming you're planning to hire the work - it would be worth your while to know what they can teach. Ask for references if you like. For now, try these on for size: The Preservation Bulletins from the National Park Service. (I'll link below.) The info is excellent and non-commercial. They are good at explaining how to evaluate an old structure.

One final note: it is not uncommon on this forum that someone posts here when they are bogged down in the midst of complex reno and feel they ar trapped in a pit of despair and misery. Their anguish is real and devastating. You should read some of those threads and picture how you might feel if you were stuck in their situations. Don't for a second imagine you will never feel like that because I can guarantee that you will at some point(s!) in a large project. Just think about what you would do when you arrive at that point. If your personal style is one where you could say, 'enough already, I'll just take a break for a half-decade or so and live with the way things are' then you'll do fine. But if imperfection, or mess or inconvenience or not-as-nice-as-you-want-it-to-be will drive you around the bend, then do yourself a favor and buy a new house.


Here is a link that might be useful: LInk to the National Park Service Preservation Bulletins

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 1:27AM
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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

I agree with liriodendron. Buy the smallest and most intact structure. It will be enough of a learning experience. I, too, am a member of the Over 60's Single Female Club. The older I get the less I'm willing to tackle a huge project. The want is still there, the physical strength is not. And at my age -not THAT old- I don't want a 10 year major project. At this stage I'll settle for painting and papering, not ripping out walls and putting them back together.

I also agree, read this forum and the My Old House online forum for a year and then make a choice. In the meantime, invest your money somewhere. Maybe you'll end up with an extra 50 cents.

Here is a link that might be useful: seen on My Old House Online

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 9:54AM
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I'm voting for brick houses. We've had a couple older (1914 and 1930) brick homes, as well as a 1927 stone/cinderblock one. These older masonry homes were built by masons who were true craftsmen and were remarkably solid. I had to repoint one joint in one, but received good advice from the supply houses (not big box). Plus there was never any painting, so outside maintenance is kept much lower.

Attic insulation and storm windows (not replacement windows) both make a huge difference in the winter livability of the home.

And as others said, go for a smaller home, especially since you're on a budget. That old inn was lovely, but if you multiply the work and dollars times the square footage, the charm fades quickly. Since it was probably seasonal, it also probably was neither insulated or possibly even heated -- major upgrades there!

If you buy a home that was built after indoor plumbing and electricity were common, you'll probably have fewer problems. However, check out your electricity -- if it's the old knob-and-tube you may have to replace it. Also check to see if the drop has been upgraded to 240 volts, so you don't have to do that, too. It's minor compared to replacing all the old wiring, but still an expense.

Look for a home that has been in the same family for a long time -- chances are it has had less "remuddling" through the years.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 11:38AM
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Hi there...visiting the forum today. I'm in Southern California, so I can't speak to the cold weather. Of course we still have three different climates in our house - your feet, your belly and your head will all experience different temperatures.

I had a mantra for more than 20 years that I wanted an old home (the mantra involved a very specific description that did, in fact, come true). As a single person, I finally bought one. It was my second home purchase and I was moving from a condo. My house is in great shape, but I didn't have a really good understanding of the upkeep involved.

My income is higher than yours and I had money in the bank, but old homes are more expensive to maintain. It is also difficult to find an insurance company that will cover a house with knob and tube wiring - so make sure you can GET a policy as well as if you can afford a policy, which will be more expensive than a newer build.

I'm married now and we've done a couple renovations. Every time we open a wall, we find something more. Most recently it was that termites had turned some of our walls into dust - like the plaster was hanging there by itself - and some of the beams supporting the house were not supported themselves!

We have a friend in a 900 square foot 1924 home. She decided to replace her windows. SIX FIGURES later, the job was completed. There were so many structural and mechanical issues with the home that were uncovered, she kept having to add repair work to the job. Things like broken beams, termites, electrical issues... She did not touch her kitchen or bathroom, so this is money that will not translate directly to equity because the cosmetic stuff never got touched.

So don't think I'm telling you not to go for it. Just know what you're going for and make sure you have the funds to cover what you can't see.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 12:20PM
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Thank you everyone, for your posts! I am comforted knowing there are others who have done this and who can knowledgeably comment. I'll try to deal with some issues that have arisen:

1. Yes, Nova Scotia gets winters, although not in the style of Montreal (where I currently live) - not as cold. Also, I grew up in rural British Columbia where a lot of people use mostly wood (stoves) to heat their houses - I am very familiar with the order the wood, get the wood, chop the wood, stack the wood, carry the wood back inside in small batches daily routine. Heh. In terms of doing a faithful restoration, something like insulation is somewhere where I would be more than willing to bend. That just seems to make sense to me. Right now, during winter, I only heat the rooms I am in everyday to a nice temp - other rooms are heated only to the point where it prevents pipe freezing etc. Although right now it is only me, at some point hopefully the house will be filled with other beings, and yes, they may all be canine. :)

2. I am 31 - just recently came to the acceptance of the fact that no, I am not ever going to have a high pressure job wearing businesswear in the city and stomping around in heels being important. I was raised to want this, but I don't. I am a total disappointment to my 70's feminist mom - all I want is to make and keep a home, a real HOME, and stay there, maybe have a few kids (god willing) etc. Not sure my being 31 changes anything, though. I still know just as little as I would if I were 80.

3. You all mostly seem to be in agreement on a smaller structure. I take that advice to heart. Although that huge old hotel just makes me want to weep at its condition, and its potential, that is, YES, not a project I think it would be smart for me to take on - not right now, anyway, when I am this green.

4. Brick structures. I am actually fairly in love with this ex bank building - $58,000: - that first floor...ohhh my god (again, way more photos to be seen if you click on 'More') - I have been thinking brick might be a good idea due to its durability and low maintenance-on-the-outside nature

5. I have been thinking on the 'what will you do/feel when this inevitably goes pear shaped at some point(s)'? As long as a solution is being worked towards, even if it is simply saving money and not doing any actual work at a given time, I am OK. Not skipping down the street happy, but OK, can deal. I need to feel that progress of some sort is being made.

6. As mentioned, I am a freak about things getting done RIGHT. My parents just dropped about $60,000 on some renos of their (not old) house, and they spread it all over the house, doing little fixups etc. I would have taken that $60,000 and put it into one room and left all the other rooms undone until I could afford to do them to that standard, too. Anyone else feel me on this? Do I need meds? Ha ha.

As for the houses linked in my first post - they are houses I like. I am not seriously considering buying them, not at this moment (I need to go to NS and arrange for any possible houses to be properly inspected etc.). Do you want to know what house I really want? And you have been warned, you may drool or weep when you see this place, its condition and its price (also when you think about restoration costs, which are easily going to run to a half million, I assume): - look at the interior photos. I may chop off my right leg just to be able to live in that attic. No, it's not doable for me, but god, it is so tempting.

Last question/issue. To what extent can one mitigate expensive, unpleasant surprises by having a house thoroughly (and I mean THOROUGHLY) checked out by the right people (plumber for plumbing etc.) before buying? The above mentioned cases of the termites etc. - could those have been avoided (I'm not criticizing, I'm genuinely wondering), for example?

Please, any thoughts, musings etc. so appreciated. And if any of you buy that house in Amherst I demand to be invited over for tea and wall-rubbing (wherein I will walk around and rub the walls lovingly, maybe sniffling a bit).

Lovm_kitchen - I feel like you and I would be dangerous together. Dangerous to bank balances and dangerous to innocent old buildings that were just trying to go quietly into their good night. :)

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 1:23PM
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Gah, I already mentioned my age in the first post, and wrongly. I am ALMOST 32. You see, I am having a bit of an issue. I sound very young on the phone - people still sometimes ask me if my "parents" are in when they call - and I have called a few real estate agents, builders etc. in NS with general enquiries only to not be taken seriously. So I am ALMOST 32. In the manner of a 4 year old who is 4 and and and 3 quarters and 4 days etc. Good lord.

One more link - this is a house I would consider buying, too. The location is great, right smack in the middle of main street in a small town that looks straight out of a movie - post office, grocery, pharmacy, doctor all literally a 30 second walk across the road. Anyway:

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 1:29PM
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I was noodling on your situation this morning and I wanted to add two points:

There are no free lunches in real estate. It is the ultimate in what-you-pay-is-what-you-get type of product. If the structures are cheap it's because that's exactly what they are worth in the state that they are in and you'll need to provide every dime (and then some) of the difference between what you bought it for to what you might sell it for. Sure, sure, housing prices overall do go up over very long runs, but unless you are already a skilled craftsman and experienced house restorer, it's likely that in real dollars your old house project investemnt will barely break even, even if you count the value of the housing it provided all those years.

Meanwhile it will have consumed every spare second, all your spare-able cash, etc.

And that brings me to the second point. If you have just had a an inflow of cash my advice would be to put one-third to one half immediately into long-term financial (not house) investments. Do this right away as the longer you wait the more vulnerable it is to being adopted as a life-style benchmark, rather than a one-time windfall. This is your life-long nest egg and shouldn't be considerd as part of the money you might invest in a house.

It's OK to use a portion of the windfall as the downpayment (or full price) for a house but only buy what that smaller sum and your normal income will allow and give yourself a nice cushion for making repairs, renos, etc.

Your nice salary will allow you to handle the higher costs of home ownership and do some ongoing improvements to your place. But it will be more expensive than renting, and sometimes quite markedly so. When you rent if your furnace goes, you call your landlord and maybe deduct a few bucks from the rent. And then you plan a weekend away while it gets fixed. When you own the place you call your heating contractor, and maybe your bank to secure a home-equity loan. No weekend away as you won't be able to afford it and you'll need to be there to keep the electric heaters going so the damn pipes don't freeze and burst - or carefully keep warming them up with a hairdryer to keep them from freezing again.

Being somewhat cash-limited may be a blessing in disguise as it may prevent - or at least slow down - a headlong rush into the misery of biting off more than you can chew in old house restorations.

For most people buying and improving a house with a modest to moderate number of issues yields the happiest results, even for the fixer-up minded. There's enough work to yield the satisfaction for making the effort, but not enough to make you feel like a chattel slave to your house - or worse - your bank.

Wishing you the best. Call your bank or broker tomorrow and get a good chunk of that money invested pronto - just get it out of sight for now as you ponder where and what to buy. As long as the cash readily available it will be as temptation to the siren call of an old building looking for a weak point in your financial armor. In other words shrink your house-buying "pot" to the size appropriate to your normal, salary-based life style, with only a modest sweetner added in the form of a big down payment to lower your borrowing costs and likehood of a quickly paid-off house.

Living w/o a mortgage or rent is the ultimate is cozy, satisfying, long-term self-sufficency with deep roots. Your place is really yours, and you aren't facing the risk of losing it due to financial reverses.


    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 1:36PM
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Before I say anything else: thank you everyone for the links, keep 'em coming, I'm going to join the My Old House forum, too.

Thank you, L. Good, solid advice and I appreciate it. Some of the houses I have linked are under $100,000. If I go with one of those, I will buy it outright, no mortgage. I can barely face the thought of not paying mortgage or rent because it seems like an impossible dream.

Even without this chunk of $ I have come into I was thinking of buying (getting a mortgage) on a place and settling down there. My moving from city to city/being a student days are over, and I want to be in one place.

Buying an old house is not something I'm doing to save $. Although I know very little about it, I know enough to know that would be absolute folly. This isn't a financial investment for me, it is making a home, I would be happy to break even and even if I didn't, if I was happy with the house, then that's OK.

I should also mention that in terms of financial surprises, I am somewhat covered - my income was mentioned above (I am assuming it's fine to talk about this here, as it is necessary info) but I work 3/hrs day 4-5 days a week. By choice. This means I could choose to work 7 hours a day if necessary. This all ties into one of the reasons I want to buy and restore and settle in an old house/community anyway - it boils down to a decision not to live my life working my ass off at a job I hate. I don't want to live that life - I'm an anxious person as it is, a homebody, fairly quiet (though social - one reason I want a big house is so friends/family can always come and stay).

Did I mention I'm also prone to rambling?

I have property listings saved, I am going back over them now, again, with your post in mind, just contemplating. Do you have any thoughts on the brick ex-bank I posted above?

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 2:38PM
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I am glad you alluded to location - it is the first question most people wrestle with on a home purchase and is not irrelevant even if you are looking for a project. In your shoes I would look for not just the best house, but the best house available WHERE you want to live. The nature of the property (type of yard, size of lot, zoning, nearby industry/activity/amenities should also play in.

The other thing that catches my notice is your references to "going room by room." Story about that: My husband's sister and her husband bought an old house and worked on it just a year before we started. They lived in while they worked, and they mentioned going room by room. We, however, did not live in - we lived out for a year and could do comprehensive work. And yet, her advice led to us going room by room, at least to start with, and by the time we realized we could work far more efficiently and correctly by taking a comprehensive view, we had, for example, already started the wiring so couldn't be as logical in setting up our circuits as we should have been. And also, we were still wrecking in one part of the house while drywalling in another - that meant all the tools and materials and junk were around all the time. Not right. You should try to go system by system, task by task, issue by issue. At least THINK that way, even if you have to WORK room by room.

Inspection. Yes, it should be able to rule out some surprises, but they cannot look into walls. You can get more than one inspection if your first is not satisfactory. But some things... for example, turns out our house is built with 2x6 joists and 2x3 studs. Not 2x8 or 2x12, and not 2x4s. The inspector did not catch that, but I'm not sure he could have.

You cannot control all the variables. There will be surprises. Not all of them will come from the house. You seem to know yourself quite well but we do all change... and you should leave yourself the freedom to do so. So consider not only what you want, but think about the resale-ability of what you buy in case your objectives, opportunities, etc change. Or, in case it is not resaleable, your freedom nonetheless to walk away and do something new. So the expensive house in town looks good because although you will likely have a mortgage, it should be easy to sell. The more isolated house that is much cheaper may, however, actually leave you equal freedom since even if you buy outright it will not hold so much of your resources that you cannot move somewhere else even if you can't sell it immediately.

Many aspects to consider. Just one of them should be "which building makes you weak in the knees?" If it does that, whatever the surprises, you will be able to cope. Except, I should qualify, look for asbestos - it's not unmanageable, but if you have the option to avoid, I might.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 4:01PM
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I love the old bank. Would you rent out the bottom floor or use it as living space? If the latter, you could (eventually) move the kitchen down there -- the teller counters seem a natural to integrate into a kitchen. Is there a bathroom on the ground floor, or at least a restroom? Is there direct access to the upper floor from the ground floor?

Alternatively, depending on zoning, etc., you might be able to add a second unit downstairs and rent out one or the other. I don't know how comfortable you are with being an on-site landlord, but it would bring in extra income.

If you intend to use it only as your home, you will have major landscaping to do to get rid of all the parking area. But the water view would make it worth it.

I don't see anything wrong with spending money on your home, if that's what you want to do. Some people spend their disposable income on ski vacations or partying or clothes. As long as you realize you might not get the investment back, but enjoy what you are doing, what's the difference?

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 6:10PM
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I thought about you today as well. I know $200k sounds like a lot of money, but in the long run it's really a drop in the bucket. Think about it...if you make $50k, it would only match your salary for four years. You would be 36/37 when the money ran out.

Also, you mentioned that you want to have a home and some kids. The truth is you can't control other people and just because you find your dream home doesn't mean someone will want to move in and have babies in that home. More often, couples want to start fresh.

It sounds harsh, but I have a number of female friends (we're in our late 40's - early 50's) who tried this and failed. They own homes, but they never got married and had kids.

At the very least, I would put this money aside for at least one year. Don't touch it, but think about what you want for your life without it. Make decisions that you will be happy with for yourself first and don't get in over your head hoping someone else will join you in the expense. Then put aside 50 - 75% of the money and decide how you live the life you want to live - with or without the money.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 8:53PM
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"You should try to go system by system, task by task, issue by issue. At least THINK that way, even if you have to WORK room by room."

Yes, this is exactly what I was trying to get comment on. I feel like, as you say, it might make more sense to make sure the major systems are in place and start room-to-rooming when it comes down to the details. So, for example, electrical, plumbing, dealing with mold/water damage etc. first and THEN finishing off each room after that. I was always the kid who ate all the least liked items on my plate and saved the best until last, so this philosophy is familiar to me. I would probably feel guilty/anxious doing the fun stuff first.

Location is something I am researching - Nova Scotia is a small province, but in some parts there are orchards (soft fruit) and in others its more the exposed-to-the-Atlantic-blast thing. The southeastern shore is very beautiful, lots of sand dunes and white sand beaches, very much an economic backwater due to the collapse of the cod fishery - it's an area I really like the look of. As for town vs country, I would like some land - an acre or two, 3, to garden and maybe raise a few chickens (I miss having their eggs fresh every day) BUT that is vs the convenience of being in town. I currently exist without a car, which would have to change were I to move somewhere rural. One thing I am considering is snow removal - I've even advised a few realtors not to show me anywhere that's so far out of the way it isn't covered by municipal snow removal - I've been snowed in before out in the country and it's fun for an hour and then it just sucks for however long it lasts. Nova Scotia, being out east, is definitely arranged more like a European country (many little villages, especially on the coast, not far from each other) vs British Columbia, where once you're out of the town, you're pretty much isolated. I don't want to be isolated in that sense, like I have seen/lived in BC - it's just a pain in the arse on a lot of different levels.

As for the bank - yes, hello, riverfront! And, a big paved over area that'll have to be removed. I would rent out the basement (it seems to be set up as a suite on its own already) if necessary, but without strong incentive (financial) would probably choose not to. Landlording isn't something I want to get into as I'm renovating if I can help it.

And that main floor - someone mentioned a kitchen in there? Yep, that was my exact thought upon first seeing it. Just to turn that whole floor into a kitchen/living area/lofty type open space - even had the same thoughts re: bank counters/kitchen counters. :) I don't THINK there is a bathroom on that floor, but there is a backroom/office as well as two rooms that were used as vaults, so I was assuming one of those vaults (or, depending on their size, both of them knocked through) as a bathroom. Another thing I wanted to do if I go further with that property is get an architect or structural engineer in to speak to the possibility of raising the roof on the second level and possibly adding a roof deck up there overlooking the river (there are places here in Montreal with flat roofs and whole-roof decks - I really don't know what's involved with that given that one has to expect snow). That would be something to do once the main structure was dealt with, though.

You know what else I've noticed about Nova Scotia, in towns, villages, rural etc.? They don't seem to be big on fences, AT ALL. I hope putting up a fence (I am a worrywart and have dogs, so I must have a fence) isn't some kind of faux pas.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 8:55PM
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1929Spanish - only just saw your post. And yes, the year thing is something I'm doing already - I'm thinking next spring to actually travel out there and start seriously considering. And, not to get too off-topic, but in no way am I assuming a man will want to come and live with me/raise babies with me. This isn't the place for discussion, and I know not everyone thinks it's a fab idea, but let me just say that I am very open to the idea of single motherhood by choice, to the point where I generally just assume that if it happens, it very well may happen that way.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 9:04PM
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I'm not sure you need even an acre to have chickens and a garden. We have several friends who live in town on lots that are no more than 1/4 acre -- one substantially less than that -- who have chickens and very productive gardens (both vegetable and floral). Much larger than that will be a lot to keep up with. We have 6 acres, mostly wooded, but with approx. 2-1/2 open; even with the two of us, a riding mower, and no little kids, it's a bear to keep neat. It's a good thing I love weeding! Do the town regulations allow chickens?

Raising the roof on the bank will probably be cost-prohibitive. Could you gracefully add a large elevated deck on the back of the second floor, from which you could enjoy the view?

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 10:17PM
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Mia, a lot of good advice two cents are out of date as I bought 25 years ago, and prices have gone way up since then, and probably codes have changed regarding wiring, insurance, etc.

My house cost 38k back in '87, and I paid 1/4 down; in the basement, there was a newer circuit breaker box, and the wiring had been replaced--but when I had to replace an outlet or a light fixture, I was facing the old thick wiring between the switch and fixture. I had absolutely no problem getting insuance coverage, which I have heard some people say is difficult. How this can be in cities where most housing stock is nearly a century old I don't understand. :)

Anyway, I know you will learn to do things as you go--I did--and make sure you do a lot of research on both what to look for, and how to repair it!

If it were me, I'd go for the house in Amherst with all that gorgeouos woodwork--I absolutely hate painted woodwork, and that second house seemed to have tons of it!

Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 11:00PM
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Just something to think about: we are up to our keisters in a remo of an old house - I would never do it again. Problem is we didn't know it was designated part of an historical district, so we cannot make changes to the exterior, add a second story without huge expensive permits and red tape, etc. We are even limited to exterior paint color. If the historical district applies to any of your choices, I would advise avoiding them.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 11:44PM
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Ah, ColumbusGuy1, I see you recommend the purchase of the Amherst house. Did you see that the square footage on that is 7700sf? No matter, all I needed was one person to help me justify it. Ha ha. Anyone else to help me do this? I need some good reason why someone with absolutely no experience and a limited budget should buy an almost 8000sf house in terrible condition. Ofc, I am kidding, but I have rarely seen a house like that. The woodwork, the size (those rooms are so beautiful, everything about that place is graceful). Also, I am with you on painted woodwork. WHY?

Scarlett2001 - interestingly, that brick ex bank building DOES have heritage status. I checked out the heritage register in that county and it's on there - the website had very little info so I need to call them and ask what a heritage designation entails. Sometimes it can mean insane restrictions (paint colour, for example, as you said yours does), sometimes it basically means nothing in practical terms. We'll see.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2012 at 2:02AM
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Yikes, I would have missed the one in Amherst and the one in NB if CG hadn't mentioned it and made me backtrack. So, 6 hours of on-line house-hunting in the Maritimes later, we've booked our tickets... I've almost decided you're a Maritime realtor who's just trying to get people shopping! It worked!

Wow to the one in Amherst. Just wow. The house next door to us, an 1800 sf old timer on a 3000 sf lot in Vancouver, good cosmetically but a bit behind on infrastructure work, just sold for $825,000. Seriously.

What's also interesting is looking at the finished, renovated old houses in Amherst etc. Clearly there is some value in doing the restoration - assuming there are buyers. Not much, maybe, but it's there. That would be a factor for me. But mostly I would want to live there.

I do have to say that the Amherst one has a LOT OF ROOMS. That is something to tackle by one person. Double the work, but on the upside, half the fighting :-)

The advantage of unpainted woodwork is mainly that you don't have to strip it to see what is underneath. I don't always like old woodwork (often too dark for my taste) but there is some reflex I have that makes me need to SEE THE WOOD.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 1:18AM
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I'm from Vancouver Island - believe me, when I first started looking at listings in NS I wondered if there was some kind of conspiracy going on, if all the houses had poltergeists or were infested with some kind of terrible insect. That house, fixed up, would sell for millions in Van. A lot of it has to do with the economy in NS which isn't exactly booming - the collapse of the cod fishery pretty much rendered huge swathes of that province economically dead. In fact that southeastern shore of NS has become something like some of the Gulf islands - lots of retirees, home-based artists, people with money who wanted to get the most for it etc. And the research Ive done on weather doesnt make it seem TOO bad compared to BC. I mean, they get real winter in NS, but not real in prairie or central Canada terms, plus it doesnt rain solidly from November to May (bonus). Peach trees grow in NS, ffs!

I actually called the listing agent for the Amherst house a couple of weeks ago and she totally blew me off. I definitely think it was my 12-yr-old-sounding voice. She said soemthing like "you do realize this house needs work, right?" Ha ha. Really? Aw man, I thought that crumbling plaster and those sagging staircases meant I could move right in! I may call her back, but I've tried to do some more research on the house as it is - the architect was fairly famous and, as you saw too, the fixed up houses in that area seem to be listed at $400,000-$550,000-ish, so there IS a bit of a safeguard there in terms of saleability. The fact that it hasn't been bought at that price makes me think maybe it is in much worse shape than it looks (which is saying something).

Amherst is FULL of very, very beautiful, big, old Edwardian and Victorian homes, as well as a lot of brick structures along main street - at one point it was the place to be and the buildings reflect that. I've toured it on google street view and it looks pretty sleepy now, to say the least, population is under 10,000. A lot of the brick structures, if put on the market, would be perfect to convert into a huge loft-y space.

I've been keeping my parents (in Nanaimo) updated on the NS house searching and my mom is now seriously asking me to send them houses suitable for them to retire in - they can't believe the prices, either.

For those who want to take a look, here again is the link for the huge (7700sf) house in Amherst, NS:

There is also this one in Amherst: (next to an empty lot that is also for sale - does the kitchen on this look like an add-on to anyone else?)

    Bookmark   July 3, 2012 at 1:22PM
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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

OK Mia8080, either you have to move south or I'll have to make an extended visit north! I have been doing genealogy on great grandparents who immigrated from PEI, NS, and points west. I'm up against a different kind of brick wall and if I was "up there" I might find something ;-) And in my spare time we could look at houses!

We could have the greatest time together! I could make your phone calls for you! You could slap my hand every time I picked up another old thing at the “junk store” that would make a great _______(fill in the blank) as soon as I got it cleaned up a little.

I can ramble with the best of them so here goes. I moved to the country when I was 57. I had horses and barn cats I was keeping somewhere else. It took me two years to find the right place. I did repaint some rooms, ripped out all the green shag carpet, remodeled the barn and put up fence. Two years ago I hired a carpenter to help me remodel the kitchen and bath. I have put as much money into this place as I paid for it. Everything was well taken care of and the house was in good shape, just needed some cosmetic work. My outbuildings were in good shape and there was nothing to have hauled away. Everything else I looked at was cheaper but needed more work or a building or two taken down so I would be spending the same money, just in a different order.

I have 3 acres 3 miles from a town with a population of 400 or so. Not much of a town. I have chickens, dogs, cats, horses, a garden and pasture. It is a lot of work. You are young enough that everything won’t take you twice as long as it does me. My horse herd has shrunk significantly and I mow the pasture for a couple of hours every week or two. Weeding, mowing, maintenance and everything else takes a lot of time. I love it and don't regret it a bit. Up keep is in my budget. There is always something that needs fixed. Maybe not always a major fix but an expenditure none the less. My heat pump went out last week the day the heat wave struck. It was new 4 years ago. It required a major repair not covered by Amana twice a year every year since I bought it. I am going to spend a bigger pile of money and put in geothermal. I’m retired now and I don’t have that kind of money. I will have to borrow it and make payments for the rest of my life. The Plan was to have no payments when I retired.

The Amherst one looks to be move in condition. Just maintaining it might be all you want to tackle for a starter house. It could have its own surprises. No house is ever 100% good to go.

I like that old bank a lot. That add on tower thing on the back. What is that? A vault would make the coolest bathroom. Let the parking lot go for the first couple of years. You’ll be too busy to take care of a yard. If you must, put some containers with plants in them in strategic places. I have a huge piece of cement where the old barn was - before I got here- that grew monster weeds in every crack. I covered it with compost and that’s my garden. I have chicken poop and horse poop so it really wasn’t that big a deal.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2012 at 9:42PM
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Lovmkitchen - I assume you are in the US? What state? The genealogy thing is interesting in NS - there are a LOT of English roots there, but also a not small French historical rpesence. Even today you will come across little towns that speak almost exclusively French - looking at real estate listings you see some houses have Canadian flags on the porch, and some have French flags. My parents are both immigrants from England (late 70's) so it's sort of odd for me to see so many English place names and so much English history here. I have wondered if I would find any roots there, but as far as I have been able to find out the only branch of my family in N America are the descendants of someone on my mother's side who was convicted of horse thievery and sent to the Chicago area in about 1910.

I live in Montreal at the momet, if I am being honest I have to admit my anglo self might like Nova Scotia. I love Quebec and I love French culture and food, but, I am not French and I always feel a bit of an outsider. :)

So, as for houses. The ex bank - yeah, that concrete doesnt bother me. What bothers me about any building is decay - or, continued decay. I touched on this upthread...even if I cannot afford to renovate and restore every single thing down to the tiniest details right away, that is OK, as long as the place isn't further deteriorating after I've bought it. And as I have so little experience, I don't really know, in practical terms, how to go about that. What is the most important thing? The foundation? The roof? The integrity of the structure? I wish there was a manual, a practical manual,w ith clear rules, for this.

When I spoke to the realtor about the Amherst house she said "do you have ANY idea how much work that house needs?" in a sort of incredulous-that-I-was-even-interested way. I am going to call her back and force her to tell me how the foundation, roof and outer brickwork are.

Lastly, counting on me to help you not to buy things = bad idea. I am a certified shopaholic. It's shameful. If you could deal with someone constantly saying "omg, YES, YOU MUST BUY THAT AT ONCE" in your ear, you would be welcome. Us old house freaks have to stick together. A good 60% of my social group (90% of my family) think I am utterly insane for wanting an old house.

They are philistines.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 3:22AM
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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

Just think what we would do for the economy of two nations!! We could save the world! Yes, I am afraid you are my twin. The old house thing isn't an issue here because "everyone" lives in an old house! Some are just older than others. I haven't run across the new house snob so far. Or maybe my rose colored glasses block them out. I am in Iowa.

How much have you searched for your ancestors? I made huge progress after I joined A six month subscription would do you for starters. After that time you'd know if you needed another 6 months. I've connected with a few other people who are researching the same ancestors with about the same luck I have. I keep telling them the Ward family could have been French and they keep saying English. They've been at it a lot longer than I have so I defer to their judgment BUT they haven't been able to find anyone before 1805 either SO maybe they are French! I've read a lot of PEI history and there is no reason for them to immigrate when they did. OR maybe they didn't come over here then. Or maybe they were always there. My great grandparents moved around a lot and went US/Canada a couple of times...... Were they hiding from something? Daniel Ward was evidently a product of immaculate conception. His wife, Harriet Newell Cook had ancestors on the Mayflower, easy to trace. Wouldn't you think her family would be a little concerned who she married???? I have too many dead ends like that among all of them. So often everything stops between 1860 and 1870 and I have no idea where to go. It would have helped if I would have started this project 20 years ago. Or even 2 years ago when I had living relatives who might have known something. If you haven't already, nag every living relative you have for stories about their life. Write them down. Little things they say might not mean anything to you at the time but later as you gather information it might be a key bit to help you along. If you want to, contact me through my page and give me some info. I'll look around ancestry today and see what I can find.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 10:14AM
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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

Mia8080 - We're both Libra. A dangerous duo! But wouldn't we have fun!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 12:25PM
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Buying an old house in need of a great deal of renovation or care by someone with little experience with living and repairing old houses and who has a self-described intolerance with imperfections is shopaholicism on steroids.

As I understand it, the attraction of shopping is a compulsion to buy stuff you may or may not need in order to meet emotional needs. I think you may be emotionally attracted to the romantic image of being an old house-owner, but without an appreciation of the sheer drudgery of caring for an old house. Sure, they look lovely in the fixed-up state but the amount of effort, hours and money they consume to get there is almost unimaginable if you haven't any experience actually doing it.

Owning an old house will give you the chance to make 1000's of purchasing decisions. But most of them won't be fun decisions, at all. Instead of deciding between pretty accessories or curtains for your house you'll be deciding over whether or not to spend the money for PEX supply lines or go with the cheaper copper; will you buy a furnace that will meet your needs or one that will save you money in the long run though cost twice as much now? Will you have the rooms sheetrocked or pay to repair the plaster? Is poly better than Waterlox on the floor? Is it worth the lead risk to strip the woodwork or should you just seal it in? And inevitably as your money dwindles, you'll pine for the pretty paint colors sold at Farrow and Ball, but only be able to afford what's for sale at WalMart. Not to mention that all the pictures in shelter mags will start to be sheer torture because you can't even begin to approximate what you see in them.

If you are thinking that you'll be the one who truly gets a diamond in the rough that will polish up into the Kohinoor with just some TLC - forget about it! The reason old, in-bad-shape houses are cheap is that that's what they are worth today. To get them into the state of "valuable old house" someone either pays a great deal of money or devotes their entire waking hours to it, or more, likely both.

Why not buy an attractive, reasonably in good condition house, first? That will tell you how tolerant you are to ordinary house-owning issues before you start in on an the extra-ordinary issues raised by even mildlly in need of renovation older houses.


    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 1:07PM
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By the way, probably best to stick with email for contacting realtors :-)

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 1:51PM
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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

"There is also this one in Amherst: (next to an empty lot that is also for sale - does the kitchen on this look like an add-on to anyone else?)"

I would like to see a picture of the back of the house with the deck on it. The deck pictures don't look right with the house. The kitchen looks like maybe it's 1960? That room divider is a MCM detail. The pictures are so small it's hard to see what it really looks like. There's a "blue" picture, is it a glass desk or what? Some chairs. Maybe a sun room? That looks newer to me. Maybe they just replaced windows. At $146,000 you would have shot your wad just on the house. Fuel oil and baseboard heaters in Iowa would be a deal buster.

It says two baths but all I saw was one vanity and one toilet. The vanity is not old and I would replace it if I were there. There are lots of cosmetic things I would do but the house would be an "easy" practice house. Everything would still work while you learned how to do stuff. It's pretty far from "saving" an old house. I am like you, I would love to have the time and resources to do the hotel or one of those other magnificent buildings but I didn't inherit any money and I didn't win the lottery. It takes big money to do those kinds of repairs. And then you would want to decorate in the style of the restored building. There goes another $500,000.

Here is a link that might be useful: Old House Journal

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 6:36PM
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Liriodendron offers some of the best advice in this thread. I would reread those comments a hundred times over.

Personally, I feel there's an excess of youthful exuberance going on here. Your local contractors will be licking their chops.

You would do well to get a buyer's agent.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 8:29AM
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OMG, I'd be all over that house in Hillsborough!!! (your 2nd link from 1st post. lol!)

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 10:47AM
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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

Here ya go!!!! But you'll have to move to Iowa. I was looking for floor plan images and saw this exterior and one thing led to another and there I was, looking at the listing for give away price and then I saw it was not available any more.

Here is a link that might be useful: Right price, right house, wrong country

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 10:10PM
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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

HEY!! I found our sister! Read the last post on the comments! Maybe I'll do more of that. I used to but then I really had regret for not buying things when I saw them.

Here is a link that might be useful: just like us

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 10:45PM
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OK. For the record, I am not in debt. I do not shop to the point where it affects my life in a negative way. But yes, I do love beautiful things and every now and then I buy myself one of them. I refuse to allow this to somehow reflect on my suitability for restoring an older home.

On that note, given that I have no experience, how does one go about getting experience if not having any is a serious enough lack to possibly can the whole idea?

As noted in previous posts, I have no experience. I am not an idiot. I am fully aware of how contractors would look at me were I to roll up alone all 'omg! I have no idea what I'm doing! teehee!' - they'd hear KACHING ringing in their heads. This thread is for information, not to hire people, my straightupness here would not carry over to convo's with contractors. I need to do research and I also need an advocate of some sort, possibly a hired advocate, not someone who works for the realtor or who has ties to any contractors etc. I get this.

And of course I'm excited! This is something I have dreamed of doing since I was about 14, and now I can realistically consider it, finally.

Lovmkitchen, that Iowa house is great - it looks like it belongs on the prairie - is Iowa prairie? Edge of prairie? Heh. I don't know, it makes me think of wide open skies and fields. Interesting to see prices, too. I definitely think I got the wrong idea about average house prices coming from BC. it's not even that Nova Scotia is so wildly cheap, it's that BC seems to be inexplicably expensive. Vancouver I udnerstand, but little hick towns on the island (one of which I'm from)? Who is paying half a million for a fixer upper there?

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 2:52AM
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I think its great if you can make your dream come true and buy an old house that you love. This happened to us, we bought the family homestead which we loved, and which really had been kept up pretty well over the years. In spite of that, it costs a lot in time and money to both maintain and update this house. And every big diy project is a ton of work, a TON. ITS WORTH IT, but be prepared. I spent 9 months of 'spare time' stripping wood and removing textured ceiling only in the dining room. We removed layers and layers of flooring and wallpaper...this elbow grease is cheep, you can do it, but here's my recommendations which are a lot of what's already been said, I'm sure!

1. Buy a size that fits your needs, big houses cost a lot to maintain.
2. Buy a house that's in the best condition possible. Even a well-kept house will have tons of work for you to do...even if on first appearance it looks 'done', its NOT.
3 Location is very important. Make sure the lot is good and located in the type of place you really want to live.
4. Have money set aside for big repairs such as pipes, roofs, electrical, windows.
5. Don't start multiple diy jobs at the same time. Make sure you have the needed cash to buy what's needed to finish a job before you start it.
6. Save Original parts of the house such as lights, windows, hardware and doors for the next owner.
7. Find a trust worthy carpenter/handyman to help and teach you along the way. He will be worth his weight in gold. You can't do it all yourself, a guy with experience will do it efficiently and right.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 8:57AM
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Imhappy&Iknowit IOWA zone 6b

Prairie. I've never seen any natural prairie. There have been "tourist" areas where it's been "replanted". I can't believe it looks like the original prairie but I haven't seen it myself so I guess MYOB. Iowa is mostly like everywhere else. Bulldoze everything that's in the way. Farming here is nothing like farming. The farms are several hundred acres and the big farmers have a thousand acres or more. It's mostly grain. The cattle, chicken, and hog farmers all do confinement. My chickens run free and I sell eggs for more than grocery store price. My girl's eggs are never more than a week old. Grocery store eggs are never fresher than a month old. The only land that isn't farmed is in the government set aside program where they get paid not to plant anything on it. That's where you put the ground that is too wet or such poor soil it won't grow a good crop anyway so the crop that's grown is government subsidy paid directly to the farmer.

Speaking for Iowa house prices; the economy tanked years ago. You can buy a nice good house for a realistic price and low taxes IF you are willing to commute to work IF you can find a job. All the little towns are the same. You probably won't have a grocery store or gas station. Maybe a post office and maybe not. Your law enforcement is the sherrif's office located a few miles away. Your school will be made up of students from a half dozen towns around you. The school building will probably be in the largest town. Kids are transported in busses to the school. You will have a church or two. There will be a bar/cafe.

If you choose to live in a city, all that changes.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 11:53AM
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Mia8080, you have gotten some excellent advice here. I can only add two items:

1. You have a great goal in mind but leave the word "perfectionist" behind. You will be working on something that probably will not be square, plumb, or level. You have to find the happy medium, but avoid buying something that is seriously in need of repair, like others have said. Don't buy something you can't live in for at least a year or two before you start doing major work.

2. You mentioned paying cash for a place. I would strongly advise against that. I don't know what interest rates are in NS, but here in the States they are ridiculously low. I can see no reason not to borrow for 30 years at 3.5%. It's like free money. Your income would easily cover the payments and you would preserve all your cash for emergencies. Do the remodeling only out of your monthly cash flow. One thing I've learned is never spend your capital. Always try to use other people's money. In this case, the bank's.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 5:04PM
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