Am I crazy? How bad do you think water problem is? Mold?

dreambuilderMay 15, 2014

Found a house I like but needs major updating and has potential issues. Has water damage seen in the picture. The house has not been lived in for at least 10 years but has had the utilities on and kids checking on it while parents lived in a nursing home. Would I have an environmental engineer do a mold test? If the house had sat that long wouldn't mold be growing on the outside of the paneling by now if water was a continued problem? There are random water spots on the ceilings throughout the house as well. I am scared that could be a can of worms.

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Home inspection is the first step. Make sure you are there when the inspection is done so that you can ask questions and possibly get advice. Any house with an old roof or clogged gutters may suffer water damage. The problem could be the roof, gutters, windows or all combined. If no one has lived in the house for 10 years you know you will have plenty of issues.

Make sure you ask plenty or questions when the home is inspected. They should tell you moisture content of walls, condition of roof, gutters, foundation. But ask them if the chimney is lined, if there are grading issues, if anything in the house (ceiling tiles) could be suspect for asbestos. Make sure you get a pest inspection as well. Check the main water shut and all valves to make sure they function as expected. For example my home inspection never picked up that the main water shut off valve to the house was not functional. If there is a basement toilet or shower check the lines to see if they look like they are tied in to the sanitary sewer.

Check how close trees are to the house and see if your city offers a free inspection of house drain lines. They run a snake with a camera and can tell you if drain lines are clogged with tree roots or if lines are broken.

Also listen to your gut.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 12:44AM
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They've been checking on it for 10 years, but has there been heat/air in the house? Humidity control?

Yes, a mold testing/remediation company, separately from the home inspector, would be the appropriate person to assess the water damage and any mold in the home.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 1:21AM
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It has a well and septic and I know both are working per the agent. I can ask about the other things. For those of you who buy abandoned houses or houses that have sat for long periods, what are warning signs to look for and what usually goes wrong when they are left for that long?

Here is another picture of water damage on the main level--spot on the ceiling also. Several other rooms that have a couple spots like that on ceiling.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 1:05PM
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Here is utility room. Again, looks like water on the floor at some point since everything rusty.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 1:07PM
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One more picture for good measure--notice the water spots again on the ceiling, that is the 2nd floor so that is coming from roof/attic. Those don't look terrible to me, but asking bluntly, have I lost my mind to buy a house that has sat so long and has obvious signs of water damage? My husband says yes...

All the rooms need the carpet removed and fresh paint and I'm fine with that. It needs a new kitchen, and 5 bathrooms gutted. The whole lower level has wood paneling on the walls that needs to come off so depending on how difficult, new drywall, at least on the lower portion that was damaged by water.

5,688 sq ft. built in 1974.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 1:24PM
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When the agent says both the well and septic are working, all that means is that you turn the faucet on and water comes out. And when you flush the toilet, stuff disappears. You need that well to be inspected to make sure the water is potable. And you need that septic inspected to make sure it is in good working order. I'm in Massachusetts and every property on septic must pass a Title 5 inspection prior to selling. Banks won't loan for a failed septic. Septic tanks are"living organisms" that tend to loose functionality when abandoned.

I'm not sure you will get a clear agent from the seller, but it would be great to know how the water got into the place and when it happened. I would guess the ceiling damage has to do with roof issues. But the wall damage - was it a burst pipe? Seepage during a storm?

And I'm not dissing RE agents when I said you won't get clear answers from them. Since this home was abandoned for 10 years, most likely the agent just doesn't know. And there is a good possibility the sellers don't even know.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 1:30PM
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Is it the house your love? Or the location? Would a tear down be cheaper?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 1:31PM
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It is interesting b/c I feel like I can "save" the house--it does have some beautiful features, 3 stone fireplaces, a beautiful staircase, huge rooms. It is a beautiful property in my eyes but I know it needs a lot of work but I can "see" the potential. My thought is, if I can get it at a good price, and update it to my tastes then I would be very happy. It is on 5 acres near my family (not a desired location at all, but to me it is for close proximity). We have talked to a builder and that would take 8 months. I thought if we could get in this house and fix these issues and paint, get new carpet, we could do it in 3 months time and be ready for the new school year in the house. The fear is what if inspection goes ok then I get in there to demo and find an issue that is terrible (which I know could happen in any house). I guess asking the group what you think based on being abandoned and having the obvious water damage.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 1:42PM
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My husband would run screaming. However, if you can get them down low enough to compensate for a few potential hiding money pits then maybe it's worth the risk.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 2:23PM
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We would have done it a few years ago when we relocated, if we had found the perfect lot/house combination ... but we had the money saved to do whatever we wanted to the house. We ended up buying a newer house and doing an addition with savings and I will be renovating the bathrooms with savings. I think you get the idea! I would do it, but only if you have the money to do it right.

Make sure your inspector is PE (Professional Engineer) and I would have it inspected by any of the trades you will need (roofer, plumbing, electrical, etc or a very good GC)

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 2:41PM
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Around here people plan 6 months minimum for a total house rehab. It's usually more like 9-12. 3 months seems extremely optimistic.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 3:02PM
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Is it in the city? County? Check with the building dept. Los Angeles County has what is called an Occupancy inspection ==that is the building official does it, is specially trained, and will tell you what permits you need and how much. Other than that, a regular home inspector may not be trained well enough to handle this. You need well certification and well certification . The agent may be telling you anything to get the house sold..

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 3:46PM
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You have to find the source for every water stain and determine what it would cost to repair. The wall stains look as though they may be coming from around the windows and then flowing down the wall.
Sometimes, it is best to skip all the mold tests... Just assume there is mold, right from the start; budget it in and save you the testing money. You are going to be tearing out that wall no matter what the findings.
Most ceiling stains can be traced back to upstairs bathrooms or the utility room. Upstairs ceiling stains are usually traced back to the mechanicals located in the attic, or the roof is leaking.
Nothing wrong with buying a house like this, just get it at the right price.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 4:10PM
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You asked what this group thinks about this property based on water damage and the fact that no one has lived in it for 10 years.

I would not write it off because of water damage, but my first question would be how old is the roof?

Until you have an inspector go through it, you really have no idea what secrets may be hidden.

I missed where this house is? Northern state where pipes may have frozen and burst? Where is the water coming from? Bad roof or broken pipe?

Is that 5700 sq ft house well insulated? How many months a year do you have to heat that 5700 sq. ft?

Before you fall further in love with it, get an inspector in so you have an idea of the true condition. Then be sure it is priced so the fixes can be made.


    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 4:10PM
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Early 70's house probably has Lead paint... maybe asbestos. does your municipality require anything special for disposing of materials with either of those (our state does, and I'm not even in CA where everything environmental is regulated. ha!).

Make sure you really know what you are getting yourself into, cost-wise, before you go. Then, you've made an informed decision.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 4:23PM
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RUN! Run my child!

Unless it's REAL CHEAP and you are married to a contractor, skip it. Too much work.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 8:47PM
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Run and donâÂÂt look back. This house is not a fixer upper, unless you have deep pockets and absolutely no concern whatsoever about spending 5 times more renovating it than you could ever hope to sell it for. Let someone else have that ulcer.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 9:59PM
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I don't see the huge problems others do. Gather lots of info, see if it makes sense knowing all the money and time. Will it be the best place for you?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 10:21PM
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Hi dreambuilder,

The water damage would certainly cause me to worry, as others have asked...where is that water coming from? The other issues, old home, rusty utilities, ceilings obviously water damaged or rotting, and then the size of the place as well as 5 acres (that's a lot of property to manage) is a concern for obvious reason. But the most important reason to walk away is where you said this -
"not a desired location at all, but to me it is for close proximity". and then "I guess asking the group what you think based on being abandoned and having the obvious water damage."

Walk away, or prepare to rehab a Big Ole House with a Big Ole Cost, and a lot of Big Ole Hassles.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 11:38PM
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I asked the agent about the roof, he "thinks" it is less than 10 years old. I asked about the water damage--"The prior water damage is from the roof and soffits and some windows."

I do want to live in the country--I would really enjoy 5 acres--I grew up on 220 acres which is about 10 minutes away from this property, hence the appeal.

I asked about a certificate of occupancy and the agent told me this, "The property is livable and yes there is Certificate of Occupancy give several years when the house was built." So I think he means there was a certificate issued when the house was built which was not what I was asking, i meant if it has one now, but that is for the inspector to decide.

We live out of state currently, so we will go look at it and see how bad it is in person:) Then I will let you know if I run for the hills or decide to call in experts to see if I should be running for the hills....

Also to answer some questions--husband not handy at all and not interested as he has a very busy/stressful job. I'm handy and enjoy doing projects like building things, etc.. I could rip out all the carpet, take off the paneling, I would do all the painting, dad is very handy can frame, was a bricklayer when he was young, etc so he is of great help with guidance although he works hard enough that I wouldn't burden him with the manual labor it would take. I would hire the individual projects done. It is a small town so I could call individual subs for the drywall, electrical, plumbing, etc. and they would have all known my family since I was little or people I went to school with that are now in the trades.

I'm sure the bill to heat/cool would be unpleasant due to the size of the house (and it is propane). Perhaps with new windows and extra insulation that would help but it isn't an energy star home let's be honest.

It all depends how low they are willing to go b/c as everyone on this forum knows new windows, new HVAC, new kitchen, 5 new bathrooms, new drywall in basement, etc. is not cheap. That is without a mold problem, septic or well problem which would blow any budget quite quickly.

I still welcome any comments/suggestions. I hope to go look next weekend.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2014 at 11:06AM
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I'm not in the camp of "run." It all depends on price. Heck, a year ago we bought a house with a rotted bathroom floor, laundry room "addition" built on a rotting deck, and 4 bowing basement walls. Run? Many would. But for $14,000 it was worth buying for us. $9K fixed the basement walls (a quote we got before signing), and $10K and elbow grease will cover the rest of our whole-house gut. You've got to enjoy the process (we do, and even so I get frustrated regularly at the pace we're going).

    Bookmark   May 16, 2014 at 1:33PM
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Also, know your relationship's tolerance for renovations.

As weedy points out, they "enjoy the process". If your DH is a very busy person who can't stand clutter, even if he doesn't have to do the work, coming home to house in the midst of renovation will cause him stress. Can your relationship withstand a long renovation process?

I'm not necessarily in the camp of run. But, you really need to know what you're looking at (time and cost), and then double that. Is it still good?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2014 at 1:45PM
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The "M-word" is a powerful word that can kill a deal very unnecessarily. If a house was vacant for 10 years and there was a legitimate mold problem, you would know it. You would smell it or it would be more obvious than what you've shown in pictures. Based on the pictures you've posted, you have water stains and no mold. But, that's free internet advice! Mold is very simple, it only happens when you have water and a former living substance (wood product). If the water dries then the mold dies.
What you need is a home inspector with a moisture meter. A moisture meter has two teeth that penetrate the drywall or wood and tell you what's going on inside. He should check out each of these stained areas and tell you if it's an active leak or if it's old. And he should do the home inspection immediately after or during a rain storm. And make sure you get the individual home inspectors resume. You don't want some goober that took a class and is now a home inspector. You want someone who is/was a builder. Period. That's important. I've seen unexperienced home inspectors come out without moisture meters and they see the same thing you've seen and scream "the sky is falling!". When, in truth, they did no more level of investigation that what you did.
Based on the photos you've posted I suspect there isn't a real problem. But you definitely need to do more investigation. Whatever you find out, keep it to yourself and use that information in negotiations.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2014 at 6:33AM
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I also don't think you are crazy ... 17+ years ago I bought a house (small farm) with a house that needed a lot of work, but the 20 acre property was just what I wanted.

Many other people looked at the property and couldn't see the potential. I got it for a very good price, did tons of renovations, and LOVE my home!

So it all depends on the amount of work that needs to be done, the price you can get it for, and if you can afford the work to be done ... and the renovations don't all have to be done at once. I spaced mine out over 10 years.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2014 at 11:43AM
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Personally, I would run. Some people are sensitive to mold and it can cause allergies or more serious problems.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2014 at 2:03PM
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No one on this forum can look at those pics and say whether or not if there is mold there.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2014 at 7:19AM
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I was in a very similar situation a couple years ago.

I wanted a midcentury modern home but it had to be in a specific area. Prices were still depressed at that time, but I knew they were bound to increase soon.

I had been watching a home online that was built by one of my favorite 1950's architects. I had seen black and white pics of the house from the 50's and it was beautiful then. Unfortunately, the previous owners had altered much of the architecture. The price was much too high. When the price decreased significantly, the realtor and I went to look at it. It had also been abandoned for 10 yrs. There was major water damage EVERYWHERE. The ceiling ballooned out all over the place. The patio overhang and soffit had areas of rot. The carpet had water damage. The realtor and I walked out laughing that anyone would think they could sell the house for the asking price (which was still above my budget).

We looked at more homes, but the bones of these homes did not compare to the damaged home. The home had walls of glass, amazing views of the city and mountains and in my opinion had great potential.

When I wanted to make an offer on it, the realtor was shocked. He tried to talk me out of it. But I felt it was a matter of time before I was priced out of this area and despite the terrible condition of the home, it had other things going for it.

Before making an offer, we had a roofer look at the roof. Like your roof, it had been replaced in the last 10 yrs. All I can figure is that no one had bothered to repair the extensive drywall damage. The exterior soffit damage was from condensation in AC vents (yes- they had AC on the patio!).

After haggling with the bank (shortsale), I finally got the house. I remember that night thinking, WHAT HAVE I DONE?

The house has taken extensive investment. It is not done, and because of the expense, I am taking my time with it. I did put in new floors, new roof, new electrical, new kitchen, drywall, opened the floorplan up, etc. The house just appraised for much higher than I paid.

If I were you, I would have a roofer look at the roof to verify it is intact. Try to get a contractor out there also to give you his/her opinion on the source of the water damage elsewhere and his worst cost estimate. Think about the WORST possible outcome with the water damage and decide if you are willing to pay this for the house. I was fortunate that for my house the water damage, although it looked awful, was negligible for cost.

If you really want the house, repairing the issues may be worth it. Dont forget that other things might need repair/replacing - HVAC system, etc.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2014 at 7:05PM
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