Buying a house with knob and tube wiring and other 'TLC'

tygerdanOctober 8, 2010

I've been interested in a 1200sq ft 3bed/1 bath 1950 house in San Francisco area that's been on the market for more than 2 months.

It's borderline TLC/fixer upper with all original knob and tube wiring with 3 red, 2 blue and 1 green fuses in this small electrical panel and noticed all the outlets had small black scorch marks. I'm wondering if it's worth the cost and about how much to rewire the whole house?

Also when a realtor posts "needs some TLC" in this house listing does it still apply if:

The whole back of the house has many cracks in the stucco and there is some white efflorescence water damage on the floor joists and rust on the copper water pipes in the basement as water dripped from the bathtub drain.

Possible issues with the flat roof that has gutters that had fallen off or completely rusted away with a giant hole in them.

The original bathroom with cracked wall tiles needs to be gutted and remodeled.

Original 1950 furnace with possible asbestos wrapped ducts.

The only things that's in good condition were the floors, interior walls, doors and most of the wood windows.

I really like the layout of the house and the neighborhood, but I'm worried by the huge amount of TLC for the money and time to make the house livable.

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Many insurance companies won't insure a home with active knob and tube wiring anymore. So, you'd have to take care of the majority of repairs before even being able to move into the home. Those repairs aren't minor. YOu're not describing cosmetic problems that some heavy scrubbing and some paint will take care of. You're talking the basic systems of a home. THose are the most expensive repairs to make. You'll lose those intact walls and ceilings to run all new electrical and plumbing. In your area, 50K minimum for that, plus the cost to drywall the house. It'll be cheaper to rip everything out and redo it completely rather than to try to patch a thousand gouges. And, that's just cosmetic. If they find water damage (likely) when they redo that plumbing, then you're into mold remediation and probable structural repair issues.

Only a very handy person who is very well funded for contingincies should even be looking at a home like this. You don't sound like that's your description, or you wouldn't be worried about the purchase.

Run away as fast as you can from this money pit.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2010 at 8:46PM
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I wouldn't venture a guess as to how much it costs to fix the problems described as it really is market dependant and house specific problems.

I would say that you have major problems there. If you're unsure how to fix these things you're getting in over your head. There is probably more unseen problems and the ones you have found at this point are large. Unless you're at a SUPER discount and have a contractor you can trust who can look at this and help you through the remodel, you should pass.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 9:01AM
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" You'll lose those intact walls and ceilings to run all new electrical and plumbing. "

Only if you hire Darrel, Darrel, and his other brother, Darrel.

There will be some wall damage, byt by carefully thinking things out it can be greatly limited.

Things as simple as choosing how to feed new cables to a ceiling fixture can make ther wall dmaage minimal.
Feed parralel to the joists and you can fish in the cavity, feed perpendicular and you need a hole in the ceiling at nearly every joist.

It WILL increase the time and amount of wire needed, but there is no reason to have wholesale destruction of walls to update plumbing and wiring.

A sub panel on the second floor requires only a single stud bay on that floor and the one below to get the feed installed.

Wiring to the top floor is run in the attic and dropped down.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 11:38AM
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You're in CA, home of earthquakes and fires which means old home or not you have a whole different set of problems to deal with than the rest of the country. If I recall correctly once you open the door to an a remodel you have to bring that house up to code. You need to check with your RA and city code officers on that.
Try finding someone in your area that specializes in old houses. NOT a general contractor. GC's are the kings of rip it out and start over. It's faster and easier for them than actually having to build to spec.
A good electrician should be able to run wires without destroying your walls. Asbestos is fine as long as it is intack.
A flat roof can be a difficult fix but it isn't impossible.
What it boils down to is how deep are your pockets and how good are you at dealing with multiple problems over a fairly long period of time.
It's been my experience whatever the experts tell you its going to take dollar wise double it. Same with what ever they tell you time wise.
Old houses can be a joy and a great source of pride BUT it's a lot of work getting there and keeping things up.
Not everyone is cut out for the old house experience.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 2:00PM
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"Those boys up to their old tricks again?"

    Bookmark   October 10, 2010 at 11:38AM
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"Needs just a little TLC".
I find that real estate honesty and truthfulness to be on a used car salesman level.
I have found knob and tube wiring to be of high quality and good design, but it can only handle about 6 light bulbs, which is all people had, a century ago..
Rewiring is not that difficult, but all those other add up.
Buy the land and bulldoze the house, but I'm not crazy about this either.
These old houses were really built well, but not designed for this age.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2010 at 1:55PM
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But once you start you need permits, and have to bring everything up to code and with the earthquakes SF has all the time,(little ones) it will be very expensive and a challenage. I would look elsewhere.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2010 at 6:46PM
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