Should I buy my grandfathers 1956 house?

n4dslDecember 7, 2011

I am considering buying my grandfathers house which he built himself in 1956 (he was a builder, woodworker)

The house is not big enough for my needs, but I like the location and all the extra outbuildings. My uncle is a builder and have a friend who is an architect. I have been working on plans for adding a second story to the house. They are confident it can be done just fine (not sure on price yet), but I don't want to put a bunch of money into an old house that may have underlying issues. My primary concern is basement which has had water in it in the past. It is a fairly level lot, no slopes for water to drain. Basement is cinderblock walls that were painted at one time. Should I put drylok on it? But I would have to get block clean first. It appears that black mold is on the walls at places. The floor joists have some kind of blackness on them. I can't tell if its mold or just dirt or from woodstove that was in basement.

The exterior is brick veneer with celotex fiberboard behind that. There is no insulation in the walls! Plaster walls inside. I am afraid of moisture in this house. Right now the basement is 70% with it raining outside. I took a moisture meter to cinder block and its at 25% while its raining, about 10-15 while it isn't. The blocks feel dry and everything is dry. We haven't had major flooding in years. There are no signs of mold in the living areas, but I don't know whats inside the walls.

Here is a link to pictures of the place (click on picture to go to photo album):

Granddad's House

Any suggestions/comments would be appreciated. I am going crazy trying to figure out what I should do!

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Would you buy the house if it wasn't your grandfather's house? Looking at it from that perspective might help you determine if it's right for you or if the emotional attachment is part of what makes you want it.

"I don't want to put a bunch of money into an old house that may have underlying issues." There will always be issues with an older home. (I say this because I live in one. Same age as yours, started small and significantly expanded and gutted over the years. I love it now, but it still has a basement with less than 8' ceilings and we did have to make some compromises that we wouldn't make if building new.)

In some/many cases it is less expensive to tear down and build new, and you won't make the compromises that you would if you're trying to build on an existing foundation. If there is something in the house that your grandpa built (cabinets, furniture, etc.) those can be saved and reused.

I'd do a ton of research on the cost of upgrading to get what you want, and compare that to the cost of tearing down and rebuilding. I can certainly understand the desire to save your grandfather's house. At the same time, know that there are compromises and costs (and many hidden costs) when dealing with an existing structure. If you love the location, maybe just being at the same address (but different/new house) will be attachment enough.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 12:09PM
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chicagoans makes a good point.

But... it is a charming house, on a GREAT property (love those big old trees!) If you're getting a good deal on the price, then it may well be worth it. Lots of older homes need basement work.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 1:31PM
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I bought a 1964 house that looked to be in worse shape than your grandfather's house ... I doubled the size of the house in the past 15 years, and the amount of money I have put into it was more than the cost to buy the property originaly.

It's on 20 acres in a great rural town ... I LOVE my home and property and all the money I spent was worth it. I plan on living in my home for the next 30+ years, at least!

What are your long term plans?

My area has a high water table, our basements are damp. Are basements in that area normally dry, or is this an issue in many/most homes. Could be something you just need to always be aware of and work on.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 4:09PM
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That house is adorable!

I just bought a house that has a basement just like that but wetter. I'm not rattled about it at all.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 12:56AM
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I do plan to stay there long term, probably forever. So that is why I want to make sure I am going to be happy with the house. The basement is really the main thing that worries me. We got 2-3 inches of rain the other day and there was no water in basement, so that is a good sign. Supposedly their has not been any water in basement in 6 years. My grandfather claims ever since the farm across the road dug a new well he has not had any more water in basement. One 800ft+ and didn't hit water and another one about 800ft where they did finally get water. Wonder if it's possible that it changed the water table? His well is only 80ft and my dad's next door is only 50ft! Which has been working for 30+ years. My dad knows someone that is going to test for mold and I am still working on getting a price for addition cost. To answer question about where most basements are dry, I would say unless its a modern basement with poured walls and properly sealed, a lot of people have some water in basements from time to time.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 9:17AM
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All old homes will have underlying issues. Galvanized plumbing that will need replacing. 60 amp electrical panels that will need all new electrical service run to the home. Roofs that leak. Basements that are damp. These are items that you buy into when you buy an older home. They eat money. Be sure you have enough spare cash to deal with this.

If you like the property and since it's a relatively small house, one other alternative would be to buy the place and live in it while you build something new on the property that is up to current building standards and conveniences. Then demolish the old house. It would be cheaper to do a teardown than to try to update an older home piece by piece.

If that elicits an immediate negative gut reaction, then you need to step back and become more objective here. That means that your primary motivation here is sentimentality and not practicality. If you have plenty of funding, restoring an old house that isn't really historic can be a nice hobby. If you don't enjoy the process, and/or you wouldn't have the spare cash to deal with the many issues ahead of you, then owning this house should be crossed off the list and pick something newer.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 12:34PM
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Sophie Wheeler

I bought my grandparents house from a very distant relative that ended up inheriting it. I thought it was a "known quantity" because they had remodeled it 10 years before I bought it. Remuddled it was more like it.

It was an absolute disaster. I was 24, by myself, and didn't know the first thing about being handy. I thought I could handle it because the house payments were $6 less than my current apartment rent. Well, utilities and insurance had to be paid too. Then I had to replace all of the HVAC and that took any savings I had.

Then more things started breaking, and I didn't have enough savings to deal with them like they needed rather than piecemealing a repair. I had the water supply from the street repaired 5 times (it was mostly repairs!) before I sat down with the lady who held the morgage (this was done as an incentive to purchase it) and told her that I didn't care if she paid me any money, just take back the house's title and sell it to someone else!

Thankfully, she saw it as an opportunity to get even more money out of it the second sale because I had done a lot of landscaping and curb appeal type things. It was just the actual important things that I had trouble with. The house looked better than ever. But it only needed everything if you were going to live in it.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 2:11PM
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The mold issue concerns me. If you can see black mold in the basement, it's probably elsewhere in the house -- where you CAN'T see it.

Given that you want a much larger house, I'd try to buy this for the land, tear it down and build new. An extensive addition is going to need new mechanicals, plumbing, etc. anyway. Why not have an all-new house instead of one with basement issues that's part-old and part-new? Think of the market value in each circumstance.

In some locations with high water tables people don't build basements -- just crawls.

We are assuming this is *where* you choose to live.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 11:24AM
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Well I had someone that does damage restoration come by and look at basement. They didn't see any signs of mold. They thought the black was just from where the water came through wall (dirt)
They seem to think the house was fine, try run a dehumidifier to keep basement dry. We just got the final drawings, so I will give to builder to get a price, so I guess we will see home much it costs and go from there.
I don't know if tearing down and rebuilding is an option either. The price I have to pay for house and land is not feasible to start over. It's such a shame to tear it down, it is a solid house.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2011 at 10:24AM
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First rule of old houses- if you can't afford to tear it down and start over, you can't afford to remodel and expand it.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2011 at 1:04PM
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" My primary concern is basement which has had water in it in the past."

Photo 6 and 20 look like they could allow water into the basement.

Not sure how much the price is, but I like the look of the property.

May I ask how long your grandfather lived? If he had health problems that were related to mold, that would be important to know about.

Do you know the neighbors? Perhaps they could offer some insight.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2011 at 1:36PM
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Exactly what Cocontom said! Remodeling averages just about twice as expensive as new construction would be. If you would have a hard time building new, then this house will eat you alive in repairs and expansion costs.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2011 at 4:45PM
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"All old homes will have underlying issues. Galvanized plumbing that will need replacing."

Maybe we should have stayed with the lead supply and waste lines.

Just kidding.
At least at first with ANY water chemistry the leach lead, and with the wrong water chemistry never stop.

The lead waste lines did work well, but were a PITA and hazard to work/repair (flames on lead are NOT a good thing, made even worse if you use a gasoline torch and leaded fuel).

    Bookmark   December 13, 2011 at 12:27PM
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Sorry, but I disagree with Cocontom and GreenDesigns .. UNLESS .. you plan on doing ALL your remodeling at once.

I did my remodeling over the past 15 years.

I personally would never tear down an older property to build new ... I hate new houses that I could afford. They are ugly, cookie cutter, and not well built.

So n4dsl, ignore all the naysayers and do what feels right to you. I love my older remodeled home with it's quirks.

And you don't think that newly constructed homes have their own set of problems?

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 12:47PM
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"I personally would never tear down an older property to build new..."

Unless it has some redeeming features 1956 is hardly "older."

It may well have drywall, and the 2x4s are very likely to be 1.5 x 3.5

Pre WWII houses often have plaster walls, and full size lumber.

A few 1950s era houses have 2 coat plaster (gypsum lath) that is very nice.

I had one with 2-coat plaster and run in place plaster moldings on the first floor, but it was built by a master plumber who had trade connections.

A typical 1950s house rarely has exterior architectural details of any significance.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 1:15PM
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Pam -- Generalizations are like yours are not valid. There are fine and ramshackle houses, old as well as new. Earlier builders didn't have the advantages of some new materials and techniques. Not everything 'old' is valuable.

Our 2001 house is a lot more comfortable and attractive than the drafty 1957 board and batten ranch we tore down, or the one we lived in for 30 years (no insulation, heat-exchanger windows, inadequate and leaky crawlspace).

    Bookmark   December 14, 2011 at 3:08PM
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My point also ... generalizations on this board are crazy.

Just tear it down! Nope!

You can have your 2001, I'll keep my 1964. Personal prefrence.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2011 at 12:10PM
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"I'll keep my 1964."

That is like yesterday.

The core of one of my houses is from the 1930s, and another house is 1790.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2011 at 4:48PM
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There are a few things I'm going to make assumptions about and one of them is that if your grandfather was a builder and a woodworker himself, he is likely to have built for his own use a well constructed and sturdy house. Not necessarily a deluxe home, but one without major structural cost cutting or issues.

I don't know your locality, so don't know how important an issue insulation is. Heat back then was cheap and many homes weren't insulated. Most rural homes here had oil wells of their own and would have never even considered insulating because they burnt the gas off to keep oil flowing.

Yes there were cheap and ramshackle homes built in all eras. Many old ramshackle houses are victims of never being properly updated and maintained, however. Some small old city homes were worker housing built by industy to give their employees a place nearby so they could walk to work. I'd be more concerned with the standards he choice for structure as how closely and with what the beams and joists/roof trusses are. Even if you are going to tear off the roof and raise another floor. It speaks to what he invested for strength and not flash. You already said he had plastered walls.

Sentiment aside, location means a lot. It's an important criteria and you like the one this house has. If you have good, accurate figures on which to base your expansion plans and a good inspection by people who know what they're doing you'll be going into it with your eyes open and with as much preparation as most of us who are considering a purchase.

I recently bought some adjoining property to the house in which we live. You bet we've thrown more money on this house as a new one over the years but if we had it to do over again, we would do the same thing over again. It has a lot to do with what you want your home/lifestyle to be like. It's simply a matter of making those choices with your eyes open.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 5:38PM
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Fori is not pleased

Beautiful location.

Maybe adding on out the back (or front) instead of UP would leave fewer concerns about the foundation.

I'd spend some money and time with an architect before coming to a decision.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 6:19PM
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Well I thought I would let everyone know that I decided to go ahead and so far everything seems to be going well.

Attached is a link to photo album so you can see entire progress. It has only taken 2 months (started 2-7-12) to get to this point.

Let me know what you think. They are hanging drywall now. Need to get the vinyl siding on now and paint the brick. Since the brick are already painted in front from where we took off closed in front porch I don't know we have much choice. I had to paint brick, because the new brick matched pretty well where we added back foyer.

Was thinking a dark gray color for brick and medium gray siding for second story and vinyl shakes for gables in front and back and black shudders.

Here is a link that might be useful: Photo album

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 2:10PM
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Wonderful! It's really coming along and it's going to be terrific. Congrats and thank you for posting an update.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 3:41PM
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Wow, you sure work fast. You have a lovely house there. I know you are going to enjoy all the work that you have done to the place. Congratulations.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 11:39PM
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Looks like your going to have a lot of room when your finished as well as nice views from the second floor.

The colors your suggesting (dark grey/med grey 2cd floor sound acceptable.

Congrats on choosing to fix it up. Looks like its going to be great when its done.

Please keep posting pics!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 9:13AM
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Fabulous! I bet you can't wait. Please post back when fini, TIA :-)

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 10:17PM
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I bought a 567 square foot house that was built in 1944. I love old houses. This one has been great. I moved in in 1997. I haven't had all of the problems that people describe, but I am okay with doing a few upgrades each year, to stay in my budget. It has the original wiring, but the Hungarian owner of our local lamp store told me the wiring is fine. He fixed a couple of switches for me. Everyone said I should get new plumbing, but I'm still using the old pipes. I haven't had any major repairs. I just had to replace a small piece outside last summer. My plumber said that his customers with brand new pipes have more problems than I do. He's just replaced a couple of faucets for me. The old owner was very talented with construction, so he did the work himself. He put on a new roof, and I've never had a leak. I just sweep it off and clean the gutters every year.
I don't mind old kitchens or bathrooms. I grew up in an older home, and I like their charm. I've put a lot of time into landscaping and planting an orchard and vegetable garden. I think this house was built very well. It's strong, warm in the winter, has made it through the earthquake. I like living in one of the original cottages in this neighborhood. Just another perspective on older houses...
I do have enough in savings for a new roof and to repipe, if I need it. That gives me peace of mind. I love the 30's and 40's, so I've decorated the home in that style of antiques from thrift stores.
Your house looks great! I'm glad you bought it. Enjoy!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 2:35PM
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Just thought I would post a final update. We actually moved in the house in August, of course lots of little things to do after we moved in, like putting up closet shelves, towel hangers, etc.. but we have been settled in now for some time. Just thought I would post that I was done and the link to photo album has some pictures of house finished.

So in the end, it has been worth it, but during the project I was really wondering how it would turn out. I don't know exactly how much I ended up spending in the end. I do have all my receipts but I really don't want to know :-) I know I went over budget, but I'm not in the poor house and it all worked out, so that is what matters. We have a nice home in a very nice location, and lots of stories to go with it. Thanks for all the replies and encouragement.

Here is a link that might be useful: Photo Alubm

    Bookmark   November 29, 2012 at 9:47AM
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Wow, that's quite a transformation! Thanks for sharing.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2012 at 10:08AM
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Great! Glad you posted an update.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2012 at 11:03AM
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Nicely done! And, yes, thank you for your update! It is always great to see a thread come to a real conclusion.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2012 at 7:44PM
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Nice job! I bet your grandfather would be proud of what you've done.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 4:27PM
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@ n4dsl-Thanks for following up on your successful house reno. It looks great.

Thanks to weedyacres for posting the pics.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 4:41PM
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