House Raising and Remodel

pattykate54September 6, 2011

As my partner and I are waiting somewhat patiently for our estimates to come in for our whole house remodel, I can't help but think that maybe we are in too far over our heads!

We own a 110 year old home located in a small town in the foothills of the Berkshires. The house has become more and more "rustic" over the past 3 years that we've lived here and we are finally ready and able to take some action in making it a more comfortable place to call home.

The 1600 sq. ft house that I can't quite call a cape, but would say is closest to that model of home, sits on a very uneven, crumbling stone foundation that has lots of open gaps and some spotty repairs that previous owners had attempted. The insulation in the basement is really non existent and the dirt floors are truly mud floors with areas of standing water throughout the year, especially lately with the recent weather in Western Massachusetts. The moisture comes right up through the floors and into our home, causing some major warping of the wood and poor air quality. We have had some contractors come to give estimates on a new foundation and have discovered that we are going to have to have the house raised a few feet, some excavating done and then new foundation poured to give us a full basement, (half of the area now is simply a crawl space). In order to do this we are told that we will have to have 6 trees along the back side of the house removed, they line the west side of the house about 8-10 feet from the foundation, an old porch addition demolished and one of the chimneys taken down about 30 inches from the top. These things are just so that we can raise the house. We are then going to extend the foundation another 10x22 (I think) where that old porch addition was, to add a new addition for my partner's home office and to extend the first floor master bedroom.

I really wanted to add three dormers upstairs as well as make one of the open rooms up there a legal bedroom, finish all the floors and replace most of the windows on the first floor in this remodel, but I am afraid to even guess what this basement project is going to end up costing! With the repairs and remodeling I am hoping we will have about a 100k in equity which will of course be used up for the financing of this project. Does anyone have any guesses as to what this is going to cost us? There is a part of me that just wants to move! I am excited but I'm growing impatient waiting for these estimates to come in! Any thoughts?

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I love old houses. I've lived in many. But, they are vampires. They take and take, and the only thing they give back is the pride and satisfaction that you are living in an old house. That has to go a long way with you. A really long way. Further than having adequate winter heat without drafts whooshing through it from the original windows. Pride has to keep you warm and pay those heating bills. Pride has to shim up all of your furniture to keep it from sliding downhill, because pride doesn't have enough funding for the 80K foundation fix. And when you do save up enough money (because no bank will give you a loan to do it) for that 80K fix and it starts and you discover another 40K in water damage that was hidden, pride has to either start walking the streets looking for additional funding or go into foreclosure and let the bank have the house back.

Start packing to move now unless you have lots of money to burn. And I mean "burn" in that it will be spent, and you'll never even be able to show where it went. New foundations, plumbing, and electrical are invisible improvements that will never wow your visitors. They live in a 1980 home where all of that is standard and they never even think about which circuit will blow if they plug in one too many things.

And you continue to burn through the funding.... A lot more than 100K. That will just be the beginning. A crumbling stone foundation with water issues and tree root incursion is a recipe for a salvage and teardown. 100K isn't nearly enough to accomplish what this home "needs".

You're beyond over your heads unless you are a VERY knowledgeable DIYer and extremely well funded and don't really care that it will cost a lot more to save this home than you will ever be able to "recoup". You don't live in a old home work in progress because you are looking to make a profit off of it one day. You do it because you love the house and you love the process of working on the house. That has to be enough satisfaction for you. If recouping that money is important? Run away as fast as you can! What elements in this home couldn't be reproduced in new construction? Wide flooring? Gorgeous moldings? Original lighting? Put all of that in a shed somewhere and move in with family while you build something new on the lot. Your money will go further, and you'll have a lot more comfort and efficiency from the beginning.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 11:28AM
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Well, I don't think I can add much to what l_w_o just said, except 'ditto'!

As a homeowner that has remodeled homes (lots of DIY), I can tell you it's going to cost more than $100K. Unfortunately, as you listed the work that needs to be done I just saw $$$ quickly adding up.

Many years ago we did something similar when we bought an old home/cabin that had been used as a summer home by previous owners. We did a major remodel, raised the house 10' and built another floor underneath. It was a money pit but we were young, naive and loved the area. It took us years to finally finish and that was because we had to find funding year by year (as live_wire described).
You'll know more once the estimates start coming in but be prepared for the actual cost to be a lot more than what is estimated. Personally, I think you should listen to the part of you that wants to move.
Your water issues in the basement would have me concerned but if that problem can be solved then you should also get estimates for tearing the house down and starting over. I think you'll find that approach less costly.

Have you factored in the extra cost of living somewhere while the work is being done? When we did our work we actually lived in the house with our 2 yr old son but I don't think the inspectors would allow that in today's world.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 11:48AM
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Thank you both for your opinions and advice! I hadn't even thought about the idea of tearing down and rebuilding. I'm wondering how that could be less expensive than remodeling unless you are both meaning upkeep and future problems with the house seeing as it is so old.
We have made some tentative plans of where we would stay while this work was being done, luckily we have family nearby.
There is so much to consider and so many decisions to be made. I am happy to have found this forum and will keep you all updated!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2011 at 2:57PM
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Unless this house is HISTORIC...tear it down and build something lovely and new. If it is historic, sell it to someone and move! This house has the potential to consume your life.

It is far more expensive to 'remodel' than it is to build new. It is more expensive to build new than it is to buy existing if you are in one of the many 'bust' RE markets.

We bought a house, intending to remodel it. A wise RE appraiser suggested we tear down and build new. The remodeled house would have appraised for a little over its' original cost to us. The new house has real value -- and we've loved living in it -- ten comfortable years without any money going out on repairs. Think of the value you will have at the end of each road: Rebuilding or Building a New House.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 12:35PM
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Ditto, ditto, ditto. We have raised our 100+ year old home and added on. When you finally set the old home down on a new 'even' foundation, you will find that some of the old windows don't quite work right, doors may hang uneven, and you can have cracking as the house 'fits' to the new foundation.

Plan to put in all new plumbing, hvac, and for us new wiring as everything in the basement must be disconnected.

We could have built a home cheaper than our 'remodel' is costing. It has to be a labor of love and an open ended budget.

I have tons of pictures and stories both good and 2 1/5 years and we still aren't done. The house will be wonderful when finished. Would I do it again? never.

If you ever have questions, just contact me. I'm not saying that I have all the answers, but I have lived through it...even lived in the house when it was up on the cribbing!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 7:40PM
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been there and done that! Will not do it again.

I live in a house originally from the 1950s. Much newer than your house. Even so, we have poured money into this house because of the location and the view. The remodel has taken nearly 20 years to be done from the inception.
I think we are finally done! The problem with this type of remodel is that when you think you are done, things that were done at the beginning start to get worn, need work, re-painted etc. I just redid the kitchen that was done 20 years ago!

Had I known what I know now, I would have torn down, and built new on this site. I do love the location and the view. I would have spent WAY less AND would have ended with a better product which would have utilized the lot better and I would not have been limited by things like the existing foot print on the lot, stairs etc.

Unless there is something truly worth saving from your current house, you can redo much of it by mimicking the style of the house which it was originally built. You can save a few things as a reminder: doors, trim etc.

I have known several people that have torn down and rebuilt. They are SO happy that they rebuilt. Most people that have done extensive (all infrastructures redone) remodels, including myself have a very "mixed" feeling about the whole thing. Many say never again.

I know others that have run out of money and have stopped before the house was completely updated. If your remodel is not completed, you can't even sell it!

100k is a tiny fraction of what I have spent on our house. Listen to those of us that have done that and been there. I have spend many times 100k in over many years. I don't have a "showcase" house. Much of my money went to do things like electrical, earthquake retrofit, replacing old leaky windows, siding material that was in class action law-suit (meaning I could not sell the house unless I resided), updating 50 year old electrical and plumbing (yours is older), new HVAC etc etc.

I have looked for anther house on and off over the years. The housing price has come down significantly and I may be able to find something at the right price. Right now, the only house we are looking at are the ones that were completely done with someone else's money! They are not getting their full value back and I KNOW it because I have been there. I like it that way as a buyer! I know that I will not get my money back when I sell my house.

The easiest thing for you to do is to sell and find a new house or already remodeled house. Unless you are hankering for a give-my-youth-and-freedom-away house remodel, this is not a project you want to take on.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 12:39AM
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"Unless you are hankering for a give-my-youth-and-freedom-away house remodel".............that gave me a good chuckle kaismom. Soooo true!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 12:29PM
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It was easy for me to drop the remodeling idea and do a teardown. I had watched a couple with three daughters lose their girls' growing up years to 'rescuing' an old house. It wasn't historic. It wasn't special in any way I could see. It was just a big, old house that sucked up money they couldn't afford to spend and all their spare time. It had high ceilings (had to be replastered, along with the walls) and oak woodwork (had to be stripped of layers of paint),, and a dirt floor basement that nothing seemed to help.

I love my bright, pretty, *tight* and efficient house with modern electrical, plumbing, HVAC. It's both new and charming. It fits right into our established neighborhood.

Well...pattykate, have we made you think more than twice about this mammoth undertaking?

    Bookmark   September 10, 2011 at 12:54PM
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Hi Pattykate, what did you decide? We live in a 100 yr old house. it is already 5 feet off the ground and had some water seepage issues. I would like to raise it another 5 feet so that we could have a workroom/library/painting space and because of the neighborhood, teardown is not an option. the comments were so strong and forceful, I am curious what you decided in the end.

eep! it makes me scared just reading the posts.


    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 2:59PM
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Oh geez, not all old houses are money pits. Many have been maintained well, including ours, which is over 100 years old. We have spent less on our old house than we did on our (previous) new house. And our wavy glass windows with storms way out function our "energy efficient" windows that we had in the new house.

That said, your foundation is seriously compromised. Get a structural engineer to look at it. She/he will access the problem and can let you know if the final outcome will be what you are hoping for. Our neighbor raised his house, built a new foundation for a 9' high basement himself, with some help of a carpenter. He spent $15,000 on it, not including the finishes.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2014 at 5:08PM
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