Buying a major fixer upper with water damage

PersallJune 2, 2013

My husband and I are buying a major fixer upper. We see the potential. It's an older home build in 1900, but it has extensive damage. Everything will need replaced. The roof first off. It's leaking bad and the floor and carpet are saturated. My question is, is it worth buying this? (we paid $8 grand) we are going to tear out everything inside after we roof. There are no foundation issues. Just mostly the water damage. The previous owners trashed the place. Let big dogs run wild inside so I'm sure you can just imagine that kind of mess. The smell is horrific and I'm just hoping that once we take possession we can rip out all the flooring and ceilings. I'm just worried that we're doing it all for nothing at this point. There is a lot of work to be done. But this is pretty much what we can afford. I know most of you have hundred grand plus houses that you are buying and we are talking a mere $8 grand. Difference in geography I guess. I will not get in to the renting trap. Rent here is way too much for our incomes together. The appealing thing is that we will own this place free and clear. Are we crazy to take the plunge?

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A lot depends on your location and the value of the land itself. Around me, 8G for a buildable lot and a tear-down house would be a tremendous bargain. Usable foundation and walls would be a bonus.
A to what is salvagable and its potential, you may be in a position of hoping for the best until you've gutted the place and see what you have left.
If you are planning on having a mortgage, I hope you have good luck with your cash flow until you can one.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 10:13AM
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You say this is what you can afford----but the cost of repairing the house will undoubtedly be at least $80,000 and that is if you do some of the work yourself. And doing much of the work yourself depends on local codes and inspection policies.

We bought a repossessed house for the same reason---could not afford what we wanted as a move in ready house. I spent a month and $5,000 fixing it up(had a remodeling business and could do all the work myself with minimal tool rental)----if I had hired that work done, it would have cost about $30,000. That did not include major work like a new roof.

Plus, we had a place to live during the reno work at $250 a month we just walked away from when we were ready to move in to this one.

This house also has the dog damage similar to yours and standing water in the basement(mixed with the animal leavings. The smell(in February with a winterized house at about 29 degrees the first day we saw it) That was the major reason no one bought it---on the market for over a year. I removed all the carpet and flooded the remaining floors with Nature's Miracle. I do mean flooded, since the bottom plates(the bottom boards of a wall that rest on the floor) were soaked with urine smell. Nature's Miracle is an enzyme product that chemically changes animal stains to other compounds and eliminates the odor. You may need to do the same. I used about four gallons in total---and have a gallon on hand(have not needed it for four years now).

I literally had to invite all the neighbors over to show them there were no longer smells/problems---since all of them knew the former residents and their activities. (This address was a Hot Spot address for the local animal control and the police department).

Sounds like you will need to replace the roof, let everything else dry out completely after demolishing all the drywall/plaster/lath/ruined flooring.

The electrical/plumbing alone might be $20,000 or more---unless you can do that work(and pass codes inspection or basic level of safety in the absence of codes rules).

If you need to hire the work done---do you know trades people/companies that can do the work ? And get it done relatively soon?

Many people have done what you are doing---most got burned financially.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 11:50AM
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You ask are we crazy to take the plung?

I didn't think I was crazy at 18 years old, if I think back at some of the things I did then I should have been committed.

The question really is am I crazy to take the plug with the budget I have to work with. Tell us what you have to spend, have you secured a loan from a bank which is difficult to do for a property of that nature, and do you have the skills and access to the tools to do the work, or most of it yourselves. Where will you live while you rehab this place?????

The first few reno's I did in my early 20's nearly killed me and I was in shape, feared nothing, felt I could take on the world and wanted to show everyone I could do it. Well 40 years latter I don't recognize that kid and think he must have been nuts, but he and I did it.

I have a saying;

Experience is a lifetime of mistakes, wisdom is knowing how not to make them again.

You are in your experience phase, the wisdom part comes latter after the mistakes are made and you will make them.

I won't wish you good luck because luck has nothing to do with it. Hard work and intelligence is what you will need, a little luck doesn't hurt though. It's a coincidence that the harder you work the luckier you get.

Go for it.

This post was edited by SouthernCanuck on Sun, Jun 2, 13 at 13:01

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 12:59PM
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Sophie Wheeler

Without at least 50K in the bank to take care of the immediate needs, (and that's all DIY labor of only the most basic elements of the cheapest kind) in addition to the 8K (plus taxes etc.) that it takes to acquire the property, then yes, you are crazy. You're throwing 8K away, because that property isn't habitable, and you don't have the means to make it so.

There are plenty of helping hands from many different agencies to help you to become a homeowner. NONE of them would probably work with you on a home like this unless you had the income necessary to take out the loan that would cover all of the needed repair costs to make the home safe and habitable. They WILL work with you on something that isn't so far gone though. But again, your income level has to justify home ownership. Not everyone should become homeowners. The initial cost of the home is only part of it. The insurance, utilities, and ongoing maintenance and repair of an older home will add up to more than any mortgage on it.

Rent may be more money than a house note, but you get to call the landlord when the roof leaks, and don't have to pay for it yourself. That's actually cheaper in the long run.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 2:45PM
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I'm rooting for you.
as you get into the re-hab post
back & we will guide you as best we can.

btw...take some classes on sheetrock
hanging & finishing. in addition to ceilings,
you'll probably be redoing walls also.

don't let anyone say you can't do it,
if you feel you can.

we all start somewhere.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 4:05PM
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Although I appreciate you candidness and opinion Hollysprings, we are definitely not throwing 8 grand away. the 2 lots alone are well worth the money. And why do you say we do not have the means to make it happen? Because I said it was what we could afford? We don't want a mortgage, or loan. We paid cash for this place. We are using my husbands paychecks for the house fund and using mine for our living expenses/bill paying. I see it as do-able. It may be a slow process, but I have faith in our ability to make this happen. And yes, we have a place to stay while renovations are taking place The roof will be done for material alone invested, I have a professional roofer which happens to be my brother, so no out of pocket labor there. The house alone is only 1300 square feet, it's not very big. Once you get in the renting trap, it's hard to get out. Renting is so high now that the housing market crashed. Can't rent and save money too. I'd rather fix this house and have it free and clear, mortgage free, then pay on someone elses home equity in rent. And thank you energy_rater_la and southerncanuck for your positive feed back and wishing us luck. Maybe a few months down the road I'll be thinking we were crazy, or just maybe we'll bet thinking this was the best investment we've ever made. I'm going to stay positive and take the plunge. Win or lose we'll learn something along the way. I will keep you posted.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 6:14PM
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I'm with Holly on this one.

If the land is worth $8K, then that says the house is worth nothing. Why put money into something that's worthless? It might be better to knock it down and start from scratch.

To me, your views show a limited understanding (or maybe a misunderstanding) of personal finances. There's nothing wrong with a mortgage payment you can afford - it could be a mistake to not have one. You say the housing market crashed, that means housing prices are lower and more affordable than before.

It is possible to rent and save money - I'm not sure how much money you're going to be saving with this commitment you now have.

If before you couldn't afford to buy a house that's in better than knockdown condition, you might have waited until you could. You made your choice, I wish you good luck and hope you can temper your views a bit.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 6:52PM
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Oh by the way, I retired from my full time job at the age of 45 with a monthly pension and full health benefits. Everyone but my wife said I was crazy then as well. I couldn't have done it without all those flips done since I was 22. There weren't any TV shows or internet telling you how to do it then either. Mortgage free in a 4000 ftsq home at 34. Downsized to a home less than half that size and a place in Europe and 2 down in the US. Man I must have been certifiably nuts.

You go you crazy girl.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 7:00PM
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I bought my house and 3 acres for a fraction of what
it is worth now. learned that I can do a lot of stuff I never imagined.
the self discovery was an education in itself.

don't let anyone rain on your parade.
you made your decision, you don't need to
justify it to anyone.

I can't imagine that living without an mortgage is
a bad thing. I couldn't sleep if I had one.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2013 at 7:46PM
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Snidely I'm thinking that you are the one with the "misunderstandings" or limited view. You are probably one that is afraid to get your hands dirty and jump in to some "real work". Let me guess... you pay contractors to do all your work? How could the house be worthless when it has good structure and it's only the insides that are in disrepair and in need of a roof? If the land alone is worth the 8 grand, then I got one hell of a deal, especially when the house CAN be fixed. I'm guessing you make assumptions of situations AND people before you know.... pity. But as energy_rater_la states, I don't need to justify to anyone. We need more people like energy_rater_la and SouthernCanuck around. :)

    Bookmark   June 3, 2013 at 4:47AM
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Persall, I don't get it you ask for opinions and then get mad when people offer them and do not agree with you. If you don't want people on both sides then don't ask. No matter to me one way or another and truthfully only you can answer your question as your the only one who truly understands the entire situation, both financially and the worthiness of your potential project.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2013 at 9:05AM
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Water damage to that extent? Are you a qualified structural engineer with experience working construction to put yourself through school? Do you have ANY idea how destructive water in a home is? Even experienced remodelers would not jump at this "chance" given the info that you've provided. If you can't afford to rent on two incomes, then you certainly can't afford to buy a wreck and renovate it while living in a rental. You will NOT be able to live in that home without a bunch of up front work (money) thrown at it. Even a roof will cost you 5-6K minimum with the cheapest asphalt shingles by the time you replace all of the water damaged sheathing (Have you seen the price of OSB?) and the water damage rafters, and the water damaged attic joists, and the water damaged.............

Good luck. You are going to need it.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2013 at 9:57AM
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what is your location?

try not to get upset with opinions that differ
from yours. this is the pro and con of an open
forum discussion.

take what you need..and go on.

if this thread gets too discouraging, start another
with more details & pics.
lots of times things that get
wet can dry..other times there is too much damage
and it will need replacing. you just don't know
until you get into it. for us...we only know what
you tell us.

existing homes are a suprise waiting to happen.
you never ever know 100% what is covered up
until you uncover it.

the latter is why folks are not really encouraging
you. most mean well, we just don't always phrase
things so that no one takes offense.

lord knows there have been times when I've wanted
to walk away from one of my projects. like installing
a radiant barrier in the undersides of the roof rafters,with a snake hiding under the insulation
batts on the attic floor... but you suck it up and go on.
then later you see the humor in it.

experience... hard when its happening, but invaluable
in the long run.

lets just go on from here.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2013 at 11:09AM
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As ER says don't get upset by the naysayers or anyone that doesn't give you the answers you want to hear. If you ask an opinion you will get all sorts of them, good and bad.

If you said I'm 67 years old, have a budget of a few thousand dollars and have never driven a nail in my life and don't know how to read a tape measure I'd call you nuts. You won't believe some of the things people ask here and then go ape when they are given honest opinions.

Relax and get to work by getting a plan together.

A job without a plan is a plan for disaster.


Your original question is do you think I'm nuts?

Well if you think you are going to do this for $75.00 a square foot, yes probably, but your initial investment is probably worth the price of excavation and foundation for only a few thousand less than the original 8 grand alone. So your ahead there. But I believe base off the shelf materials alone is going to be in the range of $75.00 a square foot. Do you have the 80K? If you don't well it may be a while before your done. Let us know how we can help.

This post was edited by SouthernCanuck on Tue, Jun 4, 13 at 0:48

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 12:32AM
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Persall, from your description, this is far more than a simple fixer-upper. I admire your enthusiasm and I hope you don't find that you went into this with more raw energy than sense.

You've gotten a spectrum of views. I obviously agree with the more cautious comments. I hope it works out well for you.

Canuck - if your real estate activity started 40 years ago, you can fool yourself but not me in suggesting that you made your money for any reason OTHER than luck - you had the luck of good timing. You could have bought the wrong houses and fixed them up the wrong way (and maybe you did?) and still made money during these years. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2013 at 10:38PM
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Op has little discription of fixer upper and one pic,

instead of saying they can't do it....
wouldn't the route be to find out what shape
the place is in?

best of luck OP. and I do agree that you need
a plan. roof replacement first then order of importance/
skill set..learning curve. it is a process.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 12:02PM
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Of course luck had much to do with it. Like they say " I'd rather be lucky than good ".

The luck really came by being born in 54. After high school you could walk into almost any place of business and get employment for the next 30 years without a secondary education or experience. Not today. That employment afforded me the funds for start up money.

And not all rehabs made money, when interest rates hit the high teens in the early 80's more money was lost than made. Same as the latest recession, I got out of it before the po#p hit the fan, as my crystal ball was working great in 2006.

But you suggest it was all luck, I have the grey hair and crippled body to prove it wasn't. After working 12 hours nights in a Blast Furnace then going strait to the job site sure wasn't a lucky thing to do, maybe insane but certainly not being lucky.

This post was edited by SouthernCanuck on Wed, Jun 5, 13 at 12:29

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 12:15PM
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I spoke up because I didn't think your experience in a very different time and place was any basis to encourage a first timer who seems to have bitten-off a big challenge. I don't doubt that you sacrificed and worked hard but without many elements of luck beyond your control (including getting out in '06 if that's what you did), that wouldn't have been enough.

I know people with gray hair and crippled bodies whose part-time real estate efforts didn't produce a retirement nest egg. They would take their experience and discourage people from any element of property rehab. Reality is probably somewhere in the middle, congrats if it worked out for you

    Bookmark   June 5, 2013 at 2:32PM
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Did we scare off Persall? I hope not. I have found in the short time I have been here on GW as well as when I was a member in the early 2000's enthusiastic first timers ask the same question, get some positive and not so positive comments and the never return. Even though I gave some positive feedback I think when some numbers were crunched reality reared it's head. I hope to hear back from the OP.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 1:01AM
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Two-too frequently found thread types across these forums:

1. People not really asking for readers' opinions, but rather asking for opinions only from people who agree with the OP's views or decisions,


2. Something along the lines of "Here are 10 high-res photos of the $300K kitchen remodel we did in the 10K sq ft. ski bungalow we bought last year at Lake Tahoe. I'm trying to decide whether to get red gingham or blue floral dish towels. Anyone have any thoughts?"

This one may be more like the first type. It also may be that OP doesn't have time for this forum during the workweek.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 2:46AM
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I'm hoping that OP hasn't left due to negative comments & is just busy.

while I've been around here for a good while
it always amazes me the defeatist attitude that some folks have.

as a Gemini...I can be positive one day & negative the next.
so I get it.
but people who come here, come here for a reason.

what irritates me are things like what shingle type,
paint colors...things that should be personal decisions...
but that is just me..non conformist that I am.
I chose what pleases me...not what pleases others.

so come back can contact us by email if you
feel you've been abused.
and tell us your matters!

and shine on you crazy diamond.
(if you get that know my hair has a lot of grey! LOL!)

follow that dream & best of luck.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2013 at 8:53PM
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You said "are buying" - have you already made this decision and gone past the point of no return, or are you still making the decision?

Have you had a home inspection to determine the structural integrity, or for example can the roof be patched or does it really need total replacement?

Can you post more photos and any details about the major structure - is there dry rot in the beams, what type of structure is it does it have a basement, foundation type etc?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 12:02AM
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I am in the middle of insulating a bunky, what colour should I stain the board and batten or should I just let it weather?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 1:37PM
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whats your prefrence?

I like weathered. but it would depend upon
type of wood.

lots of non painted or stained board & batten
cypress houses in my area 100 years old.
but cypress is getting rare, folks tear down for
just salvaged lumber.

my house was originally board & batten. battens
removed in 70's & asbestos tiles installed.
this house had 8,700 cfm of air infiltration when
I first tested it with my blower door.
numerous cases of caulk & years of
diagnostic experience later, I'm to the point
of needing to add fresh air intake to my
whole house dehumidifier if I do more air sealing.

my point is that if I were to do board & batten today..
it wold be with foam sheating under the board next
to studs. board caulked together..battens caulked to
board. air leakage is an expensive thing. cheap to
address when putting together..pita to retrofit.

the things you learn!

hows it going Snidley? whats happning at your place
these days?

I'm hoping OP comes back with pics.
there is a lot a competent carpenter can do on
fixing up houses. with the right guidence this could
be a success.

have a good weekend everyone.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2013 at 11:19AM
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