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You're Not the Boss of Me
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm househunting in connection with my relocation and, as discussed in my "midlife crisis thread" of last week, I'm going to take several months off work.

One house I looked at needs everything, I think. Obviously, I'd want an inspection for the invisible stuff (structural, electrical, plumbing) before committing but am intrigued by the prospect of doing a bunch of improvements and the satisfaction of producing something so tangible as taking a somewhat dumpy house and making it cool.

Your experiences and thoughts?
 

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Shirtcocker
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jtolleson said:
I'm househunting in connection with my relocation and, as discussed in my "midlife crisis thread" of last week, I'm going to take several months off work.

One house I looked at needs everything, I think. Obviously, I'd want an inspection for the invisible stuff (structural, electrical, plumbing) before committing but am intrigued by the prospect of doing a bunch of improvements and the satisfaction of producing something so tangible as taking a somewhat dumpy house and making it cool.

Your experiences and thoughts?
Unless you really love the house, are a contractor that can do your own work, love the process of renovation, or have a lot of money to throw at it I'd just get a house that doesn't require so much work up front.
 

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midnight melon mounter
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I'd buy anything with a strong foundation. Screw the home systems inspector, get an engineer. If it passes muster with them, let the fun begin.

Here's my crappy house, with wifey and I laying 180 feet of trenched conduit to bring power to the garage. Working outside kicks ass.

 

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Bocephus Jones II said:
Unless you really love the house, are a contractor that can do your own work, love the process of renovation, or have a lot of money to throw at it I'd just get a house that doesn't require so much work up front.
if it's good, tasty architecture and the leftovers after the rebuilding will be charming, original and hard to find floors, doors, roofs etc.. do it. you'll be living in style. there is a lot of class in old, classic houses.
if it's plain jane non descript old then it's just a list of headaches.
 

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Alex-in-Evanston said:
I'd buy anything with a strong foundation. Screw the home systems inspector, get an engineer. If it passes muster with them, let the fun begin.

Here's my crappy house, with wifey and I laying 180 feet of trenched conduit to bring power to the garage. Working outside kicks ass.

you appear to fall into the "enjoys the process" camp. Doesn't look like much fun to me.
 

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colker1 said:
if it's good, tasty architecture and the leftovers after the rebuilding will be charming, original and hard to find floors, doors, roofs etc.. do it. you'll be living in style. there is a lot of class in old, classic houses.
another consideration--if you live in Boulder there are houses declared "historic" where it's a real hassle to upgrade or improve anything without going through much negotiation. Not sure about where JT is moving though.
 

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Fini les ecrase-"manets"!
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Just be prepared to replace a LOT of stuff if you're trying to get modern standard fixtures to work anywhere.

If the house is old enough to have bare-wire and insulator wiring, you'll have to pull all new cable to install grounded outlets.

Even if, by some miracle, you have three-conductor wiring, you may find that your service panel isn't heavy enough to support modern electrical usage, and often you'll find that your entire upstairs is serviced by one breaker (we had 16 dual outlets on one circuit), which you MUST remedy. Most likely you'll find that any grounded outlets in the house are grounded to the metal conduit surrounding two-conductor wiring. It can be done that way, but it's not up to code, so you may be required to replace any wiring you expose/change.

Plumbing may be a nightmare--for example: Modern toilets are designed to sit on a flange 6 inches or so closer to a wall than older (not THAT old--maybe pre-1975) toilets. That means if you want your toilet tank to sit right up against the wall like you're used to you have to a)spend loads of money on special toilet; b) move the flange (and subsequently loads of heavy 4-6 inch stack pipe); or c) move the wall closer to the toilet flange.

Also, expect the drain outlets for your sinks to all be higher or lower than useable on modern fixtures.

In general, don't expect any modern stuff to work without reworking/replacing the old stuff or significant bodging.

Our house is only from the 40s, and we've had lots of these kinds of issues (not the bare wiring one, thankfully) in spades doing a partial bathroom renewal and a whole new kitchen.

In all fairness, I like to deal with that kind of thing, as long as I'm doing a full rip-out so access to wiring or plumbing is simple, and the sense of accomplishment is really something. But it's a real ass-grinder during the process, and I generally hire a pro now for any work that could fill the house with water, electrocute me or blow the place up (plumbing, electrical, gas).
 

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scruffy nerf herder
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Um.... Not real sure what kind of time and patience that you have on your hands. I have found it to be a trade off... what you end up with is satisfying, but you almost never get... dollar for dollar what you put into it. I rehabbed (not all by myself) an old farmhouse, and have updated a house for a rental, and am ... like you, considering jumping into another money pit, but mine is to use as a rental.

That being said... old houses have their charm... the woodwork, design and feel of old homes is attractive, but.... old charming woodwork may have 13 layers of paint, old houses (around here anyway) almost always have some termite damage, old houses typically have old plumbing and electrical, and they always seem to have something in them that dont make sense. If there is something that doesn't seem to make sense... you should probably leave it... its there for a reason.

Its tough, sweat equity is something that you either enjoy or not. In my most recent case, I just bailed out and moved into a much much newer home. I love old houses, but I wanted my life back. I wanted my weekends, I wanted more efficiency, I wanted ... less hassle. Maybe we are at different points... but I want to have free time, and bringing up houses... takes a long time, especially if you are either strapped for cash, or a perfectionist.

Best of luck, and as always... post a pic.
 

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I'm in the process (off and on) of doing repairs to my parents' house; it still has some issues from the '94 earthquake that need to be resolved, like the chimney which is in sad shape, the myriad cracks and nail pops, the now-defunct swamp cooler and so on. I'm doing a lot of the work myself, as I'm out of work and the insurance money is long gone, and it's been quite the learning process. There's a real satisfaction to seeing such tangible results of my labors, but there were a couple of projects that didn't turn out well and I wound up re-doing them from scratch.

My advice is to get the inspections to determine what actually needs to be done, from both the practical and code requirement perspectives. Then, being very objective, decide what you can do yourself--unless people are complete klutzes, they can probably to a much better job than they would think on home repairs--and what is best left to the pros. Rather than farming out jobs piecemeal, you should talk to a general contractor (or three) and let him (her) manage all the aspects of the job. If I had done that years ago, when there was still money, I'd have been free of this albatross by now.

Don't expect to be truly finished in a couple of months. If you're doing a lot of the work yourself, you'll find the project has a way of expanding and consuming your life.
 

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Non non normal
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Alex-in-Evanston said:
I'd buy anything with a strong foundation. Screw the home systems inspector, get an engineer. If it passes muster with them, let the fun begin.

Here's my crappy house, with wifey and I laying 180 feet of trenched conduit to bring power to the garage. Working outside kicks ass.


That looks like the trench to hell trying to dig around all those roots. My sympathies.
 

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Lots of issues

In the early 1970s, my parents gutted and totally remodeled a circa 1910 house. When my wife and I were first married, we bought a circa 1923 house. And, I currently live in a house built in 1956.

If you are willing to do a total gut and rebuild job, you will get a "new" house with whatever charm you decide to leave. If your house was build before the 1920s and has not had its major systems replaced, whether you want to do it or not, you probably are looking at a total gut job if you want to live in the house for the long term hassle free. But gut job, I mean replacing all of the wiring, plumbing and heating systems and replacing the windows and any rotten woodwork on the exterior even before you get to cosmetic stuff. Based on my parents' experience in doing this (actually, someone else did the actual work, they just supervised and paid for it), you should assume that any realistic estimate as to the time and cost of any such job probably will be twice as long and twice as expensive as the initial estimates that you get from contractors will be.

If you decide to buy something built after 1920, the things that you should look for are not only what you want to change initially, but how old the systems are that are in the house. Lots of things in a house have a 30 or 40 or 50 year useful life. Our current house was in great shape when we moved into it 13 years ago. But, since then we have had to do major heating repairs and replace the septic system at great cost. We also have had to replace the roof and we are on our second round of exterior painting. Our kitchen appliances, which are between 15 and 25 years old, all need to be replaced in the near future.

I like old houses and the hassles are worth it for me. But, old houses take a lot of your time and money.

One other thing that you should keep in mind: What are the other houses in the neighborhood like? Our 1920s era house was in a neighborhood where everyone kept their houses up to date and it was a common sight to see renovators or repair people in the neighborhood. I had a friend who bought a similarly aged house in a neighborhood that was less proactive about renovations and repairs. His house was great, but the continual deterioration of his neighbors' houses over the years became a real drag on the value of his house.
 

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Gronk SMASH!
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I've been in an older house for a little more than a year now, and it's been fun. I've learned a lot in putting tile in a long hallway (tile because hardwood wouldn't work as the hallway humps up about 3/4 inch halfway down — that's right, the slab just humps up — so hardwood wouldn't lay flat and would probably break over time). It was rewarding when it was done, and I appreciated the comments it got.
We had copper plumbing put in, and because we're on slab (rare for a house built in the 40s-50s), they had to go through walls, bashing holes everywhere. Plumbers don't repair walls, so I did it, and lo and behold the thickness of the plaster walls was all over the map. Most holes were thicker on one side than the other, so creative manipulation of drywall and wallboard compound was mandatory. Good learning experience but a drag at the end of the day. Also, they left the washer outlets just sticking out of the wall, so I learned how to sweat pipes while plumbing in a utility box. That was fun.
Redid the kitchen ourselves, and of course all the electrical boxes are very old and installed rather haphazardly, so had to replace a lot of those.
Some simple things have become headaches. You'll have to deal with every harebrained plan anyone ever put into effect in the house. For instance, some genius put a big block of wood in the entry to my attic crawlspace, so I can't get in there. I have to cut it away with a sawzall. Lotsa PITA crap like this will have to be dealt with.
It's been fun, and I look forward to the other stuff we'll do, but I kind of want my free time back.
The next time I buy a house, they will be driving the last nails into the walls as I sign the paperwork.
 

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well make sure you love old houses

if ya wanna make them all 'newish' leave them the phuck alone. Nothing more horrid than seeing people tale a beauitful old house and making it look like a new tract home iside.
people that gut beautiful old houses should be publicly humiliated. sorry I'm a tad hardcore here.

wiring - knob and Tube, you have to replace (sometimes, it still works fine but lacks grounding) but there are plenty of good retro looking outlets and switches. Some old Circuit Breaker / Fuse boxes are baaaaaad, check the model and replace if needed.

plumbing usually needs some rework, vintage or faux vintage fixtures are best.
remember old kitchens weren't designed for fridges and old living rooms weren't designed for Teles so you have to get good at space planning. Closets are small, but an Armoir if yer a clothes horse.

Foundations usually need work, this can run from 10-50K so have it checked.

if you dare change your wood windows for vinyl or aluminum just slash at least 20K off your future selling price. People that like old homes like wood windows and old glass, think of an old home like an old vintage car. Ones in original condition are more valuable than 'hot rodded' versions.

try to save original cabinets,pulls etc.. if you need to remodel the kitchen try to reshape it using existing stuff. again,a modern kitchen in an old home is incongruous and can sometimes hurt a resale. Sometimes it's the one place that helps. Try to keep counter tops in age accordance theme.

Historical Designation means ya can't modernize,then again it cuts your property tax in about half in most places.

Only do this if you love old houses and old stuff. It's a lot of time and work (and money) so you better love doing such things. If you want big closets and modern luxuries don't waste your time and the homes original state.

sorry I'm an Old House Fascist.my 1921 Craftsman in progress.

atp
 

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You're Not the Boss of Me
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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
MarkS said:
One other thing that you should keep in mind: What are the other houses in the neighborhood like? Our 1920s era house was in a neighborhood where everyone kept their houses up to date and it was a common sight to see renovators or repair people in the neighborhood. I had a friend who bought a similarly aged house in a neighborhood that was less proactive about renovations and repairs. His house was great, but the continual deterioration of his neighbors' houses over the years became a real drag on the value of his house.

That's part of the appeal... it is in an area full of historic houses, most already fixed up, so I think the neighborhood supports the investment. I've made the mistake of overimproving in a bad neighborhood before. I still got my $ out of it, but not the real investment potential I had hoped, because of the crap I was surrounded by.
 

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midnight melon mounter
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Your house f'n rocks. I love craftsman.

Faux craftsman sucks worse than anything, tho.
 

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Sweet house! I never noticed a lot of Craftsman-style houses in ****; obviously been spending my visits in the wrong part of town. I noticed a long time ago that I was doing a lot of my riding in the Highland Park/Glendale/Pasadena/South Pasadena area, and realized it was probably because there's such a high concentration of great Craftsman (...and Victorian...and Spanish...and Tudor...) houses around that part of the L.A. area.

If you've never seen it, the next time you're in L.A., swing by the Gamble House on Orange Grove Ave. in Pasadena and take the tour--just the interior woodwork alone (exotic woods, inlays, laminating, contouring) will blow you away.
 
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