Friday, April 23, 2010

Further Thoughts on Renovations

A look at old houses.

As you may know, I've become something of a construction enthusiast over the past couple of years, analyzing various homes in terms of their potential vs. their problems. I get juiced when I see a project in the works on an old home, especially an old country home. Beautiful houses are not made for magazines. They are made to be lived in.

Here's some thoughts on evaluating an old home. It's just a list of things I'd like to keep in mind before looking at a home as an investment. I just can't help it--I really dig real estate.

Ok so you think you've found your new home/project. You like what you see. First thing to really evaluate is the foundation. I recently did a walk through on a rehab in Strasburg. A really pretty house with gorgeous refinished original wood floors, new drywall, electrical tidied up, new appliances in the kitchen, steam heat, wood stove, etc.

And then I walked downstairs. The basement was dark and dank. I could see the moisture on the walls and the rust on the pipes. Bad sign. This doesn't mean walk away, but it spells trouble for the future and this issue will have to be addressed. If you really like a home, you have to be willing to live with it's foibles. If you are going to try and pass it off as a flip, then well, you need to make sure the rest of the house is so nice that the people who buy it are willing to overlook the basement.

In addition to mold, moisture, and rust. Look for cracks along the walls and floor and evaluate the plot of land the house sits on in terms of drainage. If it's on flat land, as this one was was, flooding of the basement may be an issue. French drains and a sump pump are really the only solutions, the latter being the back up plan.

BTW, the house was originally on the market for $99,000. Asking price for this newly renovated dwelling is $167,000. They did a nice job. I'd say it's worth about $150,000 tops.

2.) Planning your renovation. Maybe the wheels are spinning and you can see massive potential in the house. This is good, but the voice of reason, the skeptic in you must win the day. I mean if you are already looking at a potential fixer-upper, you are already an optimist. When you are planning renovations, even off the cuff however, the realist in you must carry the day. Think it will cost $1500? Double it. Think it will take you a month? Consider it three. Think you will realistically work on the place after your 9-5 and on weekends? Cut that time in about half. Now you are getting a more realistic picture, if you are like me, who has to learn the hard way.

3.) Assess reality, not fiction. Look at the whole picture. If a home is out of whack, you need to love out of whack homes. This means that if you see the ceiling drooping, or the floor sagging, or the wall out of plumb here and there, that's what you'll be working with unless you decide to delete old walls to add new ones. When you work with the imperfect, life is always harder and the project will take longer. In some ways, the results will seem more natural in the end. It just depends.

4.) That brings me to my next point. Don't expect everything to simply come together in the finishing touches. It's still going to look out of whack to some extent if it's an older home. You just don't want it to look ghetto.

5.) My final point is to start with a plan, not an idea. Yes, yes, I know, ideas spawn plans. But before you break out your tool box, know exactly what you are going to do each and every step of the way. Have a drawing. With details. You don't have to be an architect, but a drawing does so many thing an idea in your head does not. It organizes your efforts and gives you a realistic "picture" of the final product. Some people even build models. Whatever gives you your vision, don't start unless you have a drawing, and one that includes not just placement of furnitures and built ins but also tracks your plumbing and electrical.

There are many more items I can add, but this will have to do for a moment. The house shows all get rendundant after awhile. At somepoint you just say F-it and whip out the hammer.

Peace Yo's,



Martin Schap said...

Nice post. I'm afraid that my house looks more ghetto than not, but we are working on it. Another piece of advice for those looking at older fixer uppers- think in sequences. There is no such thing as a stand-alone project, so when you think of a project, be sure to take some time to figure out the logical extensions of that project. This figures in to adding extra time and money as mentioned in the article.

Nick-dog said...

Yours too, eh?

You are definitely correct. The hardest part of renovating your home is that it's the place where you live.

BTW, I awaiting my Wilderness belt in the mail. If you still have those tuckable loops and you are looking to pass them on, I'd be most happy to purchase them from you, so I have an extra set. TMF took forever to get those things back in stock when I ordered.


Martin Schap said...

They are yours. I can't use them. Do you want them now or wait until you make the trek to IN?

Nick-dog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick-dog said...

I'll wait until we come out.

Speaking of which, it looks like, and I'm saying "looks like" tentatively (and hopefully), we are going to make it down in time for the Fiddler's Gathering weekend. I have to work it out with work, but that seems to be what our time frame is gonna be, and I'm perfectly cool with that.