How to buy a “Fixer Up” House to be a Home.

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Good choice.
Have you considered that tree.

Yep we have been working on a deal with the power company to come and take the pine down for free. They have a 3 phase line running down the side road and the side of the tree likely to split off will take their wires out. They could care less about the service to the house or the house. It will need a bucket truck and working in and around their wires so most of the time they would rather do it. The arborist they send out likes trees too much and he tells me it is healthy but the line crew boss wants it out as we are willing. So it is on their to do list when they have extra time. Some nice timber in that tree but they will chunk it up I think.
In the photo it looked like the house would be in line, not so bad before you have a new roof. A friend of mine had one take out half the house.
In the photo it looked like the house would be in line, not so bad before you have a new roof. A friend of mine had one take out half the house.

We have had some really bad winds over the last month and have been watching that thing a lot. Here is hoping we get it down before it comes down.
I wanted to start a thread for all to join in on and who knows maybe if the input is good would turn into a sticky at some point.
I have been thru this process a few times in my life the first being a very young man with young children, working long hours and having endless energy and learning skills as I went. There wasn’t an internet let alone anything called a DIY forum.

One of the first things I learned when I started looking at houses as a young guy was I couldn’t afford what I wanted in a home and there was all these compromises to look at. Those days the housing market was growing rates were sky high and realtors when working with you had this term they used to try and sell you on called a “Starter House” The idea was you buy a house less than you want in an area you didn’t want and pay for it for a few years building equity along with hoping housing prices kept going up and also improving your credit score in the process. If you did a little improvement that helped too. The idea was you sell it start all over a little closer to what you want and keep doing that and eventually you have the house of your dreams. Meanwhile your kids went to 3 different schools and about the time you got your dream home in the good community with the good schools your kids were in collage.

I wasn’t one that wanted to fix something up to sell and move on and the type of hobbies I like gardening and stuff I hated to leave behind. I actually hate to leave behind my handy work in some ways also. I found out there was something called property tax and it varied all over the place even in the upscale town mostly dependent on the age of the house. In the town I bought in a 100 year old house might be taxed at $800 per year where a new home about the same size might be $3000 over 30 years that’s $66,000 and that was enough to pay for the house. So my idea was find the location I wanted as in towns and schools etc. find something old and in need of lots of sweat equity that had a basic good structure to start with. The advantage I thought was it didn’t need to have everything I wanted because I would just add what I wanted and how I wanted myself. That was how I ended up doing it. I was luck as I had the energy and the skills to do most of it myself and had some family willing to help. It is very easy to think you can tackle a big project and very easy to underestimate how much work you are biting off. I ended up with the house I wanted in the beginning and then some and was happy there for 30 years. So it can be done.

I learned a lot in the process when looking for houses I had several I looked at some newer than the one I ended up with all in about the same price range. The newer ones were more of what they call a spec house with the cheaper methods and products and those being around 10 years old really looked worn. The other reason they were priced comparable they were located just on the fringe of where I really wanted to be. I thought I knew a lot more than I did at the time and I spent more time looking the houses over than the realtor said she ever saw anyone do. There might have been home inspectors then but I never heard of one. There was local building codes but nothing like the unified codes today and it was a time when an owner could still build his own home and get financing and insurance to do it. So it was the tail end of a distant era. I didn’t itemize and calculate and scrutinize like I do today I instead crawled around and in and under with a pen knife poking in structure looking for bad wood rotted pipes and bad wires. The house had a metal room circa 1940 metal roof that looked like it needed painted is all. I painted it once and said never again. I never really finished working on that house. Homes are like that. But it took a couple years and I was proud of my work and was a nice place to live.

Fast forward to 2013 kids gone work carrier coming closer to retirement older and smarter and still full of energy but the rest times between spurts of energy becoming more frequent and lasting longer. Thinking that smarter might replace the stronger I decided to do it again and take advantage of the awful housing market that’s still hanging on around here and do it all again. Being smarter I wasn’t about to tackle an 1880’s house again so I started looking for something much newer and found a 1903 baby. Factoring in the 30 years that had elapsed I don’t think I did myself a favor though. I used a similar methodology though but instead of schools I used golf courses to guide my search. Went south of the bigger city and looked in a little town that seemed more 1950’s than 2000’s kind of a Mayberry RFD setting albeit the town is a little depressed economically that made the housing all the more attractive. We looked at foreclosures and short sales and then some that had been in that state a couple years. I spent more time this time looking at neighbor’s properties and how they kept them up. Property taxes haven’t changed the older the better it still seemed. I wasn’t as enthusiastic this time about doing high wire acts on ladders and roofs and the house we found was one that someone had made a really great start at doing and stopped. They had new siding on the whole house and half the roof surfaces were new. The whole house was rewired 200 amp service all done to code. The plumbing was a total mess and sitting thru 2 winters unheated made it even a bigger mess. They had a new high tech gas furnace in and the drawback was the inside full of junk and garbage walls and ceiling falling in carpets that looked like they needed tossed in 1955. And they must have had 20 cats. When we looked at the house there was ice and frost half way up the walls. It had a nasty drop ceiling and when I popped panels half the plaster was off the ceilings above and the ceiling wiring was draped thru the space. It was exactly what I wanted. Haha. I figured the house in that little town might be worth 80k if all done and if you could move it 30 miles north would be worth 120k. I looked at what it was going to take and it was 70% labor free to me if I did myself and 30% material. I itemized every bit of it and allowed to hire pros for the rest of the roofing and a few other things. I figured it would be ok if you could get it for 40k but having sat for 2 years it wasn’t like it was going to sell fast and getting worse by the day. Doing my homework I find out like all homes now a day the mortgage had been sold and resold and lien’s had piled up on it and the bank that owned this PA beauty was in CA and into this place for about 80k. I had to think they were ready to cut it loose just because it was getting worse and they were paying to keep electric on and taxes. I told the realtor we would offer 20k and he said he was pretty sure they wouldn’t take that offer, I assumed maybe that was offered before and he was hinting 25k might be better. I said 24k is our top number and they excepted. Figured it was done. Well the closing agent found another 10k lien to the local township and there was no money at the low selling point to pay that so the deal was off. As a last ditch effort I asked to speak at the township meeting and explained if they forgive the lien they get a new tax payer and all that comes from that, if not in a couple more years they would be paying to rip it down. They put it to a vote and it passed 2 to 1 and we got the place.

It is an ongoing project but we moved in after about 3 months of the dirtiest work and it is now 80% complete. I did something in this house I didn’t know how it would work out. I bought 75% of the materials to rebuild the house based around cost off the internet and most of it off Craig’s List. The oak kitchen we found 100 miles away and hauled in a cattle trailer. Windows, doors, light fixtures, ceiling fans, lumber, flooring, the list is too long to remember it all but I would guess it was all 10 cents on the dollar, and all in excellent condition. It was a lot of looking but there is so much used materials out there and it’s kind of fun to reuse them. I plumbed every inch of supply with new PEX smartest thing I ever did. Under those old carpets we found chestnut floors and all oak trim and have refinished all that. It took a good 6 months of evenings and weekends to do the bulk of the work and we had some good family help also. This house was a true rebuild Fixer Up in every sense of the term. We added walls and took out walls and added an archway. When you have a house like this its total freedom to make it what you want. One of our splurges was off the living room we put in a front projection theater room with a 110” screen something we both enjoy.
in regards to (((I started looking at houses as a young guy was I couldn’t afford what I wanted in a home and there was all these compromises to look at))) that took a lot of self dicepline from a young aduld," unerstanding this part take maturity: good job sir
I was thinking about this the other day, i have some simple rules i would recommend to anyone.

1) Study the RE data, if you can live in a different area buy a house that is expected to go up in value. Some people make %10-%20 a year just for living in the house. I think the RE data is fairly reliable if you are flexible to live anywhere (assuming you'll be working on the House for 1-2 years anyways.)

2) Don't buy a house with a wet basement. I think this is the simplest and best tip because it is hard to ever fix a basement completely and it causes mold.

3) Test for asbestos, raydon, CO etc. levels before you buy it.

I kind of agree with this quote, moreover if you know how to get the right hazardous contaminant level company that is willing to bargain with you on prices per square foot you'll be in good hands, asbestos is pretty critical however there are many companies that offer sales and discounts per square foot, I found in asbestos removal company in Hawaii that does it $2500 is the lowest price still ever set up for hazardous contaminant removal no matter the closet or anything under 400 ft.² that's what they would charge
Hey! Your fixer upper looks like it's coming along. Do you have any words of advice for people who are looking to purchase a fixer upper and turn into a beautiful home?
Well scratch the tree off my honey do list.

I was trimming the lower limbs yesterday when a nosey neighbor stopped and said he just had 10 trees taken down and the guy and his wife did a beautiful job for a great price. He gave me a business card and I called the guy. He showed up an hour later and gave me a price. Started this morning at 9:00 and drove off at 11:00.

Really changes the look of the house.

Next on my list is redoing the front porch to look more historically correct. All the rails are getting redone to match the section I salvaged from the fire at our Riberside Inn. The idea is our home was built around the same time as the Inn and to have that same feeling as the old Inn. The Inn property is now under construction they are moving a 150 year old barn there and it is going to be a micro brewery.

I will post some porch photos when I get started.

This is the real, real short version of our "How to buy a “Fixer Up” House to be a Home" . In between these photos was years, makes that decades, of small changes, not so small changes, recovery from an F3 tornado, raising 2 kids, the list goes on. We're thankful the place is still standing. ....And, although not as much as we used to, we're still working on it.


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Wow! That's a huge improvement, Gary.
Thanks Zannej. Thanks Tuffy, a lot of work over the years, but other than the contractors after the tornado, all done by myself and the family, so the cost wasn't too bad.
IMG-8183.JPG IMG-8185.JPG Riverside Inn f.jpg Riverside Inn.jpg After the Riverside Inn Cambridge Springs Pa, burned last year (about a block from our house) The grand old 130 year old cornerstone of this little town and a big reason we wanted to locate here. The town was lost. It drew people in and that in turn supported so many other businesses. A little over a year later the site has been cleaned up and a local couple now has plans to build a brewery on the location. The basement is in 14’ deep and it is decked and they are planning to move a historic barn and build it to house the brewery and eatery. It won’t be the same but it is going to be so much more than anyone ever thought would happen there. They have been holding a block party all summer on Thursday nights in the old parking lot with their beer truck and food truck with live music.

After the fire there were only a couple pieces of the railing left from the inn. Most of it looked good on the side the fire trucks shot water on but the back was burned half way thru. The manager was selling furniture and stuff they had stored in the stone ice house to help pay for the cleanup costs. He had sawed out a section of railing that was only slightly charred on the back side and I asked him if I could trace the shapes off it. He said sure or you can buy it for a hundred bucks. I was pondering the idea and Holly said you know you want it buy it. When I got it home and cleaned up I saw it perfectly fit the opening coming up our steps. I was able to saw it in half and make 2 swinging gates for the porch. It stood out there all winter and this spring I started working on cutting the rest of the pieces to do the whole porch into a Riverside porch.

You can see the old front porch in the tree removal post #88 and Amish roof post #77. After the tree was down I got to work on the project.

All the locals seem to really like it, and it is not quite the same as the Inn sitting on it seems to start up a lot of conversations about good memories at the Inn.

I thought I would share a few photos of the finished job and one of the rails at the inn before the fire.
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Some days you go backwards and some days it would be better to stay in bed. This morning the weather was beautiful and very warm and summer like. The last weather report I saw said no rain for 3 days and we decided to stain the hot tub deck. We no sooner got done and the sky got dark and it sprinkled. The stain had skinned over so I felt safe. Ten minutes later we got 4” of pounding rain in 10 minutes and I went to the kitchen to look out at the deck to see how messed up it was and didn’t make it to the door as the house sounded like it going to explode. A microburst of some kind hit us and toppled over the neighbors huge maple right on my tub deck. It came straight for the house and hot tub and my pergola roof got clobbered and deflected the tree right between the two houses. Smashed the roof and ripped the railing free on that side. The deck took the weight fine and the roof protected the tub. The rain stopped and the neighbors came out and the house second story was buried in a tree. I grabbed my saw and went to work on the tree and 4 hours later the tree wasn’t touching the two houses. The neighbor hauled 7 big trailer loads away already and there is at least that amount again for tomorrow. The saw dust and the wet deck stain was a mess with sticks and leaves so I pressure washed it down as I didn’t want a texture deck to sand.

It actually felt good getting to work on it rather than sitting around waiting for the insurance guy to show up. Now when he comes tomorrow he can see the damage. Looks like I will be building a new pergola this fall.

Here are a few before and after pics.
IMG_8334.jpg IMG_8338.jpg IMG_8340.jpg IMG_8343.jpg IMG_8346.jpg IMG_8347.jpg
Never a dull moment Bud, glad it wasn't worse and no one was hurt.

Thanks Tom. Looking again after a good nights sleep thanks to Holly’s Long Island Ice Tea. It was amazing luck the main trunk fell straight between the two houses. Both houses kitchens are in the back and that could have been a mess or with some injuries as everyone was in that end at the time. Also very glad it came down in good weather and not when it was below zero and 4 foot of snow on the ground.

As a product promotion note my $60 electric harbor freight pole saw is awesome. Eats right thru anything up to 6” like it was butter. This is the third time I used it a lot and it doesn’t owe me a penny at this point. I did get it pinched once yesterday and a pinched bar 10’ up in the air is a little tricky. Nothing the neighbors tractor and a rope couldn’t solve though. If anyone needs to do limb trimming around the house I would highly recommend this saw, They make a battery model also I don’t know what kind of power that would have.

Hope today is filled with dull moments. :coffee:
Oh man, Bud I am so glad no one was hurt by that tree. I've had so much trouble with trees it's not even funny, but I've been lucky that none of them took out the house.
Was the tree rotted or was it hit by lightning? I'm trying to tell if that blackened stuff is a burn or if it as rot.
Glad to hear your neighbors helped with the removal.
Sorry that your pergola and the roof got damaged though. I hope the insurance will cover all of the damages and you can get it all fixed up.