Another "Should I Buy This House" Question :)

This is a long post, so don't even bother reading if you're not interested in House Inspector-type questions. Every so often, when an unusual and inexpensive home comes up for sale on our local MLS, and since *someone* in our family is usually in search of a 1 or 2 bedroom place, I go to check out whatever's being offered. This time I've fallen in love with a home that is admittedly problematic. I would just like some feedback, 'cause I almost always get great feedback on this group.
This early twentieth century home is located in an old Pennsylvania mining community. It sits by itself on the side of a very steep, irregular-shaped, triangular lot, facing, across the street, the side of a stunning, even steeper, pine forest mountain. The land takes up nearly an entire block of an antique street.
Due to the heavy rains in the northeast this summer, the lot is overgrown particularly with "weed trees" (don't know the proper name for them) that grow almost webbed, in extremely close proximity, all the way up to (and even around) one side of the home. The kind of vegetation that surrounded the castle in Sleeping Beauty.
A huge drainage pipe abuts the "point" of the triangular lot, at a very steep pitch, next to which sits one of the biggest oak trees I personally have ever seen. The township officials insist this tree belongs to the property, but the neighbors (most of them elderly or middle-aged) claim no one knows who "owns" the oak tree. The wisest among the neighbors says not to worry about it because it's holding the cliff-like terrain in place--at the bottom of which sits a decently cemented stone wall. The cement in the stone wall is almost all in place; it is not a Colonial-era stone wall (one round gray stone on top of another), but a kind of "mod" 60's wall, where the stones are flat and angular, and the cement looks almost like faux, VERY even, caulking.
I've gone in to such detail about the exterior because on another recent thread, two exceptionally informative professionals (one was a house inspector, the other an insurance agent) advised avoiding homes where vegetation grows directly up to (or around) the foundation; and this certainly is the case here.
Of more concern is a mysterious issue regarding the interior. Because this home is on the side of--well, a cliff, the "basement" is a two-car garage, very high-ceilinged, on a grade with street level. There is an oil furnace, no insulation overhead (in other words, under the floor of the first floor residential area). There is *NO* sign or smell of mold in this area.
There is only one entrance to the residential area of this home (but two ways of reaching it): steep outside steps from the street and garage, and a high paved alley above the home, with shallow decrepit pressure-treated steps leading down.
The plastered walls of the interior of the home are absolutely filthy, and in the bathroom and kitchen area, there are "blood-colored" "speckles" on the ceiling that I assume are mold. The mystery is how they got there.
The second floor of the home, essentially a finished attic, is also plastered, filthy, and with absolutely no sign of the mold that stings my eyes in the kitchen bath area downstairs. Since neither the cavernous "basement"/garage, nor the finished (visually stunning) attic, show the least sign of mold, I do not know where this smell could be coming from.
The realtor and a family member who went through it on a second showing with me were of the opinion that cooking odors and a poorly ventilated bath, in a home a least a hundred years old, could absolutely be responsible for the pungent smell. I thought perhaps an unventilated kerosene heater (since there is no insulation, and the home is on the side of a cliff, in what amounts, in the winter time, to a wind-tunnel), plus tenants who were cigarette smokers, might account for how acrid and unbearable these two rooms are. For what it's worth, the kitchen and bath sit the closest to the "cliff"; all the other rooms are high above the street and/or cliff.
Finally, the roof is very old, and the chimney needs replacing. I don't have any difficulty dealing with problems I can see and estimate replacing. I have difficulty with problems I can't readily diagnose, and the excessively pungent moldy smell on "ground zero" really is impossible to diagnose, since the ancient filthy paint in higher rooms makes it clear a leaking roof is not the cause.
Thank you for reading this. I've never wanted to go ahead with a home purchase more in my life, but if surveying costs, ownership/custodianship of a monster oak, and above all, this "burning" smell are overwhelming liabilities, then I'll pass. The quaintness, setting, and almost Alpine-like view made me decide to risk making the post and being laughed at. They're all too beautiful to pass up without getting some feedback.
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

If you've been constantly looking for homes for people in your family, why do you think surveying costs or ownership of an oak tree are overwhelming liabilities? Do you ever buy anything?
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

Go with your gut as long as it is not Centrailia, PA.
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RayV wrote:

Ha! Thanks, I can tell you know the area. As for whether or not I ever buy anything, I'm not sure if a stint of fifteen years in Money Pit Prison counts. (That's why I'm the go-to person for even non-family members. Gazillion-times burned, gazillion-times shy...if you're not a millionaire.)
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Pet urine in wood floors can smell like mold requiring floor wood replacement, if it is a few sealed rooms it might have been pets.
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m Ransley wrote:

I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to bring this up. The only comment in the Seller's Disclosure (PA) document that was in any way remarkable was "Dogs," written in the Has Any Pet Lived Here?
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If it is only a few rooms figure in your cost new subfloor and floor.
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Lol...
My mother was from Burnsville just a short walk down the hill from Centralia... Been 5-6 years since I was last up that way...and to be honest could not even figure out just where my Grandparents home USED to be... No snow was on the ground however... and 2 miles out of town, up the hill towards Aristis I had a heck of a time driving with all the snow on the roads...
Original Poster should still be able to find at least one maybe two houses still standing in that Town... (or are they both gone)...
I guess I always will be the son of a Coal Miners Daughter..
THANK YOU >>> for bringing back the memories... Wonder what the Cemetary looks like now?
Bob Griffiths
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On 9 Aug 2006 05:15:06 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

<snip>
Your nose knows more than your eyes. A new chimney can be built, maybe $15K or more. I don't have an issue with a healthy tree next to the house, but any moisture issues should not be taken lightly. The answer is "No, don't buy this one."
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<heavy snipping>

From here I can't be sure but I have seen the same effect in homes of heavy smokers where there was excess humidity. IE: kitchens and baths.
Never been a problem to clean the worst with Soilax and prime with Bins or Kiltz alcohol based type.
The rest of this thread I will leave to others.
--
Colbyt
One picture can be worth a 1000 words.
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Colbyt wrote:

I did a search on this particular newsgroup and found out that there have been *lots* of posts on "red mold." One thread identified it as "Surfactant Leaching." I'm going to do a search of that now. Thanks as always, ColbyT. You deserve the alt.home.repair Old Faithful award :). I've been reading good posts from you for over ten years, I think.
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I meant to say and did not that the nicotine collects on the ceiling and when moisture levels get high it runs and forms drops or dots. Dried blood red.
Geez, think what their lungs looks like.
--
Colbyt
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probably better investment to elminate chimney completely and install new fdirect vent hot water tank and furnace/. probably less than 15 grand plus big energy efficency increase:)
if its just doog odor and floors are structurally ok, not peeling buckled or rotted sanding lightly and coatiing with OUTDOOR polyurethane and painting walls with bin will end the odor forever. ]
provided its not mold from water leakage.
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

Thanks. On the evening news just now, there's a story about the price of heating oil going up to $3.00 a gallon. The furnace in this house is oil. I've never heated a home with oil, and the realtor said the tenant let the tank run dry. There was a valve that looked like a relief valve (on a gas furnace, that is). It was totally rusted out, and the realtor said, "That's not a relief valve. It's to fill the furnace with water."
So I asked where the water heater was, and she said oil-heated homes don't have water heaters (???). In any event, I am glad glad glad I took the time to write out this post. At least three people not on this group have thrown around the same 15K figure as to what it would probably cost to get the house up-and-running decently, and from what I'm reading here, "decent" would almost definitely involve reconfiguring the entire heating system. No sense pouring money in to a new chimney almost thirty feet below the home's first floor.
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Well its like this.........
Home price gets reduced by enough to pay for upgrades......
now wether YOU want to go to the hassle and expense is another thing...
many oil boiler homes use the boiler to make hot water, thats pretty common.
so on that the realtor is right.
If you give this home more consideration its time fr a home inspector plus quotes for new heating system and anything else that needs fixed
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A survey will turn up the owner once the proertyline is extablished, YOu may want to have an arborits look at the health of the tree. They can last for many years, but eventually it will die and come down. Worth checking into if its demise will cause problems.

Not knowing your abilities and time you can devote, it is hard to say. Sounds like a fairly major renovation is in order, especially if the plaster is damaged by the mold or whatever it is. From what you have describe, two years and $25000 is not out of the question. There are those that enjoy that work others loath it.
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Edwin Pawlowski wrote:

I told the realtor we wouldn't be pursuing the sale. How often, when you turn on the evening news after a severe storm, do you see "ASH tree topples in fierce wind?" It's always some major community tree, or at least a major tree. The realtor showed no interest whatsoever in establishing whose land the tree belongs to; it was all my work.
So I told her that what I was going to offer was so low, the seller wouldn't accept. Heck, why should it always be MY job to go check the tax maps at the courthouse or do reverse phone look-ups in a prospective neighborhood and ask the neighbors to dish on a property (I *always* identify myself, apologize in advance if the call offends them, and promise not to call back if they don't wish to talk)? I do all this only because realtors work only for themselves. I realize a sale under 100K is beneath their contempt, but some people in this great land actually do buy and live in homes under 100K, and they have property concerns and maintenance issues the same as all the Carleton Sheets of this world.

This is why I post here, Edwin. It's not as if I'm so stupid I don't know in advance a particular low-cost home won't end up costing an arm and two legs. After renovating--TOTALLY--two entire homes in my lifetime, and almost losing my head (I mean really losing my actual head) in the process, at the age of 50 I'm getting pooped. I post here to get infatuations about pretty properties, that *young* people might turn into castles, bring me back to reality.
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