I realize that this question could almost be written off as "duh, use
common sense". However, I'm guessing that there are a number of
warning signs that defy common sense, or at least "novice home buyer"
sense that some seasoned folks would see right away. Maybe stuff
that's a little less obvious that the gaping pit of death in the
basement that is spewing the lost souls of the afterworld...
The reason I suspect this is because I've done a fair bit of automobile
repair and I know what to look for, I know what 'coverups' look like,
and I know how to manipulate used cars to make them rear their ugly
secrets. I expect houses to harbour tons of monsters as well.
The Missus and I are first-time home buyers, and we have our first
round of open houses and showings this weekend. I would appreciate any
tips of things to look for and how to gauge whether it's something
"minor and can be fixed when you get around to it" or "perhaps more
pressing/not DIY". I realize that *every* house is a fixer-upper to
some degree, and that's fine.
Any tips are greatly appreciated- about any aspect of buying a house
for the first time. When we do buy a house I'll invite you all to the
BBQ next spring ;-).
Depends some on what you're looking at---are you considering houses of
any age or restricting to old/new somewhere in between?
For a realtor walk-through, you'll be essentially evaluating whether you
want to consider this one or not for further detailed evaluation. I
would strongly recommend if you're not particularly familiar w/ such
details to hire an independent inpector before making an offer.
What you can see is obvious things like wavy roofs indicating possible
problems, signs of water running down sides of chimneys, soffets, etc.,
cracked foundations/walls indicative of drainage/foundation issues
perhaps, windows/doors sagging/binding. Having a marble or similar in
your pocket to drop on hard floors to indicate level is useful
particularly in older homes.
Obviously, signs of homeowner patched up wiring and/or plumbing are
warning signs as are extension cords, etc.
If at all possible look in attic crawl spaces for verificaion of
insulation, etc. Many won't want to do this on first showing so may need
to either blow it off or use first impression go/no go screening and
return if still on the cut list.
That's just a starting point...mostly keep your eyes open looking at
details and let swmbo worry about whether she "likes it"... :)
Agreed on the inspection. I'm all for that. Prices for inspection
vary but we've got an inspector lined up who is recommended to us from
many good sources. She's not the cheapest but she's one of the best.
You all might remember my fiasco a few months ago with the 100-year old
farmhouse (seller is a psychopath, but that's another story). We had
that house inspected and I have no qualms laying out another $350 to
have it done again.
The houses we're looking at are all over the map agewise, but mostly
fall in the 70-30 year old mark. It's just what happens to be
available here (midwest). $135K is our max budget, and there appear to
be some decent, if not 'slightly cosmetically challenged' homes, along
with a few that look like they have been completely refurbished top to
Yeah, unfortunately the old farmhouse with the 3 acres is what she
really wants. It was a nice place, but I stil think that walking away
from that one is best. Heartwrenching. These other houses are in
town, no acreage and it feels like she's 'settling' for them but
unfortunately I don't think that a farmette is within our means atm.
Maybe in 5 to 7 years.
I should probably also add that this won't be "the house" if you know
what I mean. The farmette life is what we ultimately want to get into,
so this house is merely a stepping stone. Buy it, fix it, make it
beautiful, live in it for a while and put it on the market. Wrong
attitude? probably not.
We're specifically looking at 3 bedroom houses, around 1600sq ft. No
plans for kids (unless a couple of big goofy dogs count) but we've both
got massive amounts of hobbies and would like to have a room or two to
dedicate to them.
I'm prepared for the "sweat equity" part. I haven't done a lot of home
repair type things, but there's no better way to learn than by studying
and doing. A house with 100 minor things to fix would probably prep me
for the farm later, i suppose, and by that time I'll have enough tools
and skill where I (hopefully) won't get in over my head.
My wife and I bought our first house with an unfinished basement, it was a
newer home with little in need of repairs,
the finishing of the basement let me work on my own time table, understand
more about the finer points of home ownership/repair, and
brought in a decent return on our labour when we sold 2.5 yrs later.
If your thinking of flipping this house in a few years, look for a place
with an unfinished room or 2
I can relate...while in VA we looked at an early 19th century farmhouse
on which was situated within eyeshot of Blue Ridge on remarkably level
land (for there) and all that one could desire except...it had been
completely done over by the existing occupants and was on the surface
just beautiful. Problem was, they had done all the cosmetic stuff,
probably spending $50k (in mid 70's $$) but hadn't done anything to
repair the failing handlaid stone foundation which was falling down, nor
the under girding beams which were rotting and propped up w/ a mishmash
of cinder block and sawed off tree limbs, the chimneys which leaned like
the tower of Pisa and were separating from the walls, ...
If one could have gotten it at the start for what they had, it could
have been a great place, but all their work, for the most part, would
have to be torn out and then redone to fix the fundamentals...
I still rue not having that particular location, however, nearly 40
years later... :)
There was another house even older that was a real mansion/plantation
house but the owner was farming the land and had split the house off
onto a tiny corner that stopped about 10 ft outside the rear of the
house and wouldn't consider selling even 10 A to go w/ a 3 story
(including the full 9-ft ceiling basement w/ the original kitchens,
etc.) house...I guess he eventually dumped it and it became a rental..
This house was actually a similar thing, but perhaps a little better
yet. The sellers bought it, gutted it, replaced all the wiring and
plumbing up to code in 1984 (or 1996- they kept changing their story of
when they bought it). It had a stone foundation also, but it seemed
alright. It did need some work done on the exterior- it had brand new
windows in it, but the wooden windowframes weren't replaced (and were
rotten), allowing water to get behind the stone exterior and cause
cracking. Fixable, but probably not a first-time DIY project. Also
needed some planing of the yard to get water to stop running into the
basement, there was an addition on the house that was settling in one
end and needed to be jacked up and refooted. It had a whole host of
other minor issues but nothing I wasn't comfortable trying a stab at
Beautiful property in Rural Amish Country. Had a barn and a shed.
Seller accepted our offer for X amount of land (which had to be
approved by the local Red Tape) and a set price, but wasn't motivated
to do her part to add the land, kept saying "let's close first and add
the land later". Kept trying to create all sorts of handshake deals
outside of the contract, refused to amend the contract, ordered
services for the property and insisted we pay for them prior to
closing. Initially downright refused a home inspection, but later said
it would be OK but regardless we can't back out of the contract
(another handshake deal). I was firm on that and she finally relented.
The house had nothing to hide that I didn't already know. I would
have still bought it.
But for the most part, the seller basically broke all the rules and was
using nothing but Sucker Sam's Used Car Pushy Sales Tactics 101 to try
to force the deal. We had to involve an attorney to explain to her
that she blew it and she ought to return the Earnest $ right away.
Unfortunately, now that it's done and over with and everything is back
as it was, the seller keeps giving us "updates" such as "the land has
been added now! it just needs approval through....." "it was a
beautiful day on the farm today- all the trees changing colors, lots of
deer and geese and ducks" etc. She's trying to play the heartstrings
but I don't want to deal with her anymore, and she would own all the
land around it including an easement for a well onto that property.
It's very sad because it was such a beautiful place. Calendar
beautiful, no less.
I don't know what sort of timeframe, but I do plan on doing some
flipping. Maybe not as hardcore as some folks might but who knows.
Essentially I want to set us up so that we can buy a beautiful farmette
like the one described above but with more land and no hassle or
bullshit. I have a slightly better grasp of the big pic vs. the missus
but I'm still keeping an eye out for resaleability in houses.
Btw, these houses (the current crop) are in small towns each about
20-30 minutes east and north east of Madison WI. Hopefully that's a
good place to buy low and sell high later.
Seems that all the home construction is happening in West Madison (the
$350K McMansion subdivisions and condos) but all the
warehouse/industrial construction is happening in East Madison. They
say that home values are high where there is jobs, so hopefully that
will drive up the value of the houses in these little towns in the east
when they start getting encroached.
Or it may backfire and drive the cost down? :-(
In all likelihood, yes. :)
I would only caution that interest rates _are_ going to rise and the
present market climate is not going to last indefinitely. At some point
there are a lot of folks presently thinking they can "flip" virtually
anything going to have an unwelcome surprise. Not saying don't do
something, just be prudent.
"flipping" seems like such a dirty word..heh...
I still take fact in that you typically won't *lose* in buying real
estate (and you always have to live SOMEWHERE). I suppose that if some
insinuated "housing bubble burst" is about to happen, then we still got
into a house and still have a place to live, and it will still gain
Of course, I've heard all sorts of ranting and raving about "bursting
bubbles" but no real coherent predicition of when, or what that even
means- will housing prices go up, down, what?
Unfortunately, I'm not an economics or real estate major. I hate to
admit it but I really don't know what I'm talking about :eek:...
I just want my own kitchen again, and a workshop and a place to keep my
beer cold. Also to be able to come home to the kind and beautiful
missus every night.
The first is true the last isn't necessarily so. I don't know what the
markets are in the area you're in, but I think many metro areas are
dangerously high at the present time.
If anyone knew _exactly_ when, they'd have the proverbial crystal ball.
The symptoms of concern are present--high demand, high prices rapidly
escalating combined w/ rising interest rates exacerbated by
(unprecedentedly) high energy costs which are _just_ beginning to be
seen to have the rippling inflationary effect throughout the rest of the
economy coupled w/ the obvious intent of the Federal Reserve to be sure
to stay in front of that trend and to (imo) make all the intended rate
hikes prior to Greenspan's actual retirement.
A large number of current mortgages are of the variable interest type
and those folks are going to see some significant jumps in their monthly
payments. All of the above simply indicate its time to be cautious and
to remember that real estate _doesn't always_ go up...
Choose the area w/ care (remember "location, location, location!"),
don't buy cheapest or most expensive in a general neighborhood and
remember that schools are important for most purchasers of 2-3 br houses
of the size you're speaking of, so don't ignore that even though you
don't intend to send the hounds... :)
Again, it's just a time to be prudent and just a little bit cautious
Hope so...and happy hunting.
I'm an old-enough old fart to recall times when things weren't so rosy.
The oil bubble burst in the 80s in Midland, TX comes especially close to
home as it took my brother down w/ it and he was just the new "vitinary"
in town at a time when the cheapest thing they could find was nearly
$300k. Everybody thought it would go on and that would sell for $400k
in less than a year, but instead it sold under repo after they were
forced to default for <$100. Ugly!
If you're mildly interested, take a look at some of the places in the
towns of Cambridge, Columbus and Pardeevile. We're going in between
$90K and $135K, but as you can see there are a few houses lesser than
that (probably total dumps) and some McMansions that go up to the $500K
mark. Mind you, these towns are 20 minutes outside of Madison, but are
pretty small- 1100 residents for Cambridge, and about 4500 for
Columbus. Think this might be typical (such a disparity in home
prices in such a small place), or perhaps something to watch out for?
The more I read about housing bubbles, it seems like there is
definately something going on in places like Boston, NY and SoCal, but
not so much here in Madison. There are some folks that think one is
*starting*, i.e. house prices are just starting to show some
increasement. If that's the case:
1) Should I buy now
2) Should I wait the 3-5 years for it to go up then back down.
If I do #1 I understand that I can't get too excited about the value of
the house increasing steadily at some exhorbitant rate- it's only going
to come back down to a more 'sensible' level. My thoughts are that if
it goes up, then goes down, it is still going to go up again after
that- maybe a bit slower but much more stably. The longer you ride it
out the better off you'll be?
Am I wrong?
But true...altho I realized I moved a set of numbers up
inadvertently...it was only something in the $200k when they bought it,
not $300k, but the net result is the same...after the oil bust, they
couldn't give it away--the only practical alternative was to let the
bank come get it.
My slow dialup makes that impractical, but in such a small market
there's going to be a range. I was speaking mostly of larger
developments where one doesn't want to be the extreme--from the resale
standpoint, it makes a place much more difficult to move.
In general, that's true--but how long it might take to recover is
anybody's guess and would depend on many things that are impossible to
My personal feeling is if one doesn't over extend on a mortgage and has
reasonable expectations of returns, it is still a good time to
buy...interest rates are only going to go up for the forseeable future
and if one has good credit one should be able to still lock in a good
rate. I don't think this is a good time to get snookered in by the low
early rates w/ possible higher rates later on unless the limits are
quite well defined and you _fully_ understand the conditions and the
possible ramifications of any provision that you sign on to.
If, as you seem to think, housing in the area hasn't increased
exorbitantly in the area to date, that makes it a better bet at present
imo. I don't know much about Madison other than having been there some
nearly 30 years ago on recruiting trips for my then employer so I don't
know anything about the current economic patterns. If that looks stable
for the foreseeable future despite the obvious problems, that's also a
good sign. Major university towns tend to have a lot of tech and
related stuff that is relatively immune to major problems such as the
automakers, but there _can_ be real problems in those places, too.
Buy now. Unless the prices are grossly inflated in your area ($90k to $135k
seems reasonable), then the sooner you buy the better the potential for
profiting from market increases. Of course, if the market then goes down,
then you can do your waiting...
That's kind of how I was thinking. And fwiw there were a lot of houses
in the area (a couple more on the same street) that were for sale and
they were all about the same $$.
Now it's time to find out why everyone's moving out ;)
Walmart going in down the block? Street being widened? Schools
being consolidated with another town?
Real estate agents of the more shady variety won't disclose such
things because "they haven't been approved, only proposed."
It's perhaps a good idea to stop by "city hall" and see what you
can find out about proposed changes. Public librarians can be
helpful too. And of course a good buyer's agent would tell you
those things right up front.
I enjoyed your description of the houses. Remember, all that stuff
can be fixed for a price. If the house price is low enough, you
can get a terrific deal if you don't mind putting up with some
construction while you are living there.
To reply by e-mail, remove the obvious word from the e-mail address
well hell... I was starting to dig up data from the EPA and DNR website
about possible hazardous material contamination in the area and the
missus just flipped the fence and decided on a different house we saw
(the small, simple tudor house).
Somehow, that is a relief. *shrugs*
Ahh yes. The small Tudor house. No garage, no basement. Mow the
entire lawn with a push mower in about 1 beer (or about 12 minutes). No
surprises, no secrets. WYSIWYG. Not a lot of opportunity to change
stuff around, but it's small enough that you could almost say, retile
the kitchen floor on a whim and then with minimal guilt change it again
later on if you don't like it. Older woman selling it because she's
getting married and moving in with Mr. Man. The house also has a gas
boiler system but I bet it's small enough that a couple of small,
modern space heaters would heat it nicely. Hell, we could probably
even heat the house with all of our computers. hah!
I hear mixed things about gas boilers and their efficiencies and PITA
I might be able to pour a slab and build a porch or sun room on the
back. That would be a nice project to attempt in a couple of years or
I enjoyed telling the stories about the houses, thanks for listening.
I truncated them quite a bit though. I could have rambled on for
another dozen pages (i'm like that) ;)
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