Do You Own a Money Pit? Part 2

It could be if you purchase a historic home without doing your homework first. This post is a follow on to my first post Do You Own a Money Pit, which featured the exterior problems to look for in your Minneapolis historic home purchase.

Remember Tom Hanks in the “Money Pit” and all the neat discoveries they found in the inside of the home? I specifically like the staircase problem and the tub falling through the ceiling. It was funny, right? Well, it is, until it happens to you. Here’s some advice on what to look for should you be thinking of buying an older home.

The house in these photos was a historic home we owned and planned on moving into upon completion. It started out great. Projects were going well, until a major Category 4 Hurricane hit. After that, it became a huge money pit. So my advice comes from first hand knowledge on this project and a couple others we have done as well.

So a couple things to look for on the Interior should be:

  • Water Stains – stains can be found most commonly in these two places, ceilings and floors. Ceilings usually indicate a leaky roof and that the whole ceiling will need to be replaced. Floors mean either the ceiling has leaked so much onto the floor that now the floor is warped, or that a pipe from a bathroom, water heater, or kitchen is broken. If a pipe is broken, it could mean tearing out the walls to find the source, and if you don’t find it right away, the cost to find it adds up and up and up.
  • Slopping Floors – walk into the home and take a good look at the floors. You will be able to see slopes easily by looking at the baseboards and the floors relation to them. Walk on them and you can tell if you go downhill. Start thinking of foundation problems, or settling issues. We have even seen supporting beams cut to put a pipe through, thus causing floors to sag under the unsupported weight.
  • Charred Attic Trusses – many historic homes used coal fireplaces instead of wood. The burning embers would sometimes leak through chimney mortar and cause attic fires. In the home above, during the inspection we found a 2200 square foot third level was completely charred. The good news was that by speaking with neighbors, the fire had been 60 years before and the wood was so thick that the fire barely affected the structural integrity. You might not be so lucky and find the damage was so great that the entire truss structure must be replaced.
  • Original Plumbing & Wiring – if the home still has cast iron pipes and the original electrical system, then you are in for a huge cost to replace these items. But to do a project right and to keep the old wiring from burning the house down, they really need to be replaced. For a 4000 square foot home, it might cost you $15,000 for the electrical and another $15,000 for the plumbing, and that is just to install it. It doesn’t include building the bathrooms, or installing fixtures.
  • Wall and Trim Paint – take a good look at the paint on trim and determine how thick it is. Over the last hundred years there is no telling how many coats have been applied and how much of it is lead based paint. Lead based paint is a health hazard if ingested, especially by young children. It is best to get rid of all paint in the home through stripping (a timely & costly process). But once the original wood is revealed, sanded, and stained, the value of the home has greatly increased in the eye’s of a buyer.
  • Cracks in the Walls – if you see alot of cracks in the walls, beware! Most likely the walls are the original plaster and have been taped repeatedly over the years. As soon as you go to hang a picture with a nail, the “walls will come tumbling down”. Replacing the plaster is expensive as most likely you will have to use thicker Sheetrock and account for the higher ceilings. Sometimes the cracks are also a sign of settling issues or structural problems. Best to have a contractor take a look at it to assess any problems.
  • Cracked Windows, Rotten Sashes, Broken Pulleys – if the original windows are still in the home, make sure to open each window. Check for rotten wood around the frame and on the sashes and cracked windows. If the window won’t open, chances are the rope pulleys are broken and need to be repaired. See the costs starting to add up?
  • Non-original Additions to Home – additions can add much needed square feet, but they can also take away from the original design of the home. The top photo shows an area to the right with new exterior siding. This is where an addition was added to the home in the 60’s to add a kitchen and studio (we converted it back from 5 units to single family). We had to remove this part which cost $10,000. After the demolition we found all kinds of rotting beams and shady construction, so beware the possible problems hiding behind an addition. We found a supporting beam under the home was completely eaten through by termites, something that would not have been found had we not removed the addition.

    This post just covers some of the interior parts of a historic home that you should pay attention to if planning on purchasing in the future. There is no telling what you will find when you buy historic real estate in Minneapolis or St Paul, so do your homework. Get a home inspector that specialized in older homes to thoroughly look over the inside with a fine tooth comb or you might be making your own “Money Pit” movie.

    2 Responses to “Do You Own a Money Pit? Part 2”

    1. Anonymous says:

      How do you find a home inspector that specialized in historic homes. We live in St. Paul, and might need one soon. Thanks!

    2. Anon,

      I am out of town right now and don’t have my contact list available. Shoot me an email and I will give you a contact for home inspectors.

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