This Old House

This Old House Made Me Want to Run

I bought this old house in March, and began demolition on it in April. We are in on this house a month and the going is slow. I haven’t been too worried about the time because I bought it on 100% owner financing at 0% interest. The only amount I have into it is the $1000 I paid down and the less than $1000 in closing costs.  But today I wanted to run!

This old house is actually a duplex in Springfield, but half of the duplex is bad. Today I found out that this old house is really bad.  It seems like last week I noticed more and more was wrong with it, and today I pictured myself running away. “Run Grace, Run!”

I’ve had a string of tradesmen out there over the last few weeks asking them to look over the electrical, the roof, and the plumbing.

Grace buys this old house with seller financing, $1000 down, $87,000 over 10 years.
Grace buys this old house

The Electricians

Let’s start with the electrician.  I’ve had three electricians out, and two of them I respect, the third blows a lot of smoke.  It’s been 13 days since they came out and I have received one quote so far.  Problems with the electric are:

  • Breaker box was recalled years ago, it needs to be replaced.
  • Breaker box is located too close to garage door, needs to be moved.
  • Old house needs to be completely rewired—there is no copper in the system.
  • Add additional outlets, and lights and exhaust fans. (The exterior didn’t have the required outdoor lighting or outlets.)
  • I need to move the water heater to the garage, and move the laundry to the back of the garage. This will also cost.

So far the only bid I’ve received was around $9600 for electrical.

The Roofers

I have had two roofers look at it so far. The third is coming out  two days from now.  The first one I talked to over the phone and was a bit arrogant and short with me when I asked how big his crew was. Due to the rain I didn’t want my roof stripped and not getting covered in time of a surprise rain.  He was quickly dismissed when he showed up at my office with a very brief quote for adding an additional layer of material on top.  I told him that it already has two layers of shingles on it. I realized he was inebriated as he belligerently argued with me that I didn’t know what I was talking about.  Swaying and sputtering he guaranteed me that there was only one layer on top of that roof, and it would look just as good as new with another on top.  – Which is impossible, because it sags in places.  Drunk roofer’s bid without tearing off = $5600.  Total Replacement $6600.

The next roofer who came out was extraordinary and I had to run to my car to get a pad to start taking notes. He taught me a lot.  First I have to install 24 bird vents in the eves of the roof, because there is no ventilation in this roof.  That will relieve the moisture problem that has built up and is causing all of the moisture inside the house and walls.  His roofing company will install several more vents on the roof, total roof vents will be 12. For every vent on the roof, there needs to be 2 bird vents at  opposite sides of the house for air to flow through.

Next he showed how some trusses need to be replaced, the roof jacks need to be supported, and the frames above the garaged needed to be jacked up so the sags in the roof would be properly supported before the roof was replaced. That’s right, the roof needs to come totally off, new felt laid down, and new shingles on a clean roof.  There are already too many layers of shingles on that roof, he could tell me that. There’s at least 2 to 3 layers of shingles on that roof. It’s a mess.  He figures there is 3500 square feet of roof by counting the trusses.  General ball park bid $7500.

The Plumbers:

I’ve had a hard time finding Plumbers I like.  It seems like the plumbers take me to the cleaners. Plumbers are diverse as any business can be.  I have tried two new plumbing companies on this project.

The first plumber I called is a member of the Rental Owners Assoc. I really liked talking to the plumber.  Very professional and knowledgeable.  He asked questions and was open to consider which ever direction I went, which  depends on whether it’s going to be inspected or not. I assured him that there will be an electrical inspection, therefore you can expect a plumbing inspector to show up.  With that said, we’re going the expensive route.

This old house has galvanized plumbing through out, and lacks proper ventilation. It doesn’t have the proper p-drains and moving things are definitely going to cost.  He asked if I’d want to replace the galvanized plumbing. I’d like to, but how far would

I have to go. To the street, he said.  Well, that is too expensive, I’m sure. So, what about just blowing out the lines and seeing if we can get by with just minimal replacement of the lines.

We agreed on that.  I asked for a quote of both ways. If they did replace the lines, would the want us to tear out the floor?  Or would they crawl under.  The plumber said they would crawl under the floor.  (Really, Are you sure? Nasty.)  I showed him the other duplex, pretty standard stuff on that side.  He did suggest that a fire insurance and starting over might be cheaper.

The next plumber, wasn’t so amiable.  He came out this morning, and is the reason I wanted to “Run Grace, run!”  This guy was so disgusted with this old house. No ventilation, really? The sewer gas will go right into the cupboard if you don’t vent this properly and re-plumb this up to code.  (That explains why I almost vomited when I bought this place.)  The bathroom doesn’t have the vents either.  We need to cut out the floor and see what’s under there. It doesn’t make any sense that there aren’t any vents, and what is this? What is that?  (I’ve been asking the same thing!) The floor tear out was not an issue at all for me, because it is soft and has to go. “The roof doesn’t have the vent for the toilet stack!” It appeared this plumber was about to explode, like the roof could have.  He looked outside at the other duplex and could see no vents on it. He suggested bulldozing the whole thing.

This old house has 3 plumbing vents, 1 stack and 6 air vents.
This old house has vents

– That is when I ran, I ran about a half a block around behind some other houses to get a view of the roof on the other side. Took a couple of pictures, and yes, thankfully, on the newer side of the duplex there are four stacks and 6 vents.

I was smiling when I came back.  The project lead and the plumber were waiting for me, knowing exactly why I ran.  “What did you find on the roof?” the plumber asked. I showed him the picture I took.  “I found vents!”

Key Take Away from this story:  Look for Vents on your Roof:  When a house smells very, very bad. Get a much lower price.  I paid $88,000 for this old house in owner-financing. I could have gotten it for less if I had known that the reason for the awful smell was not the tenants, but for bad, very bad engineering.

Second Take away:  Maybe plumbers aren’t the bad guys after all.

By Grace Widdicombe, CEO of Oregon Real Estate Investors Association in Eugene, OR  and Owner of Grateful Nuts Homes,


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