Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mr. Kluges's House Pros & Cons

(c) 2007 Ms. Huis Herself at

Mr. Kluges is gracing us with another post about the house today. (Ya think he's a little obsessed currently? *grin*) If you wanted to hear the list of the pros and cons, here ya go! (Also, if you want to be impressed with the amount of research he's done about it already, 'cuz he's been a busy man!) (Any comments made in square brackets below are mine.)

I'm sitting at work grumpy about the lack of information on our offer on the house. I tried to distract myself with work, but it doesn't seem to be working. Yesterday I wasn't paying enough attention to what I was doing and I caused a production outage. Today I've decided not to touch anything important. I can't seem to keep my head in the game and in my line of work, a single screw up can cost a lot of money. Fortunately, a screw up won't kill anybody.

Ms. Huis once stated that the house deserves a post all by itself, and I think it's high time that it did. Here are all the pros and cons, so that you understand why we love it and why we're afraid of it.

First of all is why we love it.

The house was built in 1921 by a self-made man of Catholic Dutch heritage. He did well in banking and farming and eventually started a nursery. At the time, he bought a significant amount of land and built this house along with a nursery business. The town has since grown up around it.

The house is built of all brick and has about 2100 usable square feet. It's a traditional American four square house with Arts and Crafts influences. It has a four season sun porch on the south side of the house which adjoins to an open porch that extends out past the front plane of the house. To help keep symmetry, there is a porte-cochere on the other side of the house that also extends out past the front plane of the house. I doubt it was ever used in the traditional sense. There is another outside porch out the back of the house, although this one is built of wood.

The basement is built of concrete block, and the exterior ground around it was packed with cinders to help with drainage. This was obviously before the days of tiling and sump pumps.

The roof still has the original 1921 cement asbestos shingles. The roof also has the architectural feature of built-in wood gutters. There are two dormers in the roof, which look out to the east and west. The north and south side of the house have chimneys, one for a fireplace, and the other for the boiler in the basement.

There have been no external additions or changes to the house (which I find often destroys the character of an older house).

The basement of the house has several smallish rooms, including a cistern that was originally used to supply washing water to the house. It is still functional and could easily be brought back into use with some minor changes to the gutter system and the introduction of a pump. Alternately, it could be converted to a wine cellar. Both chimneys extend to the basement with ash removal doors, so there would be no need to clean out the fireplace through the living room. Access to the basement is gained through a wide and sensible side entrance to the house.

The first floor contains several rooms. There is a kitchen with cabinetry that looks like it may be from the 40's. There is a formal dining room with an original built-in hutch, again with arts and crafts influences. The living room has a fireplace and faux wood beamed ceilings. There is also another room touted as a bedroom, but it would make a good office. The [small] four season sunroom is off of the living room. There is small airlock vestibule to the front of the house for keeping out the cold in the winter. There are two sets of stairs up to the second floor. The main stairs are in the living room, while the second set of stairs was for the maid and enters/exits the kitchen.

The second floor contains four [fairly small] bedrooms, all with closets, a bathroom, and a small sitting room that looks out over the front of the property. There is also a linen closet and a cedar closet.

The attic is very large with the peak of the room well over eight feet tall. The dormers provide some light. The maid's room is also upstairs, although it is not listed as usable space. The attic could easily be finished off to add another 800 or so square feet of space.

The lot is 100' wide x 265' long, or .6 acres. The house sits back from the street around 150' so the majority of the lot is to the front of the house. The back of the house is fully fenced in with a brown chain link fence and is very overgrown with trees and shrubs. There is a wooded lot behind the property that is buffer to the city water treatment plant. The sides of the lot are also overgrown. There is a [detached] three car garage, built in the 80's, that is included with the property. [It's done nicely and harmonizes well with the style of the house.]

With very few exceptions, it appears that all light fixtures, doors, door hardware, hardwood floors and trim are the original 1921 pieces. All rooms have the original lathe and plaster walls. The heating is hot water radiators with the original radiators. The boiler was replaced in the 90's with a modern, high efficiency boiler. The old galvanized steel plumbing was also replaced in the 90's with copper piping.

And here's a list of all things that we see as an issue. These are all things that will take time and money to fix.

1) The foundation - There has been some heaving of the foundation, probably from hydrostatic pressure. It appears that this was fixed with the grading of the soil and implementation of cement aprons. I wouldn't feel 100% comfortable though until we got an engineer to look at it.

2) The gutters - Previous negligence in cleaning the integrated gutters has allowed water to seep through them and into the eaves, possibly causing rot. In any case, the gutters were lined with galvanized steel in the 80's, so they are due to be relined. The gutters will always need to be cleaned regularly. Any leak in the gutter goes directly into the eaves, which can cause huge rot issues. The flat roof on the sun room appears to also have some water damage. The fascia and sofits all the way around the house looks like they need replacing, probably as a result of previous water damage.

3) The roof - The asbestos shingles are approaching the end of their life. Life span of well cared for asbestos shingles can be 100+ years, but 80 is typical. Replacing them will be time consuming, difficult and can be expensive. Replacing the roof with a similar style of roof will be expensive (tar shingles are not an option). There are several trees growing too close to the house, including an oak tree whose branches are rubbing against the asbestos shingles. This is very bad. It's causing moss to grow on the shingles, which decreases the lifespan of the shingles and the rubbing may be releasing asbestos fibers. It depends on what is harder - the tree or the cement shingles.

4) The back porch - The back porch is sagging and needs to be shored up. The roof of the back porch is actually an airing porch accessible from the second level, so restoring it would give even more external space.

5) The brick work - Some of the brick work is in need of repointing and in one case, it appears that water actually flowed into the house, damaging the plaster work around the front window. Again this looks to have been caused by improper drainage of the gutters (clean your gutters!) I found one brick that can be literally pulled out of the wall. It seemed to be the only one, but then again, I didn't go over the whole house. Repointing the brick requires special mortar - Portland cement won't do - and skilled masons.

6) Interior water damage - On my last trip to the house, it looked like there was further evidence of water damage on the wall around the kitchen window. I couldn't be sure if it was recent or old, as it looked like it may have been painted over, and the plaster didn't sound quite right when I rapped it with my knuckle.

7) Location - The house is within .5 miles of a paper mill which contributes a constant white noise hum 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and also occasionally supplies an unusual and slightly unpleasant smell, depending on the wind.

8) Resale - Because of location, and because this house is valued at almost double the average house value for several blocks around, we have concerns about the resale potential of the house. It is unlikely that we'll die in this house, so we need to consider that even if we love it, someday we're going to have to sell it.

9) Hardwood floors - The floor in the living room and possibly the dining room must be refinished. The finish is completely gone (raw wood) in heavily trafficked areas.

10) Lead Paint - The house is old and sure to have lead paint. And we have two small children.

11) The waste pipes - Like almost everything else in the house, the waste pipe is original. It may be within a few years of needing replacement. The last thing we want is a leaking sewage pipe in the walls. The seller also stated that about once a year the kitchen sink backs up and that once a year there is a sewer back up in the basement. In both cases he states that a plunger can solve the problem. Indicative of a larger problem though? Tree roots? Corrosion of the sewer line to the street?

12) One bathroom - There is only one bathroom in the house. There is a pooper in the basement, but we don't know if it works and it is just a pooper. With two girls and a wife, at some point another bathroom must be added. [Well, it's just a toilet in its own closet-sized room, just off the laundry room with a laundry sink.]

13) No appliances - The seller did not include any appliances, so add in a stove, a refrigerator, a washer, a dryer, a dishwasher and anything else that you might think a house should have. [Not that it's plumbed for a dishwasher currently...]

14) Historical property - The property is on the national and state registry of historical places. This is cool and not cool. There aren't any legal restrictions on us because of this, but it does mean we will be more thoughtful about what to with the property, including replacing things with historically accurate items, rather than just running down to Home Depot. This equates to more hassle and more expense (although the end product should be nicer).

15) Wiring - How could I forget the wiring. The wiring is the original knob and tube wiring. This is nearing (or past) end of life. Opinions vary on this. Everything from, "it's OK if its in good shape" to "you will die if you have knob and tube wiring". The house also only has 100 amp service. This means if I turn on the microwave, the stove, the toaster and the dishwasher while having a PC and a TV on, I may be courting disaster. There is an average of only four plug-ins per room. [When he says four plug-ins, he doesn't mean 4 outlets with 2 plug-ins each - he's talking just 4 plug-ins. Also, in the upstairs bedrooms, the wiring came in higher in the wall, like for wall lamps. Then they put in metal...boxes? with metal pipes running down to standard plug-in height and have metal outlet boxes down there. VERY UGLY!]

16) Insurance - Insurance on older homes can be difficult, especially because of the knob and tube wiring. The house does have a bit of an advantage because its on the National Registry, so it can tap into some insurance plans that other "plain" old houses wouldn't be able to.

17) Landscaping - This is purely cosmetic, but because I enjoy working outside with plants and such, not being able to work on the landscaping due to required fixes inside will be frustrating.

And of course, we'll find more once we've lived there awhile. So now if we don't get the house, I can read this with an appropriate sour grapes attitude and feel better.


DiploWhat said...

Yaozer! There sure are a lot of fixes that would need doing - and for the price...hmmmm....

Pusher said...

That is the benefit of having such a substantial list. If you get it, halfway through the unpleasantness of having work done, you can look back at your pro list; if you don't, you can console yourself by reading all the cons.

I still really, really hope you get it.

The Dude said...

If you get it, I'm sure it will be awesome! If you don't, it wasn't meant to be, and you'll have an even better home waiting for you!!! :)