New Construction Townhome

Fix All The Things

Inspection was last week. Man, 40 year old houses sure to have a lot of shit wrong with them. This is really the first time I’ve had to deal with most of this stuff. The places I lived in college were post-civil-war era shit holes slowly collapsing into the earth, but I was renting so I didn’t care.

Aside from the usual working/parenting thing, my spring will be spent coordinating or DIYing a whole bunch of household stuff. I can’t tell you how AMAZEBALLS it will be to have access to the place next door (my in-laws’) so I can retreat to the peace and quiet of somewhere that is not a construction zone.

In some ways it feels completely ridiculous to even start listing this stuff given that we haven’t closed yet. But I’d really like to get the major stuff done in time to enjoy the house this summer. So we’re getting quotes now in order to hit the ground running at closing. We close in 3 weeks and that feels forever away but is actually super fast given that we just put the offer in at the beginning of this month. Part of me is still thinking I’m jumping the gun, all “don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” but I don’t think “bracing for what could be thousands of dollars in repairs” is the same as chicken-counting.

Hello kitchen. I can't wait to destroy you.
Hello kitchen. I can’t wait to destroy you.

First, contractor stuff. I.e. stuff I am nowhere near insane enough to even think of trying to do myself

  • New heat pump. We could theoretically get the old one fixed maybe, but I can’t imagine any situation in which it’s worth it to fix a 15 year old heat pump. The energy savings alone make a new more efficient one worth the money.
  • Structural stuff. Yeah that seems rather important.
  • Exterior grading. The slope of the land is towards the house, which is kind of awful if it rains.
  • Engineered flood vents. These will help keep the underside of the house from rotting, which seems like a good thing.
  • Replacing an oversized circuit breaker. Easy but not something I want to DIY.
  • New countertops in the kitchen. Goodbye laminate.

Second, DIY stuff. Little things I can do myself. Or big things I can foolishly do myself.

  • New kitchen/laundry room floors. I want to do wood but vinyl plank is probably more practical.
  • New kitchen cabinets

Next, Stuff I’m on the fence about. Aka stuff I could do but don’t want to.

  • Painting. Painting sucks, y’all. It really really sucks.
  • Replacing the not-grounded outlets with GFIs. I can do this myself easily, but we might spring to actually have the outlets grounded.
  • Carpet cleaning. I mean I can rent a steam cleaner from the grocery store but I feel like a pro would do a better job?

Last, stuff that will have to be done in the not so distant future. This stuff isn’t on the agenda for omgrightnow, but it was all earmarked as “aging, budget for a replacement” by the inspector.

  • Roof replacement. Yeah, that’s gonna suck. Here’s hoping the current roof hangs on a few more years. But at this point we need to at least have someone come eyeball it once a year. I don’t want to find out the hard way when the roof fails.
  • Water heater replacement. Now accepting arguments for/against tankless water heaters.

We’ve got until Saturday to decide how to approach this with the seller. Obviously a lot of this stuff is “nice to have” and therefore not something we’d bring up with them. But the structural stuff, grading, and flood vents are definitely things that need to be done sooner rather than later. Fingers crossed the negotiations go OK and we can get a credit towards fixing it.

1970s Shore Home

Structural Stuff

One of the things that came up during the shore house home inspection was some cracking along the foundation. Foundation cracks are not an unusual part of settling, but these were bigger than usual. About 3/8″ wide and running all the way through to the crawlspace under the house.

This crack could be nothing, or it could be bad news
This crack could be nothing, or it could be bad news

We called in a structural engineer to look at it and should hear back next week.

Additionally, some support beams under the house weren’t properly footed. These beams were clearly added later to mitigate some problems (not uncommon given how old the house is and how soft the ground is on the island) but they should have been set into poured concrete footings.

Water + wood + house = bad news long term
Water + wood + house = bad news long term

Lastly one of the joists is rotting. This is not surprising that the house isn’t properly vented underneath. It needs to be “sistered,” wherein they add new lumber on either side of the bad spot in order to shore it up.

Here’s the rotting support beam:

Bad news bears
Bad news bears

And here’s a diagram that shows what they do to fix it:

An illustration of some sistered joists
An illustration of some sistered joists

So yeah. While this stuff is a little terrifying now that I’ve written it all out, it’s not super uncommon for a home this old. Overall the structure is in good shape. When we get quotes back from the contractors we’ll approach the seller for a credit towards fixing this stuff. I’d probably be panicking right now except we’ve seen much, much worse.

Still, fingers crossed that everything comes back OK from the structural engineer!

New Construction Townhome

A Shore House in a Flood Zone

Let me start by saying that I never really wanted a beach house. I’ve been in enough hurricanes that the idea of owning property near the beach is more terrifying than alluring. Super Storm Sandy ravaged the New Jersey coast in 2013, bringing flood waters near or above what FEMA defines as the “100 year flood” level. While many businesses have bounced back, condemned houses and drawn-out reconstruction efforts still dot the neighborhoods along the Jersey shore.

So naturally, that’s where we’re buying a vacation house.

Our family vacations at the Jersey shore each summer and as we’ve grown the sleeping arrangements have become increasingly cramped. On weekends we pile six adults, two toddlers, and two dogs into my father-in-law’s 1,000 square foot house. When the next door neighbor’s house came on the market last year we joked about buying. The longer it sat on the market the more we eyed it up. In January the sellers dropped the price considerably, and we decided it was time to think about it more seriously.

Our Maybe House
Won’t You Be My Neighbor


The house got through Sandy mostly unscathed, and after checking it out we decided to put in an offer. We had the inspection this week and while there’s some stuff we need to follow up on, nothing was too horrible. That said, it’s a 40 year old house. It has a bunch of stuff that’s at the end of its lifespan, including the roof. But it’s all in decent shape right now, so we can spread the costs out over the next few years.

The flood risk is a non-trivial consideration in all of this. The house is built below “base flood elevation” or BFE. BFE is the “hundred year flood” level, or the expected flood level in the “one percent chance” flood. I don’t really like the term “hundred year flood” because it falsely implies that such a flood only happens every hundred years or so. But the distribution is not necessarily even. Every year there’s a 1% chance of such a flood, regardless of what happened the year before. This means that over a 30 year period (the length of most mortgages) there’s about a 26% chance of having a “hundred year flood.” Never mind any effects climate change might have on flood / sea levels. But I digress.

I mean, it's not the worst.
I mean, it’s not the worst.

One thing I am VERY excited about with the house is the chance to put in a new kitchen. The one that’s there now is original to the house, and it’s pretty sad. A fresh coat of paint made it look tolerable for the real estate photos, but in person it is a very tired kitchen. IKEA just released a new line of cabinets sooooooooo… yeah. This is happening. I’m going to DIY as much as I can, like assembling the cabinets and putting down a wood floor, and hire professionals for things like the electrical (duh) and maybe painting (I fucking hate painting).

This is the direction I'm heading in
This is the direction I’m heading in

At this point we’re getting a few more estimates from contractors. There’s some foundation cracking that could be nothing or could be significant and we need to find out which (and get a credit from the seller if it needs fixing). I’m filling up a Pinterest board with kitchen photos, and doing boring things like getting insurance quotes, but other than that we’re just waiting for closing. If all goes to plan we’ll get the keys in mid March, get contractors in there this spring to fix the big stuff, and maaaaaaaaaaaybe have the kitchen done by summer. Maybe. We’ll see.