have house, will travel
September 28, 2008 1:29 PM   Subscribe

What are the legalities involved in buying a house and then dismantling and removing it?

I've just been looking online at big old houses in Buffalo for incredibly cheap prices. The problem is of course that if you buy one, you have to live in Buffalo.
you get it to go.
What happens if you buy a house and take it away? Is that legal? Are you required to then do something to the lot, or just fill in the hole, or build something else, or what? If you then keep the vacant lot, do the taxes go down?
I've got this crazy idea to buy a beat up, formerly beautiful old house in a hammered and cheap city like Buffalo, take it somewhere beautiful, put it back together, and live in it.
Have I gone crazy?
posted by crazylegs to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You are crazy, but you are the best kind of crazy. Different counties and cities have different regulations for this kind of stuff. Call the county recorders office for details. They should be so glad that anyone wants to put money in real estate right now-- they should kiss your feet.

You might really enjoy the series Haulin' House on HGTV. It's exactly about what you want to do, with each episode chronicling different home moves in different areas. Good luck!
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 1:43 PM on September 28, 2008

I actually did a lot of negotiating to take a house and move it across town. It can be done, but to make it economically feasible can be tough. I ended up not able to go through with my deal, as the estimated expenses mounted. And keep in mind: the house itself was going to be absolutely free. Not only that, the "seller" was going to cover cost of residing to bring it to FHA standards. (Long story as to why they offered that.) In any case, here are some random expenses:

House moving is charged per mile. There is also a separate fee to raise the powerlines out of the way. To give you some idea, my project was to move the house about 5 miles, and the move and wire-raising was going to be about $18,000. That was 20 years ago.

In the move, the house will get damaged. The amount of damage is unpredictable. Brickwork could fall. Plaster walls can crumble. Drywall can buckle. Floors can heave. So, once the house is moved, you'll have to figure on lots of repairs to make it livable. Also, you may have to side, or scrape and repaint the house if it has lead based paint.

A new foundation will have to be poured in the new location before the house can be moved. The cost will depend on local code, and whether you want a full basement, crawlspace, or slab. Your new lot may also need a driveway and/or sidewalk poured, depending on local code and the requirement of of the lender.

You'll have to get special financing to cover this. (Unless you have cash.) You can't get a normal mortgage on the house, then move it without the bank's permission. So you need to borrow enough to buy the house, pay for the move and the new foundation, and the new lot, and to cover repairs to the house after the move. You will have to show that the house, as moved and repaired, is worth enough to secure the mortgage. You will probably have a deadline to complete all the repairs. It's not like buying a fixer-upper, where you can putter around on weekends for a few years until the house is fixed up.

Also keep in mind that zoning and code restrictions might prevent you from moving a house in to some areas. Make sure it is specifically allowed.

So, technically, yes, it can be done. But there's a lot of homework involved, and you should expect it to be pretty much a full time job until it's done.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 1:53 PM on September 28, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the thorough answer, Fuzzy Skinner. I don't think I made it clear enough just how crazy I am. I'm thinking about moving a house a very long way, and am therefore talking about actually taking it apart, thus moving it as a pile of lumber rather than as a house. So the issues you raise regarding foundation etc. are relevant, but I don't need to worry about raising power lines, damage to the house, etc. It won't get damaged in the move because I'm going to totally destroy it to begin with, then rebuild it.
This may be a totally stupid idea, I'm just looking into it. My main reason is that I really like the feel of old houses, and really hate most new houses. I also like the look of a lot of city houses but want to live in a rural setting.
posted by crazylegs at 2:02 PM on September 28, 2008

I'm in one of those big old houses in Buffalo right now. I can tell you first hand that it can be done, but the cost will probably negate the savings. First off, you get what you pay for. The houses are all quite variable, some vacants are stripped of all copper, stained glass and architectural niceties and some are so full of pigeon shit that they are a haven for mold.

As far as demolition, the wood on the insides, the floor joists, beams and studs are usually in fine shape. The exterior sheathing and clapboards are really brittle from the elements, and would mostly wind up in the dumpster. Also in the dumpster would be hundreds of pounds of unsalvageable plaster. Thousands of pounds of brick chimney needs to come down. The foundations are generally stone, and that would have to be removed as well.

If you add up all of the materials that could not make the move and their replacement costs at the destination plus labor and transportation costs, you might not be looking at such a bargain.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:03 PM on September 28, 2008

What exactly are you planning to move? The interior finish is probably plaster on lath, so that's a goner. Hardwood floors are a lot of work to remove but are proably worth it, along with finish woods in general, because of the quality of old woodwork. Fireplaces and chimneys are just brick, so you might as well start from scratch. Removing tile in one piece is impossible I believe. Plus there's all the things you don't really want to keep, like the old bathrooms that were probably redone in the 60's and the awful kitchen. So you really end up just taking details from the old house, and you can honestly skip the whole "buying the house and dismantling step", and just buy reclaimed stuff. It's a lot easier.
posted by smackfu at 2:07 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Smackfu, you're reinforcing the little voice in my head that's telling me this is a pretty stupid idea. But hey, that's what metafilter's for, to save people like me from themselves.
posted by crazylegs at 2:12 PM on September 28, 2008

Oh, and legalities: I think deconstructing and reconstructing a house from the bits would count as new construction, which means you would need to get plans drawn up, get construction permits, and you would need to meet modern code for the new location. So you couldn't necessarily just put it up "the same" and be legal.
posted by smackfu at 2:13 PM on September 28, 2008

Are you thinking of a house like the one at the top of this list? $5K? That is obviously not inclusive the land it's sitting on. So, basically, they're asking people to pay for the privilege of clearing the knock-down off the land? As others have said, that is expensive.
posted by Listener at 2:15 PM on September 28, 2008

One house link because the results link didn't work after all.
posted by Listener at 2:17 PM on September 28, 2008

I'm not a professional or anything, but I've done a little work on my house here and there, and while that may sound stupid, I can't figure out how I'm wrong by saying:

Most of what you like about the house is only a small part of the house. Won't you just be moving things like floorboards (if it has nice old flooring), trim and moulding, doors, appliances (the ones that actually still work well), fixtures, etc? There is no need to carefully dismantle and move the 2x4s that hold it together. It would probably be cheaper and easier to buy new ones at your destination. And the plaster walls/ceilings: you can't save those. (Copper/tin ceilings, etc: yes.) In the end it seems like you're not moving an ENTIRE house. Just the cool stuff about the house. And it just seems like you could instead design your own house based on old floorplans that you like, and buy that kind of stuff at salvage places. Unless you've priced it out and find that the Buffalo house is actually cheaper than what salvage places would charge you, which would not actually surprise me.

As for tearing down the house: where I live, if I start doing any work on my house that's visible from the street, I get shut down if I don't have a permit. So you're going to need a permit to tear down the house. And around here, there's something like a $10k fee for that permit, if you can even get one.

I'm totally with you, though, on disliking new houses/neighborhoods. If I were to build in a rural area, I'd model it after the old stuff. And it's a challenge to find nice old wood flooring, etc. (New bamboo is kinda nice, but it's still not century old pine.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:19 PM on September 28, 2008

(Had I previewed after taking 10 minutes to type my answer, I would have said "what smackfu said.") :)
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:20 PM on September 28, 2008

Thanks for the thorough answer, Fuzzy Skinner... am therefore talking about actually taking it apart, thus moving it as a pile of lumber rather than as a house. So the issues you raise regarding foundation etc. are relevant, but I don't need to worry about raising power lines, damage to the house, etc. It won't get damaged in the move because I'm going to totally destroy it to begin with, then rebuild it...

Thanks for clarifying.

So, just offhand, based on my experience with a short distance move, taking away the issue of wire-raising, etc, but adding the issue of totally dismantling and rebuilding a house, I fall squarely into the "crazy idea" camp.

Believe me, I know how tempting it is to see those beautiful old houses and rescue them. I'm from inner-city Detroit, and my Dad's neighborhood is full of wonderful old home that are worth nothing due to location. They are worth more as scrap than houses. (In fact, my dad recently had to use his handgun to scare off a guy who was ripping the aluminum siding off his house while he was watching TV. Scary!)

But I just don't think the math adds up.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 2:42 PM on September 28, 2008

One of my friends did this in a slightly different way: He found someone willing to "give" him a barn, so long as he tore it down and moved all the debris away. He was trying to build a house (in Maine) and wanted to both save money and use beautiful wide-plank wood (a rarity these days in his price range). He found a 100-year old barn in Vermont someone was trying to get rid of, tore it down and piled the wood on a rented trailer. In the end, it was far cheaper than buying the wood and he has a cool story to tell.

In sum: try not to end up with the land. Just see if you can get the house.
posted by nursegracer at 3:35 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, one more thought. (Sorry if it's already been said.) There may be restrictions, even in a rural area, about what kind of lumber you can use in a "new construction." Used lumber may not even be allowed.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:58 PM on September 28, 2008

This is actually pretty common over here (Queensland, Australia). They have big fields full of houses for removal. The thing that probably makes this different, is that these houses are mostly weatherboard, and they cut them in half to move them, then re-attach them. It's long been my dream to do this so I have a pretty good idea of the costs:

The house usually costs anywhere from $100 (or free!) up to $30,000, depending on what you want.
To cut up, load onto a truck, transport and re-assemble it, you're generally looking at about $80,000, depending on how far you're moving it.

Most of the associated cost is in re-attaching the plumbing and electricity.
Also, if your house is small enough to move in one piece, it can be a lot cheaper.
If you have plumbing or professional standard electric skills, again, you could save a bundle.
Basically, it's cheap... but it's not THAT cheap, so you'd better love the house.

Also, fwiw, they don't tend to be damaged-- I've seen places moved with china dinner plates still in the cupboard, and even the plates were intact at the other end.
posted by indienial at 3:33 AM on September 29, 2008

Are you thinking of a house like the one at the top of this list? $5K? That is obviously not inclusive the land it's sitting on.

Listener, what makes you think the land would not be included? There is nothing about that in the description of the house, which includes the lot size and property taxes.

crazylegs, keep in mind that you will also need to buy land to put the house on, and possibly pay for electric, well, and septic. Much of the cost of building a house is in labor, and there is far more labor involved in building a house out of old bits (even ignoring the labor of removal and transport) than building from scratch.

I think it would be far cheaper to figure out what exactly you like about old houses and city houses and have one built to spec. Your new house does not have to be like ¨most¨ new houses that you hate. Many new homes from large builders are basically a mass produced product where they have tried to cut costs in any way possible and spend more money on things that will appeal to the average buyer. Take a look at custom built homes that have been built for people who have similar tastes as you. Its perfectly possible to have a custom built home that has all the things you don´t like about most homes, and in fact many of them are like that since the average person likes the usual sort of thing. If you are paying for it, and paying enough for it, you can get whatever you want.

If you do decide to move a house, do not buy one on any sort of historical register. All of the zoning and permits are at the local level, find out what they are before you buy.
posted by yohko at 10:28 AM on September 29, 2008

That is obviously not inclusive the land it's sitting on.

Not true. In parts of Buffalo that low price would include the land. The low figures do not take into account that many of these properties have city tax liens and water liens that for some reason do not follow the previous occupants, but become a liability on the properties themselves (i.e. if I sold a house with an unpaid water bill, that water bill becomes the responsibility of the new owner). This can add several thousand dollars to the actual price of these properties, shrinking the "bargain factor" even more.

I also neglected to mention in my previous comment that there is significant community opposition in Buffalo to schemes such as yours. There are a few grassroots organizations that protest every house demolition by the city or otherwise here. There are people that feel that these houses represent the future of the city and that their removal will reduce density and make the city's recovery impossible. The mayor even has an anti-flipping task force that tries to prevent the sales of homes to out of state speculators, as this was apparently rampant in the past few years. You can search the blog Buffalo Rising for many of these issues.

Also, yesterday's NY Times Magazine had a good article about house dismantling/recycling in Cleveland and looks at many of the issues you may want to know. It's available online but a login is required.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:50 AM on September 29, 2008

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