Costs of pricey home repairs/replacements? (& IDing them before buying)
January 21, 2014 10:43 AM   Subscribe

We're first time homebuyers, and getting a little overwhelmed thinking about all the things we might have to fix and/or replace in whatever house we buy, and how that should affect what we're willing to pay for a home. What are the most expensive (and/or frustrating to fix) things we should be keeping an eye out for and factoring into deciding whether to make an offer on a house and the offer price (i.e. adjusting up/down compared to comparable homes)?

We're interested both in actual problems/concerns (ie bad foundation, lead/radon/asbestos, unsafe wiring) as well as hearing about the most expensive stuff that needs to be replaced eventually in any house (ie, it seems like roofs are really expensive, so having a newer roof should affect our offer price a lot more than, say, a newer fridge, right? It seems like a lot of things are in the "$1000-$2000ish to replace every 10-15 years" category and that's fine, we're more interested in stuff above that threshold, unless it's a particularly big hassle to deal with logistically.) Plus things like energy efficiency/insulation that affect ongoing energy costs and add up over time.

We'd really love to know rough dollar figures on how much these things cost to deal with (it may vary by region, so if you wouldn't mind sharing that it'd be appreciated), both for financial planning purposes and to think about how it should affect our offers.

We'd also really appreciate advice on what we can figure out prior to putting in an offer and paying for an inspection, both what to look for during a home tour and what to expect for homes of different ages and using different building materials (we're in the DC area... looking especially but not exclusively in an area with houses built around 1950, many of them brick.) Also if there's stuff not covered in a standard inspection but worth a special inspection before buying.

Thanks so much! (We are total newbies at house stuff, and I feel like other people are way more educated on this kind of thing, whether from experience or just watching more (any!) HGTV than us or whatever. Trying to play catchup and having a hard time finding internet or other resources that actually give real numbers or split the big stuff from the little stuff, so hopefully AskMe can come to the rescue...)
posted by EmilyClimbs to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak much to costs, since I wasn't the one holding the checkbook. But here are some very spendy things we've had to address since moving in 5 years ago:

Electric - make sure it's up to date and up to code before you buy a house. Some older houses have LOTS older electrical systems, and some home owners get into DIY instead of having their wiring done professionally.

Plumbing - see above, and also make sure your pipes are appropriate to your weather region.

Roof - as you mentioned, newer is better, anything after 10 years may need to be replaced sooner rather than later

Furnace/heating/AC - in the Northeast, you want to make sure you have a newer and more energy efficient furnace if you're on oil; your oil bill get higher as your furnace ages.

Structural - check for water damage and insect infestations; also check for cracks in the walls or ceilings that could indicate foundation issues; also try to find out what your rain/snow melt run-off situation will be. If the house has a basement, look for water lines or cracks that could indicate that the area floods regularly. And, if there's a basement, check to see if there's a sump pump and if it works.

Appliances - if anything comes with the house - fridge, oven, stovetop, dishwasher, laundry machines - check them for weird smells, see how clean they are, make sure they work.
posted by kythuen at 10:56 AM on January 21, 2014

the standard home inspection report is full of disclaimers and caveats -- pipes, electrical, foundation, roofing, etc. Usually because the inspector can't tear open the walls to full examine the pipes, wires, isn't digging up the footers to check them, etc. The inspector will usually flag anything that seems possibly wrong and say follow up with an expert/engineer. Plus code changes where house was built to 1950s code, but 2010 code is far different.

The report we got when buying our house had a big section of "maintenance" we should do for the house.

Roofs may have a general lifespan (25 year shingles, etc), but they mail fail earlier in a bad storm, or last longer.

Hot water heaters can last 5 years or 20. Same with fridges. A lot of it you just don't know.

For a house in the 50s, the things I'd want looked at: is the house done settling (foundation issues etc) ? Was the sewer pipe properly replaced since 1985-ish ? Assume there is lead paint, any abatement ? Is there sufficient insulation ? Any asbestos products in the house ? Any water/seepage/dampness issues in the basement ? If there's radon, that's usually something the seller has to take care of.

Specific costs are highly localized -- appliance prices are pretty uniform, but installation may not. In my experience: Roof: $8-15k, ~25 years. Everything else falls under the $1-2k/10-15 year horizon (almost all appliances, trim/exterior painting, deck maintenance, etc)
posted by k5.user at 11:00 AM on January 21, 2014

Roofs, not just their age but also the condition. Some materials last much longer than others. Roofs can also be damaged.

Pricing for a new roof depends on the type of roofing, how large the roof is, how complex it is, if it needs old roofing removed, in addition to varying by location. It's ridiculous to discuss how much "a roof" of unknown size will cost, but for most houses it will be somewhere between $5000 and $50,000.

Foundation problems are very expensive to deal with. Avoid any house whose floors are visibly tilted.

If you don't have anyone in your household who tends chew on parts of the house, or who spends time crawling on the floor, I feel like lead isn't a huge concern. Most older houses have some leaded paint, usually behind layers of other paint. If it's not flaking, it will just stay there.

For asbestos, how bad that is depends on where it is and if it's likely to get loose.

Some home inspectors in some areas don't get into the crawlspace, or don't climb up to look at flat roofs.

Other expensive things that might or might not need eventual replacement: sewer line, water line, furnace. If you can't do it yourself, it might be expensive to replace the water heater. Stoves and refrigerators only cost around $300 or $400 if you will be happy with the basics.
posted by yohko at 11:03 AM on January 21, 2014

Trees! Are there old trees in the yard? What kind? We had a huge series of expenses (totaling about $8000) to remove old trees as they started to fall down.

Silver maples tend to rot from the inside and fall apart.

If a tree is old and large but it is easy for an arborist to access, you are looking at $1000-$2000 to remove it. If a tree is old and large, entangled with power lines and between houses, you are looking at anything from $4000 on up. (We had a $6000 tree removal bill for one tree after part of it fell down in a storm, and it would have been $10,000 except for some creative thinking on the part of a fantastic local arborist.) Your homeowners insurance will not cover tree removal unless it falls on and damages your house or your neighbor's.

You think it's picturesque to have large old trees. It's not - it's dangerous and expensive. They drop branches, they fall down in storms. Do not buy a house with large old trees.
posted by Frowner at 11:12 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Knob and tube wiring, also - it would cost $45,000 to totally rewire our house. (Hollow laughter.) Luckily, knob and tube is actually quite safe if it's in good condition (as ours is - we've had it inspected by a couple of different electricians). The only thing is that if you do have it, you won't be able to run a lot of high-powered appliances on one circuit. We have precisely one window unit upstairs, and it goes in the least comfortable bedroom - the rest of us just tough it out. If we can ever get ahead of the constant trees and plumbing and so on, we're going to have a couple of modern circuits put in.

(The way to deal with old wiring is, as far as I can tell, to replace it bit by bit so that you don't have to pony up the $45,000 all at once.)
posted by Frowner at 11:15 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

You are about to receive a very detailed memail.
posted by rabidsegue at 11:39 AM on January 21, 2014

If you are looking at older houses I would add windows to the list of things that can be expensive to replace. If you do find yourself looking at some newer homes however, one thing to note is that sometimes windows come with replacement warranties. For example, we have a 12 yr old home and I had no idea our windows had this warranty until we had blinds installed last year and the installer mentioned it to us. We now are in the process of having several replaced for free. Our warranty is only good for the original owner of the house, however, so if you found yourself in a position where the windows were under such a warranty you would want the owner to do it before they sold to you.
posted by snowymorninblues at 11:44 AM on January 21, 2014

A lot of things are unknowable until after the inspection. Many offers are adjusted after inspection as it often turns up some surprises. Most often you'll get a credit to fix any issues. Sometimes the homeowner will do it for you. Some common things the inspection finds are: termite damage/dry rot/beetles, roof damage, electrical issues, and plumbing issues. You should generally request a credit for the estimated cost to repair as the homeowner will do everything as cheaply as they possibly can which is not in your best interest.

When you're looking at homes, you can be on the lookout for potential problems before you make an offer. For example, turn on a tap and flush the toilet at the same time. How is the water pressure in the tap affected? Wires running along baseboards or stapled to the wall are a red flag for electric problems. When you open a door, it should stay open. If it swings shut (especially if multiple doors do this) it could indicated a foundation problem. How long does it take hot water to reach the tap farthest from the water heater? Look hard for water damage/moist areas - especially in the bathrooms and under sinks. If you see any indication of water damage or excessive moisture, you will want to consider paying for a mold inspection. A general home inspection will only look for/find obvious mold. Mold is a very expensive problem to fix.

Good luck!
posted by tealcake at 11:44 AM on January 21, 2014

Plumbing has been mentioned a few times, but I wanted to be more specific with regard to what type of plumbing is in a home you are looking at. Our home, built in the 60's, had galvanized pipe for the supply lines. We got a very detailed inspection report and had very handy family members look over the place and no one said squat about it. Turns out it has a ~40 year lifespan. That cost about $6k (very small house, California) to replace. For obvious reasons it is difficult to tell what condition something like plumbing is in during an inspection, but it's easy to figure out what the material itself is made of and what potential issues there are.

Really if I had an opportunity to go back to my old self and give them a piece of advice 10 years ago, I'd say don't get wrapped up in how much each thing is going to cost. The fact is that we didn't (and still don't) have the money to fix all the things, so focus on the things that will make you really miserable other than "those cabinets are so ugly." Things like a roof, heat, and water/wastewater.
posted by Big_B at 12:34 PM on January 21, 2014

Lots of good advice here, but I'll add one thing. This is absolutely something your realtor should be helping you with, and if they aren't, you need a new one. When we toured houses, our realtor would follow behind us calling out prices of everything we even remotely considered fixing or changing about the house, and when it came to making offers, was VERY direct about how those things effected the number we should be offering.
posted by juliapangolin at 12:42 PM on January 21, 2014

A thing to add to your list: chimney repairs. If the house you are looking at has a fireplace & chimney, make sure to get it inspected by a chimney inspection company at the same time as your home inspection. We are asking the owners of the place we're buying to pay for the chimney cleaning it needs as part of our deal to buy.

Also keep in mind that once you own a house, you should be saving a chunk of money each month for exactly all the stuff people are listing here - because things go wrong all the time, even with things that you expected to have a certain lifetime. It's why you'll have a homeowner's association fee in condo buildings: that's the money the association is saving up to do things like fix the foundation & replace the building roof, which everyone has an interest in who lives in the building. In the case of a house, you're the only person living there so you're the person who gets to save to replace the roof. For our move from a condo to a house, I'm just expecting to take what we were paying in HOA fees and sock it away in a savings account for the day something fails.
posted by bibbit at 1:08 PM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

After ten years we finally put in custom made storm windows to cut down on heat loss in the winter. It made a huge difference in our heating bill and I think I would never want to buy a home without them in the future. Yet, when you are looking at homes you might not see the deficit - you don't normally get to see past electric bills. And you might not realize a house has huge energy loss through the windows if you shop in warm weather.

The windows cost us about $3000.
posted by cda at 6:12 PM on January 21, 2014

Erring on the side of caution, these are my suggestions - keep in mind that I am not trained or licensed in these trades and you should consult a licensed professional rather than relying on my layperson opinions.

roof - broadly speaking, and under optimal weather and care conditions, an asphalt shingle roof will need to be replaced after about 20-25 years. In areas that experience rough winds, a roof can start looking dreadful in as little as 15 years. This can lead to damage due to rainstorms, high winds, heavy snow and pest infiltration - all of which can destroy your home and possessions quite quickly.

plumbing - 1950s homes may have galvanized and / or cast iron plumbing. These aren't necessarily bad if only in your waste lines, however it is better to have copper or copper / abs plumbing. 1950s and 60s homes may have the galvanized / cast iron in the supply lines but this is not as common in newer dwellings. In general even the best quality plumbing will eventually need to be replaced and 40-50 years is a good and cautious cut off point. Plumbing can be extremely expensive to replace as a whole and it may be fine if you just update here and there as needed. Deteriorating pipes can cause catastrophic damage to your property in very little time. You may not realize there is a problem until it is too late as much piping can be hidden from view.

electric - avoid knob and tube wiring or 60 amp wiring as they cannot generally handle the stresses that modern demands place on them, and can become great fire hazards. You may encounter this sort of wiring in 1950s homes though normally by this point it would have been replaced by the prior owners. Breakers are preferable to fuses. Like plumbing, 40-50 years is about the age you should consider having the electrical updated. The entire electrical system can also be costly to replace and you may have to do it all at once (if knob and tube for example). Like plumbing problems, you may not realize there are issues until the damage is done.

heating - wood heat and oil heat are not negative things but require a great deal of care. Woodstove / cookstove / pellet stove heat is not intended to be primary heating in the typical single family dwelling, but only an auxiliary heat source paired with thermostatically controlled systems. Wood heating can be a tremendous fire hazard if not properly installed, regularly maintained, and kept up to code. Oil heat should work in conjunction with relatively updated furnaces (say 30-40 years) and tanks must be in great condition with no external signs of rust and properly cared for. Ideally they are indoors where they take less environmental stress, and never underground. Tanks must be up to code and those hitting 15 years are getting old and ideally should be replaced. Electric heat is most desirable as it is easier to care for.

Home inspectors, realtors, brokers and insurers can only point out potential red flags and suggest areas of concern. It is always best to have a professional licensed in the relevant field offer a more in depth inspection about anything you or they are concerned about (electricians for electrical matters, plumbers for plumbing, wood heating technicians for wood burning units etc). The cost really depends on how much of the system needs to be fixed, what you are replacing it with, and who is doing the work.

Other things you should watch for are proper handrails on all steps, and properly constructed and attached decks.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 6:51 PM on January 21, 2014

« Older Comfort bedtime reading for nerds?   |   College sophomore and switching majors Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.