Buying a house-filter; or: death by a thousand cuts and plastic pipes
September 18, 2018 7:31 AM   Subscribe

After a few weeks of searching in a hot real estate market, my wife and I are under contract for a house, a few issues have come up during inspection and I would like some real world feedback or advice beyond the DIY online forum arguments my google searches have turned up.

The facts:
The house is in an ideal location for us. Due to its slightly further out location it is ~50k less than houses we have been looking at further in the city, and only compromises on one of our long list of requirements. The house has a one car garage instead of the two car we were hoping for. The lot has the space and setback to expand the garage if we wanted, although it would be expensive. It had been on the market for a month when we initially toured it, and after the tour we decided we liked it but were going to pass due to the one car garage. After a few nights of thought, and looking at the amazing lot, and the ideal nature of the location, we decided to give it a second look. The house needs some work on the paint and floors but had everything else we wanted, so we came in with an offer under asking to offset the cost of flooring upgrades and after a small counter offer we came to an agreement and began out due diligence. We had our inspection a few days ago. After getting some quotes from contractors we plan on bringing a list of repairs or a request for an allowance to the sellers, but no idea what they are going to be willing to fix or pay for.

Inspection results:

-House has masonite siding that is swollen in area and will need repairs. This is common in most houses in the area and does not bother me much.
-The crawlspace had high humidity due to improper vapor barrier material and early signs of mold growth. This also did not bother me, since the inspection was on one of the most humid days of the year. We plan to replace the vapor barrier, dry the crawlspace out with a portable dehumidifier, and monitor humidity level to see if further mitigation is required.
-Some double pane windows have lost their gas seal. Again, not a big deal to me.
-The house has polybutylene piping. *red alert sounds*. The disclosure has listed PVC, so either the sellers are unaware or tried to hide the piping type. The house was built in 94, and the pipes I can see have the metal fittings and copper compression rings, so it's not the fitting types named in the class action lawsuits, but the pipe/system still has a bad name and tons of anecdotal doom and gloom comments associated with it. We are having a plumber come out and take a look and give us a recommendation on the pipe and a quote for a repipe.
-The subfloor is only ½” plywood. Which means in the areas we wanted to install site finished hardwood to match the elevation and look of the original site finish hardwood will only have ½” of subfloor. There are no good options for beefing up the thickness without having tall thresholds between main living spaces, plus the higher floors would block the front door from opening all the way.

The Good:
-Location location location.
-The price (~50k less than comparable houses deeper in the city).
-No city taxes.
-No HOA dues, and minimal restrictive covenants.
-Larger corner lot (⅓ acre) on a cul de sac.
-City sewer service.

The meh:
-The water supply is community well, which I know nothing about.

The Bad:

-Horrible interior paint color (totally fixable).
-Poor workmanship on some drywall joints and patches (totally fixable).
-Incorrectly installed pergo floors and ratty carpet (fixable).
-One car garage (probably expanadable, but for $$).
-PB piping, which depending on which online forum or article you read is either totally fine and the victim of poor installers and conspiracies, or a ticking time bomb that will floor your house and destroy all you love in life.

I have strong anxiety around large decisions or purchases in general, so house hunting/buying has been stressful at times. I have solid support from my spouse, and so far I have been thrilled with my agent, both of which have helped. I understand inspections will always bring up problems, but being a first time home buyer it's hard to feel like I have a good perspective on if/when the negatives add up to the point where we should reconsider. If I had to walk away, the loss of the due diligence and earnest money would not bankrupt our down payment fund, so we have options. My agent thinks given our list of wants this house is a great fit for us. She has yet to lead us astray, but she also won't have to live in the house.

So I guess I’m looking for feedback on my good/meh/ bad list, as well as personal experience with PB plumbing and thin subfloors.
posted by token-ring to Home & Garden (18 answers total)
 
I would put a lot of your Bads in the Meh category. Paint can be done yourself on your own time (I painted my whole house including the ceilings over the weeks/months after move-in). Drywall/patches could be knocked out in a few hours by a competent handyman. Flooring/carpeting, that'll cost a little more time and money but it's another thing that can easily be fixed.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:44 AM on September 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


I got a quote for a repipe - it was $30k (slab foundation). Also, I don't get your 'pro' is 'location' when it is farther out than what you seem to want to live. How much farther? $50k amortized over 30 years is not that much, so you should really compare the monthly cost to your added commute costs, time, and fuel.

This is neither here nor there, but be sure that you are interested in buying a house that needs a bunch of repairs. It's fine if you are that kind of person, it's fine if you aren't. We bought a fixer upper though, and I consider it a minor regret. It's been 8 years of regularly scheduling and budgeting repairmen and making upgrades, and has cost an extra $75k or so. Going from living in an apartment to constant home maintenance and weekly trips to Home Depot is not how I really wanted to spend my time.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:50 AM on September 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


The only concern that would bother me is the plumbing, and it sounds like you are taking the prudent steps. Consider a whole house automatic water shut-off system. Peace of mind for the pipes, and more garden variety random leaks too.
posted by BeeDo at 7:54 AM on September 18, 2018


I bought a house like this in May. Ideal in many ways, but terrible cosmetically and with some major repair issues. After you get all your quotes and do all the math as far as paint and replacing the floors and all that - add $10,000. It's going to cost more than you think it will. It will also be a very stressful few months while you get everything straightened out.

That said, I love the house and feel we made the right decision. We intend to stay a long time and it's beautiful now. But it was a lot of work.

Your profile says you're in the RDU area - if this is accurate drop me a memail, I have a good crawlspace guy. And a good plumber, and a good electrician, and a good flooring guy......
posted by something something at 7:56 AM on September 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


Without thread-sitting, I want to clarify two things I forgot to mention or make clear enough:

I hung drywall and painted for 4 summers in college so that type of repair/work is not a problem to me, just and added cost in terms of time/material.

"Further out" is a relative term, so I should have been more clear there too. It is across the street from the city limits and about 10 minutes further than my apartment is now from our typical stomping grounds. Other houses we looked at were in the heart of the nearby cities or burbs. So the further out just represents is being less desirable to people who want to live in planned developments inside city limits (which I don't want). The pipes and subfloor are my biggest concerns and potential expenses.
posted by token-ring at 7:58 AM on September 18, 2018


Agree with TPS. Paint and patch doesn't go on "bad" it goes on "move-in prep" It's just something you do to make the house yours. Replacing flooring is kind of the same but a little more annoying / expensive. These things wear out.

The piping does need a plumber to look at it. Since it fails when exposed to chlorine, if your well doesn't have added chlorine it may not be an issue long-term. On the other hand, if you want to replace it to be sure it won't fail, the best time to do it is before you move-in, so any repiping damage -- especially to your floors -- will just be part of the refinishing work you're doing anyway.

Check with your insurer to see what the differences in premiums will be if you do / do not replace the pipes. The house may not even be insurable for plumbing failure unless you replace the pipe.

The garage is NBD, depending on what you need the space for. Carports, temporary garages, all the way up to a separate building, perhaps made of steel etc, are alternatives. I'd worry about this later once you sort out your real needs in the home.

As for the difference in floor height -- this is really not a big issue. If you're reflooring the house anyway, just add another layer of subfloor while the finishes and baseboards are off and raise the exterior thresholds to match. Cutting down doors is no big deal. You want a solid floor and this is the best way to get it.

Do everything you can before you move in, and if you're handy you can save a lot of money by doing paint/patch/trim finishing work yourself. I would not suggest DIY repiping or reflooring, however, as they are fraught with possibilities for error, and expensive to fix if things go wrong down the road.

Good luck!
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:01 AM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


If I were in your shoes, the only thing I would really care about it the plumbing. But that is a big thing. I would get three quotes on the cost of replacing the poly and ask the seller for a discount in that amount and have it redone. (Or re-do it myself.)

The other items are totally not a big deal. Any house you move into, unless (and maybe even including) a brand new one will have comparable issues. The flooring issue doesn't bother me at all. My kitchen floor is a half inch or so higher than the rest my house for similar reasons, and I simply installed a wide threshold. Good luck!
posted by The Deej at 8:36 AM on September 18, 2018


It's a pain to fix stuff after move-in. You could negotiate for a bit of time to repair things.
posted by theora55 at 8:38 AM on September 18, 2018


Having grown up with that type of piping in my house you couldn't pay me to buy one with it - we had SO MANY pinhole leaks over the years and I remember a time when most of our neighbors were having their houses repiped. Folks have mentioned some things that might mitigate that (no chlorine, inspected for good installation) but I still probably wouldn't want to deal with a headache like that unless I wanted to have it redone anyway.
posted by brilliantine at 9:02 AM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


The PB plumbing issue is critical. Your real estate agent should have led the way on this, because it is very common: Durham still has thousands of houses with PB plumbing, and when we bought our house two years ago I’d guess that maybe half the houses we visited built during the 80s and 90s still had PB pipe.

Insurers will not write new policies for houses with PB plumbing any more. Try to get the plumbing replaced as part of negotiations with the seller. Without insurance you won’t be able to get a mortgage, at best the mortgage and occupancy will have to be delayed until the plumbing is replaced. It’s very common around here for all or part of the PB replacement cost to be picked up by the seller.

Thanks to the hurricane that just passed through here, today is a *very* good time to inspect not just the land around the house but the neighborhood generally to learn whether there are any flood prone areas or critical roads that are regularly closed by floods. Investigate whether floodwater has an effect on your well water quality, and whether you should be conducting regular quality tests on the water.
posted by ardgedee at 9:37 AM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


I would assume it would cost about 15-30K to repipe your home. If the house is really 50K under value, then buy it, start saving while you wait for the first pinhole leak, then repipe it.

If it's 50K under value of the downtown homes, but on par for the location, that's a lot harder.

We bought our house based on location alone, and it needed new bathrooms, has no garage which we wanted, but was much under value. I've taken a great satisfaction of getting a quote for something (let's say, tiling a shower for $8,000) then doing it myself over two weeks for $800, and learning a ton in the process.

Worst case scenario, you have to repipe. Maybe you learn how to do it yourself. Maybe you replace the subfloors yourself on an as-needed basis.

Extending garages is so expensive it barely ever seems worth it. We live in michigan, and we really wanted a garage. We'll see how we feel after the winter.
posted by bbqturtle at 10:22 AM on September 18, 2018


The community well isn't a meh if you don't know anything about it. Those can be fine or a total nightmare. You need all the info on that asap and also talk to whoever runs it and ask to see the legal agreement, the financials and the tests. Finally find out the cost of hooking up to city water if it ever becomes necessary.
posted by fshgrl at 11:24 AM on September 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


My gut says pass on this, you will find a better house.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:38 PM on September 18, 2018


+1 on pipes, and if they're common in your area, you'll probably run into it anyway or pay a premium for one that's already repiped. Maybe worth comparing and seeing exactly how much more a repiped house goes for; it may actually be more than what it'll cost you as it sounds like a pain in the ass. As for the rest... think about it as not having to pay for someone else's taste.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:42 PM on September 18, 2018


Thanks for all of the responses so far!

To provide some responses to the responses:
(if I don’t directly answer you I’m not disagreeing or ignoring your input; I’m just about out of energy for the day):

Consider a whole house automatic water shut-off system. Peace of mind for the pipes, and more garden variety random leaks too.


That is a fantastic suggestion! I spoke to a coworker today who owned a townhouse with PB pipes, and their previous owner installed an automatic leak detector and shut off system. It sounded like it saved is bacon several times (1984 construction, all plastic fittings, multiple leaks over 10 years). If I can’t get the seller to spring for a re-pipe, I might ask for them to install this type of system.

The piping does need a plumber to look at it. Since it fails when exposed to chlorine, if your well doesn't have added chlorine it may not be an issue long-term. On the other hand, if you want to replace it to be sure it won't fail, the best time to do it is before you move-in, so any repiping damage -- especially to your floors -- will just be part of the refinishing work you're doing anyway.

From the county water quality report on the community well they do chlorinate, so I’m leaning repipe if I can get the seller to pay for all or some of the costs. If I go the replace route I will absolutely try to get it done before we move and handle the drywall work myself.

Check with your insurer to see what the differences in premiums will be if you do / do not replace the pipes. The house may not even be insurable for plumbing failure unless you replace the pipe.

I checked with my insurance agent after getting the inspection report, over the phone they said it would not be a problem, however I will double check the policy info when they send it over.

The PB plumbing issue is critical. Your real estate agent should have led the way on this, because it is very common: Durham still has thousands of houses with PB plumbing, and when we bought our house two years ago I’d guess that maybe half the houses we visited built during the 80s and 90s still had PB pipe.

That has been my observation as well, most of the area we are looking in was built in the 80’s and 90’s so I’m discovering almost every house has or had PB pipe. I checked with a coworker who just closed on a house in Cary and they had PB pipe on the inspection report. Unfortunately they glossed over that and never looked into it further…

Thanks to the hurricane that just passed through here, today is a *very* good time to inspect not just the land around the house but the neighborhood generally to learn whether there are any flood prone areas or critical roads that are regularly closed by floods. Investigate whether floodwater has an effect on your well water quality, and whether you should be conducting regular quality tests on the water.


I drove by Sunday, and walked the house with my Agent Monday. No standing water on the lot, no flooded roads, and no apparent water in the attic or crawl space. I’m going to be back later in the week and will use a DIY well test kit to compare against the values posted for the well and get an idea of hardness.

My gut says pass on this, you will find a better house.


We are keeping an eye on listings, so far nothing with as much of what we want as this house offers. This one will be hard to let go of, but I'm trying to make sure I'm emotionally able to walk if I have to.

+1 on pipes, and if they're common in your area, you'll probably run into it anyway or pay a premium for one that's already repiped. Maybe worth comparing and seeing exactly how much more a repiped house goes for; it may actually be more than what it'll cost you as it sounds like a pain in the ass. As for the rest... think about it as not having to pay for someone else's taste.


I will see if my agent can find some nearby comps with replaced plumbing.

Another thing I forgot about this place was the roof is brand new and the HVAC/Water heater are around 7 years old, so *hopefully* if we did stick with this house we are safe for a while in those areas.

Thanks you everyone for your input, further comments are definitely appreciated. I think I’m going to try and relax until I hear some quotes back from the plumber. I have had people I have asked provide dollar amounts they were quoted on their own houses in the range of $3k to $15k, depending on house size, pipe type, and if wall repair was included. So depending on the cost of mitigation, what the seller is willing to fix, and anything else that crops up we will have to make a judgment call on whether to walk or not.
posted by token-ring at 5:54 PM on September 18, 2018


We were concerned about a house that was listed as PB. A plumber told us that he wouldn't consider it a deal breaker if the house was otherwise good. When I talked to my insurance company they said good luck finding a company that will insure a house with PB plumbing and if I do, it will cost no less than $5000/year. Lucky for us, the seller made an error on the disclosure and the house doesn't have PB.
posted by Nolechick11 at 6:41 PM on September 18, 2018


After getting three different plumbing estimates, I would engage the owner in some classic bargaining:

You: Upon inspection, the plumbing, windows, crawlspace and parts of siding need to be replaced. The total for that is $x.

Them: We won't do all of that.

You: Okay, then the windows and the plumbing.

Them: No.

You: Okay, then the plumbing.

Them: We'll pay for half.

You: Haha I won!
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:47 AM on September 19, 2018


Since you didn't mention it, did you check how garbage and yard waste pickup is handled? For example, in Durham, city residents get curbside garbage and recycling pickup, and also yard waste pickup for an extra monthly fee. Residents of unincorporated Durham County only get recycling pickup, and no curbside garbage pick up - see Roadside Garbage Collection section here.
posted by research monkey at 4:47 AM on September 19, 2018


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