What should I be looking for when inspecting a 100-yo "flip" rehab?
August 3, 2020 1:15 PM   Subscribe

After I asked about beach places, we found one! It's a charming little place, 100+ years old, a few blocks from the beach. It was recently taken down to the studs and gutted by a "flipper." It shows really well and we are having a professional inspection soon, but I'm wondering what I should be focused on. Are there any "DON'T MISS...X" items to keep in mind? Any tell-tale materials/workmanship that might teach me more about the overall quality? Anything else you'd advise at the inspection/due diligence phase?
posted by AgentRocket to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Flipped houses have so much potential for things to range from not great to truly awful.

With an admitted flip, I would bring in a master from each trade to inspect, rather than a generalist inspector. First, inspectors get their business from word of mouth, so an inspection that stops a sale keeps the realtors involved from referring them. Second, most inspection contracts clearly say they’re not responsible for anything they couldn’t see.

I’d be looking at
foundation/structural/water damage
and if there’s any gas involved, definitely that too.
If there is HVAC involved I would 100% recommend that get a look over by a pro in that area. Is it the right size for the house? HVAC is not super easy to get right, and it can be miserable plus expensive if it’s not right.

Yes. It seems expensive but a lot less expensive than finding out a year in that half of the joists are bad and need sistering, which means you also get to install new flooring.
posted by bilabial at 1:46 PM on August 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Contact the local government and ask for copies of all the permits they pulled to do the work, and if those permits were inspected and closed. Do not ask the listing agent directly.

Lack of said permits is your first and last sign to walk away from the deal.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:57 PM on August 3, 2020 [13 favorites]

Best answer: came here to say the same thing about permits as JoeZydeco.

Inspectors imo are not great for this type of job, and I would spend a little more to have a licensed contractor inspect the place within their trade. Big ones are HVAC, plumbing and electrical, probably also a carpenter or structural engineer, if you have structural concerns. The plumber should be able to check both the water and gas lines for you.

If there is a finished basement try to figure out if it ever flooded, finishes can hide that well. Also get a sewer scope, or a septic tank inspection, whichever applies. If there is a well ask for a water test. If the attic has vermiculite insulation (white pebbly stuff), it's got asbestos in it and personally I would pass on that situation. Cellulose insulation (brown shredded stuff) is fine though. Old paint should be completely covered up and not chipping anywhere, cause it probably is full of lead.

Look for flooring, doors, cabinets and windows that are out of plumb (crooked) and cracks in concrete for signs of a settling foundation or structural problems. Look at your neighbor's houses on either side and in front and behind - any of them have big cracks in the foundation? Or a concrete porch/stairs or stoop that's shearing away from the house, or cracked? Big pools of water in the yard, poor drainage? That's a sign that the soil in the area might be a little unstable, or graded improperly, and can affect a very old house.
posted by zdravo at 2:10 PM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Definitely a thumbs up to bilabial's point about having specialists in. We did that instead of a general inspection when we bought our house, and it was a great idea. We paid about 2x what a general inspection would have cost, but we felt we got much more value for money. You can also do both general and specific if you feel you must. (My husband is handy so he felt he could do most of what a general inspection covered; we were mostly concerned about major area-specific problems rather than more minor things; the general inspection didn't offer any warranty beyond a refund of 2x what one paid, which seemed to us not to go very far; and reviews online for our local inspection companies seemed to indicate that the were extremely hit or miss and perhaps overly positive so to avoid antagonizing realtors with whom they worked repeatedly.). It was kind of a hassle to research good specialists and book them and then keep track of when each person was coming out and if they had come, but it was worth it. (Our realtor could have set these up for us, but we wanted a bit more control over who was picked.) We did electric, plumbing, structural, roofing, HVAC, termites, radon, asbestos, mold, and water testing (lead in water). I think it was $1000-1200 total, and we considered it money well spent: a house is one of the largest purchases one can make, and spending less than 1% of the value of the house on inspections seemed perfectly reasonable to us: in the grand scheme of what houses cost and what can go wrong, it really isn't that much money. And anyway, we ended up getting about $4000 off because of some of what was found, and for the rest of the stuff, we knew we'd rather know going in what the issues were so we could budget appropriately.
posted by ClaireBear at 2:26 PM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

We purchased a house that was 'flipped' one owner prior, and it honestly has been fucking magical. 80% of the electrical was replaced (and well documented thank goodness) the attic insulation was redone, the furnace was new, hot water heater was newer, the roof was redone, the windows are newer mid-range vinyl windows. The plumbing wasn't really touched, but I've been able to replace about 90% of the problem areas myself, and hired a contractor to do the rest. My biggest gripe is the kitchen cabinets were 'contractor grade' home depot specials that are really nice when they've been cleaned, but jesus christ it is a ton of work to get them looking clean. Can a flip be bad? Yeah, but it can also be just fine depending on the state of the house to begin with.

A friend told us when we were buying our house to hire two inspectors to do a full write up; one inspector suggested by your realtor, and one you find yourself. We found an inspector who was a retired residential general contractor that was local to our area.

If either of them found something or missed something the other did, your first step is to ask for a discount on the other's service. We were refunded 50% of the inspection cost due to a Thing that was missed; it wasn't even a Big Thing, just a Thing that was good to know about and I fixed within the first year of us being in our house. Ideally, the reports match and you kind of know what is what.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:54 PM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Be sure to stick a camera down the main plumbing line. Check the attic for asbestos. Check the wiring in the basement/attic to make sure they did proper work to update it. ANd everything else everyone has said. Permits.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:56 PM on August 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We have a flip and I wish I knew bilabial's advice, especially re: HVAC. We just got a $12k quote, and a 'seconded' video quote, because the HVAC prior to the flip was pieced together over so many years it was completely wrong, and the flippers didn't touch it. Some parts of our flip are great (the electrical) and some have involved stupid $5 fixes (plumbing, window screens); some are expensive things we still haven't gotten around to (HVAC, insulation.) If it's not possible, I think a general inspector + HVAC and maybe an electrical would be the key, especially in an older house which might have weird wiring.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:08 PM on August 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

You should also note that property near a beach (is this salt water or fresh?) can have a lot of other maintenance type issues as time goes by. So part of your inspection conversation should not only involve notable problem areas but repairability of same.
posted by ptm at 8:58 AM on August 4, 2020

If this flipper has been flipping for awhile, I'd also check for lawsuits to see if they're being sued by previous buyers or contractors who weren't paid properly.
posted by quince at 1:04 PM on August 5, 2020

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