Should we buy a house with a bad garage?
August 18, 2006 7:54 AM   Subscribe

My fiance and I are trying to buy our first house, and the the inspector has told us that the garage is toast. How much of a headache will it be to replace the garage, and how do we pay for it?

The inspector said that the 2-car, detached garage is structurally unsound and could fall down eventually. Provided that we can negotiate a fair price with the sellers, we want to go ahead with the purchase because the (80-year old) house is in good shape. We have a few friends who can swing a hammer, who tell us that it's not very difficult to build a basic garage. So:

1. Are they correct? Can we build it ourselves? (aside from pouring the slab, which I would leave to the pros)
2. How do we pay for the project? We're spending all of our money just buying the house. Can we finance the garage as part of the mortgage?
3. Is it crazy to take on a project like this from the start? We're not major DIY type people, but that's mostly because we haven't had a place to work on before.
posted by cabingirl to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
negotiate the purchase price to be reduced by the cost of a new garage.
posted by sulaine at 8:00 AM on August 18, 2006

A garage can be pretty basic, you can even buy one from Menards. Then it's just a matter of following the instructions and bingo, instant garage. The only things you really may need to contract out is the slab and the electrical wiring.
posted by JJ86 at 8:03 AM on August 18, 2006

I was going to suggest that you just deal with the garage later, but I see that you live in Minnesota so I figure in a few months this garage will be pretty important to you. :)

Yes, you can build a garage yourselves but my guess it will be slow going, also, you will need access to some resources that can give you plans for a garage as well as something that would dictate what building codes are for your area. If you have a lot of friends that are willing to help, this sounds like a fun way to bond over a challenging project. Keep in mind that this is a big thing to jump into (and don't forget all the other things that you will need to fix in your house...and you will discover things when you finally move in...we certainly did).

As for financing, I am not sure about financing this in your mortgage, but I know you can do this with a home equity loan.

On Preview: I didn't know they made kit garages...not sure how they stack up pricewise but I would assume they would be simpler to put together.
posted by mmascolino at 8:06 AM on August 18, 2006

I would get some quotes from contractors and factor that in to the negotiating price, considering the current structure is worthless (and a potential liability) this doesn't seem unreasonable. Is the current slab severely split or damaged as well? You might be able to retain it, unless of course your desired structural dimensions are not compatible. The last thing you want to do after coming home from work every day (to your brand new house!) is think about picking up a hammer and squaring up a frame piece by piece, especially with the winter months coming in to play.
posted by prostyle at 8:10 AM on August 18, 2006

The usual thing to do might be to negotiate the price of the house downwards based on the inspection results, mentally bank the money saved, and wait for the garage to fall down on its own.

For a garage, which only has to support its own weight, there's a huge range between "structurally unsound" and "it fell down in the storm last night". Surely you've seen barns in the countryside that were missing a huge number of planks from their siding, and yet still served their primary function. Only you know just how close to failure the garage is. But it's quite possible that you could neglect it for years and nothing would happen. After all, that's what the current owners are doing. :) Possibly some extra internal bracing would substantially extend the life of the garage at a minor cost.
posted by jellicle at 8:10 AM on August 18, 2006

If you're willing to deal with a house that has a fixable problem, you can generally get a better deal than a house with no issues. A detached garage is relatively simple and yes, it might be possible to get money for it as part of your mortgage.

When I bought my current house 5 years ago, I too was not very handy. But like you, it was for lack of opportunity, not lack of competence. You'd be surprised at how much you can do yourself, given the time.
posted by GuyZero at 8:12 AM on August 18, 2006

When I bought my first house a few years ago it was in serious need of updated electric (it still had the original 4 screw-in fuses and no outlets in many of the rooms). The older couple selling the home didn't want to bother making updates themselves, and I didn't have any money, so my realtor worked into the deal that they had to pay for me to upgrade the electric. I know she said the mortgage companies don't exactly love this kind of deal, and I can't really tell you the exact logistics of it, but basically they had to put in the additional money when we closed. At closing the added funds more than covered my closing costs, and I ended up getting a check for the balance. That combined with the money I would have used for closing covered the upgrades.

I know that's not a great explaination, but maybe you could ask your realtor he or she has any similar suggestions.
posted by thejanna at 8:15 AM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: More infomation: the footer (if that's the right term) of the slab failed on one side, so the slab is cracked and the garage is noticably leaning into the alley. (The house is on a corner so the garage faces the street, not the alley.) The inspector said it could fall down in a week or in 5 years. What I fear is that we'll get a heavy snow this winter and the garage will topple over into the alley, and we'd have to pay out the nose to get it hauled away fast.

We are in the process of renegotiating the purchase price already, but i don't think we'll get the full cost for a garage. Our agent thinks we'll get about half.
posted by cabingirl at 8:25 AM on August 18, 2006

The basic 2-car Menards garage is around $5500 with tax. A new slab could set you back up to about $3000. Electrical work shouldn't be too bad and you will need to rent a dumpster to haul out the old garage. I'd say arough estimate for doing it that way should cost you less than $10k.
posted by JJ86 at 8:31 AM on August 18, 2006

Make sure you will be allowed to rebuild the garage. I had a friend who found out that if he tore down his old garage he would not be able to rebuild exactly where it was since, by modern building codes, it would be way too close to the street. Since he was planning to expand up, and wanted all the square footage, he ended up taking down one wall at a time and rebuilding it before going on to the next wall. He was a contractor and it was his own home or I'm sure he'd never have done it. Just something to be aware of.
posted by BoscosMom at 8:34 AM on August 18, 2006

Response by poster: Hey, thanks everyone for the great responses.

BoscosMom: I did check the local building code and it looks like we'd be okay to rebuild the same size garage in the same location.
posted by cabingirl at 8:40 AM on August 18, 2006

You could also consider trying to make the sale contingent on demolition and removal of the old garage and slab, which would mitigate at least some of the cost. You'd avoid the liability issues entirely (your insurance company may also have an opinion on the insurability of this property in its current state). And then you can start construction right after closing.
posted by pekala at 9:01 AM on August 18, 2006

How much cash do you have available? Taking on a project like this when you are buying your first house can be daunting financially. Most of us were in hock up to our eye teeth just to get the house and then there are tons of expenses like buying a lawnmower etc. that come up during the first year. Financing such a project out of cash in that first year can be very difficult. Now, if the garage is good for a year or two then it is a different story.
posted by caddis at 9:15 AM on August 18, 2006

When we bought our 90 year old house, it was in desperate need of a new roof. We ended up getting half of the cost of the roof taken off the house and the extra put on the mortgage. We did have to jump through some hoops however...

As for garages, they're pretty expensive up here (Alberta, where there's a serious shortage of skilled trades), and can go from 8-12k+ including pad.
posted by sauril at 9:19 AM on August 18, 2006

Pekala beat me to it -- if the current garage is not salvagable, get them to demo and haul it away. Then see if they'll do a seller assist to help you get started on the construction right away.
posted by desuetude at 9:29 AM on August 18, 2006

I don't know what they're called, but maybe you could settle for one of those things that look like plastic tunnels that people put up to park their cars under for the time being. I'd expect that they're considerably cheaper.
posted by leapingsheep at 9:57 AM on August 18, 2006

Another problem you may run into is the lender not wanting to lend you the mortgage money until the garage is taken care of (health and safety issues). You may be able to negotiate what's called a "holdback" where the lender holds back a portion of the seller(s) proceeds. The lender will hold the money until the garage is taken care of by whomever is going to take care of it and release the money upon final inspection.

I used to work for a major S&L. "Holdbacks" were done frequently in SoCal. The last time I dealt with holdbacks in SoCal was (holy crap!) 12 years ago. YMMV.
posted by deborah at 10:40 AM on August 18, 2006

I see you're in the Twin Cities. FWIW, if you do end up replacing the garage, I just had Sussel replace our 50-year-old garage with a shiny new one. Total was around $16k, including the demolition of the old one.

I put some pictures up on my Flickr, but that reminds me.. I never did put the pics of the final stages/completion up. Huh. I'll have to get on that :)

Final pics aside, you get the idea. It's a garage. One that has a new-fangled electric opener, so I no longer have to get out of my car to open the door on sub-0° days. I like it. Well worth the debt.

I would definitely recommed Sussel. Their subcontractors (electrical, demo crew, carpenter, etc.) were friendly and professional, and we even hired the electrical guy to come back and fix a few other things in our house. And, most importantly, the garage is flawless.
posted by bhayes82 at 11:53 AM on August 18, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendation, bhayes...I'll keep them in mind!

In other cool news, the sellers agreed to the full amount we were asking off the purchase price ($15k) so provided we can work out the financing, things are looking good.
posted by cabingirl at 3:34 PM on August 18, 2006

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