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I'm looking at purchasing an older home as a primary dwelling. On going through the house with an experienced Realtor and several experienced DIY people for reference (but not a home inspector or other professional), I've identified several possible problems:

  • A very cold basement, some smells, and other signs - including the seller's agent mentioning possible water into the basement, points to the presence of at least mildew and maybe mold
  • The metal pipes appear to be corroding in places
  • Flickering lights when other electricity is run and very old switches and outlets indicate possible wiring issues
  • The dryer is not vented to the outside, which is a fire code violation
  • There is a recent crack in a wall due to (speculation at this point) a window being replaced with a new window that has too big of a header
  • The flooring in the kitchen is an odd orange color from some sort of leak
  • There are several settlement cracks in walls, ceilings, and what looks to be one in a floor

Perhaps some of these problems could be addressed via DIY, but many of them require professionals (I am no plumber or electrician, although I can handle things like fixing flooring and drywall).

Is there a way to get an informal estimate on some of the issues to figure out if the cost of the house plus the cost of the repairs is within my budget or not? I'd like to be able to do this prior to making an offer - if I decide the headache is worth it - so that I can offer what the house would be worth without the many repairs needed.

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A good inspector should be able to give you estimates on any issues they find. Keep in mind anybody looking at the house will not be able to do any exploratory investigation, so they can only go on what they can 'see' which sometimes does not revile the full extent of a problem. –  Tester101 Aug 31 '10 at 14:02
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The owner may be required to fix some of the problems in the house before it can be sold, make sure to check with your attorney and the local government to find out what they have to fix. –  Tester101 Aug 31 '10 at 14:06
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Also keep in mind that some problems can cause you to not be able to insure, or occupy a house. –  Tester101 Aug 31 '10 at 14:12
    
@Tester1010 - thanks. The house is an estate with an as-is clause, which means that we have to have only an "informational" inspection with another clause letting us back-out. The purpose of getting some sort of estimate before hand is to figure out if we can afford house + problems with the current cash on hand, or if there's just too much going on. –  justkt Aug 31 '10 at 14:24
    
I don't know if it works with a property marked "as is", but in most cases you can have the owners put cash in escrow to fix any problems that are found after purchase. –  Tester101 Aug 31 '10 at 16:38
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Take a walk through with the home inspector and see what he says. If you are still interested in the house, find a good general contractor (that you trust) and take him on a walk through. The contractor should be able to give you a good estimate on what it will cost to fix any issues, he may also give you some price breaks if you are willing to let him handle all the work.

Just make sure you are comfortable with the contractor before you ask them to go on the walk through, they might be upset if they take time to walk through with you and then you find a new contractor to do the work. Keep in mind, however, that if the contractor starts work and does a sub-par job, you can always fire him and find a new contractor.

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When looking for a home inspector you could try to find one who is knowlegable about renovation/remodeling that may be able to give you ballpark figures. Another option would be to have a good general contractor walk through with you and give you an general estimate.

Personally my major concern is the last point regarding the settlement cracks, it sounds like a potential foundation problem which would be no fun at all.

The electrical is probably ancient knob and tube and has been overloaded over the years as electrical demand has increased. Is there a new breaker box or fuses? Even if it is a breaker box you still proabably have lots of old k&t. This can be a real pain to replace without punching lots of holes in the walls/ceiling.

The basement probably has water coming in. Not a uncommon at all, there are lots of companies that will waterproof it for you. Personally I get it water proofed from the outside if you don't want to deal with the water in there or if you want to finish the basement.

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@auujay - the house was actually moved about 40 years ago, so my Realtor suggested that the cracks may not be structural issues but merely something to do with the move. This may not be the case. Our Realtor suggested we have several inspections if we end up going for the house. At this point, though, we need to figure out how much to offer so we have enough left over for all the fixing! –  justkt Aug 31 '10 at 13:59
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@justkt - You should be able to put an offer contingent on the total cost the home inspector says it will take to fix the known problems. Obviously for most houses they don't find much and it might only be 1 or 2 thousand, in this case it could be quite substantial. –  auujay Aug 31 '10 at 14:20
    
@auujay - I'll have to look into that, good idea. The only catch is that it is an as-is sale, meaning we've got to figure out ways to state all that and still respect the clause or get them to revoke it. –  justkt Aug 31 '10 at 14:25
    
@justkt - Because this is "as-is" you will probably just need to try and get an inspector in there before you make you offer. I don't know if they let you do that though... –  auujay Aug 31 '10 at 15:14
    
@auujay - my Realtor has done that with one buyer he's worked with. He said it back-fired in that someone else put in a contract before the inspection. Some form of contingency like you mentioned might be an option, though. –  justkt Aug 31 '10 at 15:18
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Ask your realtor for recommendations for home inspectors, then avoid calling those individuals. (Realtors want to make a sale.) Call around and find an experienced home inspector and a structural engineer.

If you're concerned about electrical and plumbing, you might want to bring in a tradesman if you're not satisfied with the inspection report.

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this particular realtor is fairly trustworthy (actively points out flaws in houses so that we don't go throwing away our money, found most of the issues in the list above and isn't pushing us to make an offer at all), but in general I understand your point. –  justkt Sep 7 '10 at 17:10
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