So I've been house hunting for some time now, and have come across a beautiful house that I've absolutely fallen in love with! However, the house is an abandoned fixer-upper that's in serious need of some TLC. Judging on the provided pictures from the realtor (on Zillow) the house seems to have pretty strong bones, but the restoration, I can tell, will be extensive.

There appears to be a lot of wood rot and water damage on the floors, walls and ceilings (holes and peeling, crumbling, potentially moldy paint and drywall). The entire upper levels (2nd floor and attic) were likely going to be redone, but left unfinished at the bare bones of the house. The bathrooms, all full, are also in poor condition- water damage and some traces of mold. The kitchen has been stripped, likely by the house's previous owners, and there are no appliances or cabinets in sight, and many of the windows will need replacing. Long story short, this house is in desperate need of some love; and considering it's location (East Orange, NJ) it's probably unlikely that it'll get it. But I'm in love and can really see its potential.

Now I know what I've just described probably sounds like a house of horrors with no point in saving, but if possible I still really want to give it a chance. I'm trying to schedule a visit with an inspector and/or contractor so that I can see everything with my own eyes and those of an experienced professional. There's no mention of any electrical or plumbing, so I'm automatically going to assume it's in similar condition to the rest of the house: poor. But I'd like to have a professional prognosis for that too.

In the end, I'm a DIY addict, and very good with my hands, so a fixer-upper seemed the perfect match for me in my search for the perfect home. I'm always up for a challenge, but I want to make sure that I'm not going too far with this house before I make any offers. At just under $90K, the price is almost too good to pass up, but could it also be serious warning that I should avoid all together?

closed as too broad by ThreePhaseEel, DoxyLover, Michael Karas May 17 at 8:47

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  • This seems like far too broad a question for the SE format. I would need a very detailed inspection report before making any sort of judgement call on this...(keep in mind there's also the option of buy/raze/build-new, if the property's in a decent place but the house is beyond saving) – ThreePhaseEel May 17 at 4:05
  • Nasty. I would replace the wall where the main panel goes, then the electrical from meter pan to main panel, put 3 circuits of electrican's outlets at the main panel (including 240V), then set to work. Remove ALL interior wall and ceiling coverings. All of them. Replace failed floors and subfloors (so you can work). Then sandblast (ideally ice-blast) as needed to remove all potentially black mold. All new electrical. Plumbing as needed. Also throw some conduit in there for whatever they come up with next for data or cable TV. Labor of love! – Harper May 17 at 14:00
  • And on the electrical, phase I: meter, panel and electrican's outlets (inspected, approved, energize); phase II: rest of house. Don't do a solitary thing on electrical without researching and/or asking us, because there are lots of ways to go wrong or miss opportunities to save a lot of money/trouble. If the inspector is anxious about Phase II adding to a live panel, then put all Phase II circuits in a subpanel. That'll work well anyway if you ever go generator or PowerWall. – Harper May 17 at 14:05
  • Just remember when making your offer, you won't be buying a house, you'll be buying land, a huge demo project, and drawings for a house that happen to be in 1:1 scale and 3-D. No mortgage lender will touch this "house kit" so you'll be paying cash. The upside is that by removing all house surfaces, you'll also be removing any/all lead paint. – Harper May 17 at 14:08

I looked up the property (I think I found the right one).

  • Because this was built 1900s-ish, assume you need to replace all plumbing and electrical. Assume all paint is lead paint. Assume there's asbestos somewhere. Assume you'll need to strip all walls to the studs.
  • Thankfully, the water damage does not appear to be flooding-related, but from rain.
  • The water damage appears to be highly localized in specific areas, but bad enough that there's holes in the floor at those points.
  • The roof appears flat, or generally unsuitable for the climate. This is going to be an ongoing problem for the building.
  • There's unlikely to be any insulation. (This is actually a good thing for a building with this much damage, as it means the structure can dry out properly, but you will need to fix that.)
  • The listing talks about the certificate of occupancy. Basically, until the building is fixed, you don't get to live in it. This will generally require you to finish your work, not just fix the roof and make a couple rooms livable. Talk to someone about what that means in that particular city.
  • The structure at the back appears to be sagging a bit. Not sure if it's a trick of the camera or not, but I don't trust it.

My non-expert opinion: the basic structure appears to be sound. However, you won't be able to move in until most of the work is done. (RV in back yard might work, depending on city rules.) For a structure this old, there are serious health issues associated with some renovations that a professional would be better suited to handling. This is definitely hard mode for a DIY project. Restoring this is basically a full time job over months.

  • 1
    It'll need the right kind of flat roof, and not technically flat, and fixing that will be job one as soon as the new meter/pan/runt panel go in. One option, city permitting, is retrofit a sloped roof, creating more space. Note that someone else already started the resto, and went belly-up, hence the foreclosure. – Harper May 17 at 14:18

Almost anything can be repaired. However, the items that would scare me are: 1) mold from leaking windows and roof, 2) major electrical repair, 3) major plumbing issues, 4) major heating/air conditioning replacement, 5) asbestos, 6) neighborhood on decline.

1) Mold can be costly and cause problems for you and neighbors if not done properly.

2) There will be many electrical changes, but if you have to replace the electrical panel, you’ll probably need to rewrite the entire house.

3) If you need to dig up and replace sewer lines under the house, I’d avoid the property. You can’t imagine the time it takes to dig by hand in a crawl space.

4) New heating systems are expensive, but do-able.

5) If asbestos exists, it could drain your bank account. Some items you can abate...others must be by licensed contractors.

6) After all your hard work, you don’t want home values to decline by 30% in 3-4 years of hard work.

If you proceed, don’t be afraid to make a ridiculously low offer. The seller knows the problems and they will “pay” to unload it. If they’re asking $90k, I’d start at $24k. BTW, are the taxes paid?

  • Although you can bet the homeowner already gets a weekly stream of lowball offers from the "We buy houses" trolls. – Harper May 17 at 14:20

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