Beware of big-ticket fixes

Don’t get me wrong, I tend to be a proponent of taking a neglected house and transforming it into the envy of the neighborhood, but sometimes it is best to just run! Big-ticket items can break a budget.

So what are these big-ticket items? Let’s start with the foundation. Bowed walls and significant cracks that have separated should be taken seriously. While the house may have survived for years with these conditions, determining the root causes and fixing the issues isn’t necessarily for the faint of heart. Signs of basement water such as staining, efflorescence or mold might be cause for concern, but should be investigated.

Often, and I mean often, improper grading, misguided or missing downspouts or inadequate driveway joint caulking can be the culprit and each of these are easily corrected. However, big problems arise if the source of the water is from inadequate foundation drain tiles, a failed sanitary sewer line or a high water table. A good inspector may be able to determine the likely cause during their brief initial home inspection, but some issues may require more time, tools or skills. If there is any uncertainty, it may be best to move on.

Another category of concern stems from hazardous situations that require remediation. The most common situations requiring remediation in our area are probably mold and asbestos. I haven’t mentioned radon, simply because remediation can be more straightforward and seldom rises to the level of concern that would make it a deal killer.

Mold can both be difficult to completely discover and to alleviate. Asbestos may be easier to find by an expert, but as one of the favorite building materials from the 1940s through the 1960s, it can be found throughout a home. Most experts agree the real cause for alarm is in situations where the asbestos can become friable. Common areas where asbestos may be present include boiler insulation, floor tiles, adhesives and wallboard. Working with your inspector, it is important to determine the location(s), risks and remediation costs.

Less intimidating, but perhaps more expensive, is reworking an outmoded floor plan. Much thought and design effort goes into creating an open floor plan. Point loads, span tables and mechanical specifications are among the considerations an architect must contemplate in making an open concept home safe and enduring.

Retroactive attempts to modify a compartmentalized home into an open plan must take into account everything an architect designing a new home does, plus the effects on the rest of the existing structure. HVAC, electrical and plumbing may need to rerouted, loads re-supported and ceilings, walls and floors patched. The programs on television frequently make light of the complexities of such an endeavor. It is wise to discuss with an architect and possibly a structural engineer to determine if it is more work and expense than you are willing/wanting to accept.

When considering potential budget busters, one area often overlooked is the landscape. Considered optional by many, if you desire a lush vegetative area surrounding your home with attention to privacy and substantial hardscape, be prepared. The new construction house may seem attractive compared to that older stately house with mature trees, stone patio and established gardens, but consider consulting a landscape architect before you overlook the landscape differential. You can easily spend tens of thousands of dollars, even on a 40- by 120-foot lot, to come close to the park-like setting an existing home may possess.

Finding the right home takes a lot of consideration, but often avoiding the big-ticket fixes upfront can save big headaches later.

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