An Historic Mess!

Home Inspector with Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC 3380-000723

I was excited recently when I was called to inspect a very historic property in Northern Virginia.  Built in 1902, it has been actively listed and on the market for two years.  No offers.  Historic properties abound here and I love seeing them.  The picture is blurry.

The buyer had grand plans to fix it up a bit and rent it out for a while until the market improves.  They were grand plans.

I met him in front.  He said, "We need to go through the back door."

"No problem.  Let's go."









The rear door turned out to be a piece of plywood over an old cellar door, the metal door long gone.  I helped him open it.




And this is what I saw.


It wasn't that deep, but the stairs were a bit frightful!



Well, maybe all this trash was moved toward the door to be able to get it out.




Well, no.  On the left, under that window, is the other end of that stair way entrance into the cellar.

We picked our way through the mess.

The house as been vacant for two years, the seller residing now in a nursing home.  There is no water or gas, although there was electricity.


When he called, he wanted me to determine the condition of the structure, the heating system, water heater, and roof.  I could see from the outside that the roof was in rough shape as a large limb had fallen onto it in the rear.  That couldn't be pretty from inside I thought.  But as to the rest...

The structure was generally a mish mash of fixes here and there.  As something sagged, it was supported from underneath - a column here, another there, a shim or two, some under floor support.  All resting right on the ground!  And cute!

It was quite wet (muddy dirt floor), moldy, sagging, full of termites and, in my opinion, dangerous!!

I recommended an engineer, but could say that it would need to be replaced, perhaps piece by piece.  Since this is an historic property, it could not be razed.  Repairs would be mandated, difficult, piecemeal and expensive.

To say the least.

"Well," he asked, "what about the heating system?"

And, here it is...



This is his picture, but you get the idea.  The unit was old, rusty, dirty and not usable.  The very old radiator service lines were the same, and galvanized!

I told him he would surely have to replace the unit, and probably the service lines as well.

It would be a major operation.


To say the least!




And the water heater?


It was a bit rough as well.


Not very old (12 years) but fairly used up, rusting all over, no incline on the very corroded vent line, no tube on the TPR valve, interesting heat deflector above...


Overall, I think it needed to be replaced.


To say the least!




"How about that old water heater on the other side?"


"Um, no, that one won't work either.  You will need a new one period."


To say the least!


He was disappointed to hear all this.  (His wife was not...)



"Well, what about the roof?  We should at least see that while we are here."  We made our way up some scary stairs to the main level.  The house was so full of debris and stuff that I could not see the floor or walls anywhere!  And I mean anywhere!


This is typical of what I saw when we got upstairs - the ceilings looked like this in most of the upper level bedrooms.  I said, "The roof looks to be in bad shape all over."


To say the least!


The access to the attic was a staircase in a bedroom closet. We had to move stuff just for me to be able to get onto the first step! I looked.




I couldn't see too much...












Most of the house looked like this!  I did not expect much better in the attic.  I was not disappointed!  What bothered me most about the attic was the many, many huge piles of raccoon poop!  I hoped one would NOT show up.  They can be very mean when you approach or enter their territory!

My client said, "I think I'm going to blow up this deal.  I was just hoping to remove all the trash, fix a couple of things and rent the place out.  I think this is going to be more than I bargained for."

To say the least!

His wife said, "Thank you for saving him from himself!" Another day, another salvation!  All in a day's work...

My recommendation:  Historic properties can be interesting and a lot of fun!  Not all of them are like this.  But when you get a call to list or sell one, get a home inspection!




Posted by

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560


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Justin Dibbs
Pearson Smith Realty - Ashburn, VA
REALTOR® - Ashburn Virginia Homes for Sale

I saw a couple of these yesterday on my tour of Old Town, not quite as bad though.  

Aug 29, 2009 03:36 AM #94
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

ALL - It would have been hysterical if not so tragic for the former owner.  It is listed as "historical" because it is over 100 years old.  It is in Falls Church and they designate them that way.  And it would take more money than it is worth probably just to fix it up! 

In Virginia we are in no such mess as California!  And please don't make us bail you out!  We have enough problems here!

Aug 29, 2009 06:22 AM #95
Kathie Burby
Coldwell Banker Mother Lode Real Estate - Sonora, CA
REALTOR, SFR, Tuolumne County Real Estate Guide

Jay - I am saddened to think of some little old lady living in such an unsafe structure. She was probably moved out against her will also. Sometimes it is hard to leave. I have to agree with other comments though - Did the buyer really need to get a home inspection?? I recently viewed an REO that is about 40 yrs old but unfortunately had had NO maintenance since the day it was built. I was afraid of falling through the porch while I was unlocking the door. The agent neglected to mention just how unsafe the structure is in the MLS. It always saddens me to see any home in such a state.

Aug 29, 2009 12:11 PM #96
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Kathie - I agree and feel badly when houses get to that condition, and especially for her as well.  This buyer had no understanding of structure, moisture, mold, termite infestation or whether the systems would work or not.  That was what he was hoping to do to fix up and rent the place.  He could see beyond the mess, which is a vision many buyers to not have.

I do think agents should mention unsafe conditions - structure, mold, etc. - if they know, that is...

Aug 29, 2009 12:45 PM #97
Beverly of Bev & Bob Meaux
Keller Williams Suburban Realty - West Orange, NJ
Where Buying & Selling Works

Some of the bank-owned properties I've shown looked better than this. I hope you had good shoes on.

Aug 29, 2009 01:53 PM #98
Angela Penkin
RE/MAX Plus - Rochester, NY

Jay, oh my goodness!

Reminds me of an ad I saw many years ago that an agent long time in the business worte. His classified ad said, "Not for the faint of heart!" I still laugh all these years later when I see a house that fits that description - sounds like this guy had one on his hands.

But sad to think that the owner had been living there like that . . .

Aug 29, 2009 04:29 PM #99
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Jay, I just had to go for comment #100:)  At any rate this house is exactly my point that eventually all houses return to "0" value.

Aug 29, 2009 04:34 PM #100
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

B&B - I do lots of banked owned inspections, every week, and none to date have been this bad.  And there have been some BAD ones!

Angela - it was sad.  I still feel badly for the seller - not just that the house was in this shape but that she had so much of her life in that house and its current condition certainly cannot represent her experience there.

Charlie - We're #100!  We're #100!  I don't think I have ever had 100 comments before.

Henry Hazlett, the economist, says that nothing is wasted because everything gets to zero value and someone at that point will want it.  There may be some salvageable stuff inside this house which has value to somebody.  But for the most part I think the house is ready to be razed.  The property, though, will never have zero value.  Unless a meteor hits it or something...

Aug 29, 2009 09:47 PM #101
Ruth Zeiss

My partner & I toured all the "train wrecks" in our area when I first started selling real estate & we would always ask two questions.  First, 'how did the family let grandma live in all this squallor?'  and second, 'why does the family think they deserve top dollar for this property which they were unwilling to maintain during the residence of the current owner?'  Owning a home is like being on a convenient payment plan: you can pay for upkeep while you live there or pay in loss of property value; whatever is convenient for you.

Aug 30, 2009 06:28 AM #102
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

I agree Ruth.  I tell people at home inspections that in the long run home maintenance costs about 1% of the value of the home per year.  Often they don't believe me.  I have heard that real estate investors will calculate what they consider to be deferred maintenance based on that 1% formula.

Aug 30, 2009 06:37 AM #103
Mark Velasco
Sharpstone Realty, Inc - Whittier, CA
Listing Agent-Whittier & Surrounding ciities

Wow Jay. They really made you earn your keep that day. Too much work.

Aug 30, 2009 12:05 PM #104
Sara Goss GMAC Real Estate - League City, TX
Realtor - Houston Bay Area, Texas

I love historic homes and so sorry that this home had fallen into such disrepair. Glad you made it out safe and sound. One for the books.

Aug 30, 2009 12:37 PM #105
Eunice Waller
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Simpson Realtors - Locust Grove, VA
Working Together, We Can Do Great Things

It looks like it would certainly be a challenge!

Aug 30, 2009 10:02 PM #106
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Mark - that I did!  That I did!

Sara - I do too and love inspecting them.  This one was certainly one for the books, hence the blog!

Eunice - a challenge to say the least!

Aug 30, 2009 10:32 PM #107
Marty Erlandson
Erlandson Realty - La Crosse, WI

Oh my!  I've had a couple of interesting experiences like that myself.  My area is full of 100+ year old farmhouses and huge buildings in small towns.  Every once in a while, you'll get the Seller calling trying to get that dumb rich doctor from the big city who wants a "little" project.  I can't walk away fast enough!

Aug 31, 2009 02:43 AM #108
Roy & Gail Barnhart & McKay
Barnhart & McKay Realty Advisors - Hudson, FL
Barnhart & McKay Home Selling Team

Reminds me of a home I almost bought, my inspector talked me out of it.

Aug 31, 2009 03:56 AM #109
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Erlandson - that is a big Oh My!

Roy and Gail - I didn't talk this guy out of it.  My job is to just gave him the facts!  Which I did!!

Aug 31, 2009 11:07 AM #110
Lois Merrithew
Lloyd & Day Real Estate - Tamworth, NH

If this was built in 1902, why is it classified as a historic house?  There would be more historic houses than new houses if that were the case.  I say tear it down and start from scratch.

Sep 01, 2009 02:31 AM #111
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Lois - in that jurisdiction, anything over 100 years old is considered "historic."  That's probably so they can get extra tax money out of you and impose many more expensive mandates!

Sep 01, 2009 06:14 AM #112
Kerry Jenkins
Prime Properties - Crestline, CA

I love old houses, and we have plenty of older ones here in my area. Not too many that are over 100 years,but close to it. It's sad to see them so run down and in need of that much work. There's so much stuff in that house, I am wondering why her relatives didn't do something about that before listing it.

Sep 02, 2009 05:42 AM #113
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Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia
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