Dear PoP – How Does this Happen?

“Dear PoP,

Can you ask your readers if anyone knows what happened to this clearly once gorgeous old house in Mt. Pleasant? I fantasize about the idea of buying a house like this and renovating it to bring it back to its former glory but with that kind of water damage I am sure it would be beyond me.”

Any ideas of what could have caused this damage? You can see more photos here. This home at 1819 Monroe St, NW is on the market for $599,000 think that sounds reasonable given the complete renovations needed?

32 Comment

  • A hole in the roof letting rainwater in for a week or two would be my guess, or an overflowing upstairs toilet or tub. Regardless, it was probably a day or two at least of water cascading around.

  • Seems a bit high for something that needs sooo much work

  • That damage is on the first floor. And that house is not worth that much. In perfect condition with granite and decent fixtures I would say 750. But it needs a lot of work. The water damage is limited to first floor so must be inside plumbing issues. If you get it for 300k, buy it.

  • volcanic ash? sinkhole?

  • What is most amazing is that someone appears to be living there now. I mean, if there was a massive roof leak while they it was occupied, wouldn’t insurance have paid for it?

    However it happened, though, as long as the floors weren’t too badly damaged (which they don’t seem to be, but it’s hard to tell) it’s not really any worse off than any house that hasn’t been updated in a long time.

    The water damage makes it look really bad, but given the awful wallpaper and apparent lack of any updating that doesn’t change the big picture much. Probably needs everything. I hope someone restores it instead of guts it though, it’s gorgeous…

  • I was the one who sent PoP this email and all I think about all day is restoring houses like this… I wish I could. Would it be crazy to buy a house and try and live in it like the last person did and then work on it myself over time (probably many years)? I know the answer is yes… F

    • I’m doing it right now.

    • Redfin shows properties around there with similar bd/ba for High 7’s. Can you do all the work for 100k? Probably not.

      It’s the sticker price though… offer what you think it’s worth and walk away if you can’t get that price. There are 1000’s of properties in DC in this bad shape and more on their way as folks retire and pass on.

    • I totally did the same thing in a smaller house uptown (Brightwood area). I wanted a place that I could put my energy into and make “better”, and ideally make a profit out of it over the course of five years or so. While I absolutely enjoyed renovating much of it myself and managing contractors for the rest, the renovate/live combination did not serve me well as I was not able to quickly complete my renovations and have it ready to sell for the market peak. Thus, I finished my renovations well after the peak and am now wishing I had sold it 3 years ago or so.

      My advice is choose one or the other, if you to flip it get in there and get it done so you can get it sold. If you want a place to live rather than a flipper, then don’t think about the possibility of selling right when you want to for a profit as the timing will most likely not work out.

      Probably obvious, but at this point in my life I wish I hadn’t bought the place and had saved my money. Of course, now I will rent it out for a year and hopefully the market improves to the point where I can sell it and then I will be back to satisfied. Just beware of the “cake and eat it too” middle road between renovating and living.

      • That is unfortunate, but it is good that you were able to learn from your mistakes and generously pass on this advice to others who might be prone to going down the same path.

  • This is how it was broken down for me.

    1) Figure out what the specs are of the house that you expect to have at the end of the renovation. I.e. 3bd, 2 ba, 2000 sq ft, with middle, low or high end accents (the trim, windows, cabinets, etc. that you plan to use). Find the comps on zillow or redfin and take an average for your neighborhood (or talk to the RE agent you’re using).

    2) Get a good GC to go with you to tour the house and decide what needs to get done, and how much it will cost. Round figures are ok. If you try to low ball this number, you’re likely to get a number lower than you expected for 1).

    3) Subtract 2) from 1) and you have what the house is worth in the current condition.

    4) Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can save $60k by doing all the work yourself. Maybe you can, but maybe you wear yourself out after 1 year and you have to sell at a loss because the work isn’t completed.

    5a) Ask yourself if your time and heartache are worth living in this place during construction. Marriages and relationships are ended on this kind of a life project.

    5b)Decide for yourself if you want to pay yourself for seeing the project through –even if you hire people to do the work. I.e. I just spent two years of my life in a hell hole and I want to make 5% or 10% on the sale for renovating this house.

    Then take 1) subtract 5%/10% (your profit), then subtract 2) (repair budget).

    If you are uber conservative and you have a good GC who will deal straight with you (not BS you about costs), it might make sense to do this.

    A couple more things:

    6) Where is the money going to come to do all the repairs? You may want to consider a HUD construction loan. Can you afford the house after you’ve done the construction (new mortgage = purchase price + construction cost)? Contractors come in increments of $1000. Do you have an extra $1000 every month to do a major repair?

    7) The value of the house to someone who’s a flipper or has a different idea of the end product may price you out of this house. My wife and I lost a bid to a guy that we totally thought overpaid for a property. Well it turns out the finished product he built was worth more than the house we would have built so he could afford to pay more for it.

    The big question becomes, in the time it takes to complete the work, is the house going to appreciate or depreciate? No one, and I mean, no one knows this answer. Talk to RE agents, but be prepared for a stagnant or slight downturn in prices and factor it into your accounting. No sense putting your time and money into a place that’s going to force you to right a check to sell it.

  • We visited this house and were shocked by the condition and the smell, although the top floor was not as bad as it didn’t have water damage and also didn’t appear to have been lived in recently. The potential was definitely impressive, but not worth the money. Our rough estimate was $500k of work. Plus, it would be exorbitant to add a rental unit as previous owners had installed a concrete slab so the ceilings are 7 feet. Not worth the asking price to us, but the owners were expecting two offers and this was a few weeks ago. Now there is a Under Contract sign.

    • It’ll be interesting to know what this finally sells for….

    • The smell makes sense. That is mold on the kitchen counter.
      OP~~DO NOT CONSIDER living with that. It has a deleterious effect on health. I speak from experience. If you can see it there, it has undoubtedly spread to dark spaces that you can’t see and can’t get to easily.

  • I know this is a weird thing to do on the internet but if you need any help doing any work I would be happy to do it for free. I live in a one bedroom apartment and have no chance to do any gardening or manual labor and I am craving it right now.

  • Oh, Sam, let’s talk. I’m getting divorced and need to sell my house, but it needs some cosmetic work before I would dare put it to the GDON crowd here– typical rowhouse garden needs sprucing, interior needs paint, back porch needs to be re-built. I don’t have the emotional stamina to deal with potentially-dishonest contractors. And anyway, I don’t think I could find any who would accept payment in the form of homecooked meals, which is about all I can scrape together these days. 🙁
    Then again… how weird would I feel saying, “Come and fix up my house so that I can get top dollar for it! Here’s a lasagne.” Kind of goes against my principle of honest pay for honest work. Hmm… reflection required…

  • Very nice house.
    I would buy it only if you could get the price down a bit and plan to live there for the rest of your life.
    To buy it with the thought of reselling it is a mistake.
    Why does everything have to be an investment?

  • I can’t do anything for the next two weekends but I would be happy to help you on the 26th. Maybe the best way for us to get in touch would be for you to ask PoP for my email since I don’t want to give it out on the message board.

  • Also for Sam – If you want to get your hands dirty on a small gardening project in Dupont let me know! We’ve got some small patches of yard and containers that are perfect for a weekend gardener. Can never seem to find time to get to it! PoP has my permission to pass along my email address if you’re interested.

  • Beyond the obvious architectural problems, there is a lot of filth and clutter. Makes me suspect that the occupant or owner is perhaps in poor health (mental or physical) and was unable to recognize the condition the house was in, or unable to do anything about it. Really sad, if that’s the case.

    It seems way overpriced though. There’s options for $50-100k less, similar size, in the neighborhood, that don’t need a total rehab.

    captcha: julio attitude

    • I looked at a house on Argyle Terr. where the roof had partially collapsed but an old man lived in it for ~5 more years through rain and snow. There was dog poo all over the house too. It ruined a beautiful little cottage.

  • +1 to Ragged Dog. $200-$250 worth of rehab costs makes it a $800-$850 house in Mt.P. That’s not crazy.

    If there was not water damage on the upper floors, and that failed plaster around the fireplace is on a lower floor, I’d want to look at the flashing around where the chimney for that fire place penetrates the roof. My guess the leak has been ongoing for years; it would come in at the chimney and ride it down through the floors until it found an outlet around the fireplace. If the owner ever tried to fix it, she probably got conned into a new roof that didn’t do anything to fix the flashing. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a new membrane or bitumen roof up there that isn’t doing anything to stop the leak.

    At least the house is still plaster and not drywall. Drywall will have mold and need to be torn out. Plaster won’t have mold but the framing behind might.

    First thing I’d do would be to tear out all the finishes and failed plaster. Then hire one of those crime scene clean-up crews who specialize in getting rid of grotesque debris and smells.

  • I’ve visited a couple of nearly identical houses on that block that have been restored, and the potential is enormous. They’re absolutely huge, and were very well built.

  • Like others said, check comps and get a realistic estimate of what the repairs would costs.

    To finance it – you might check out a HUD 203k loan. A special loan designed for buyers looking to rehab a home back to it’s original condition.

    You would get financing based on the future appraised value of the home when repairs would be complete. HUD brings inspectors, etc to make sure contractor estimates of work that needs to be done is realistic to the loan amount and thus offers a little bit of safety net to keep the project real. Money gets released in phases upon work being completed, etc. Might be a possibility for you. Mt. Pleasant is a nice area.

    Good Luck.

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