Should I buy a multifamily built in 1872?

14 Replies

Currently looking for a multifamily building to buy.  One came up in an area I want to live however the only thing holding me back is the year it was build... 1872!!! Should I stay away? 

I own a 4-unit from 1911. It's pretty solid. That's what hiring an inspector is for - he or she will inspect the property in detail, will furnish you with a PDF eBook of the findings and will give you advice as to potential issues (potential plumbing issues, etc). 

I was looking to come in with a low offer and waiving the inspection.  Its an old building, I know things are going to be wrong with it, so why pay someone to tell me that.  I was just going to factor in the cost of plumbing and electrical and subtracting that from offer.  Also waiving inspection can be a  competitive advantage as a lot of people do not do it.  

Wow, that's an old one. I just renovated (almost from the frame up) a 1922 farm house and I'm unlikely to ever do it again. As a simple example; That electrical work... only a large outfit with an extensive insurance policy (and thus higher prices) was willing to touch anything electrical in the house because of liability. 

Put a simple floor in and now you're removing old flooring and layers of it, who knows what it's made of, and now you may as well consider leveling any low spots and driving a thousand screws to get all the creaks out before you put the new one in. It's all 2-3x the work honestly. 

Need to swap out some door hardware? You may be swapping out an entire door instead and chances are it's odd sized. Expensive and time consuming. 

And so it goes with just about everything. HD and Lowes don't carry a lot of odd items you may need either. Insulation, if needed, is a royal pain depending on floor layout. 

Don't intend to sound negative, just reflecting on a long and painful process that never failed to amaze me! 

Good luck!

In addition code can be a real pain. Non-conforming stairs can't be touched unless you redo the entire stairs. You can't just add an outlet here and there where needed, most electricians will want to stick to code on that too which can mean adding outlets on exterior brick walls with conduit since they can only be so far apart. There's no rule or grandfather clause that says you're improving the situation... nope, it's code or nothing often times. This can get expensive quick. 

Thanks for the comment.  I have to look if the electrical/ plumbing have been updated.  I doubt the original can last over 100 years, but then again things were built solid back in the day.  

@Paul Staszel Oh it sure can! My 1922 still has three ceiling lamps on knob and tube that's in great shape. I made sure all outlets were fully upgraded for safety. Keep in mind that the wiring in that building is not as old as the building itself... they probably didn't wire it till the 30's or 40's, so the wiring is probably just as old as mine was. 

Originally posted by @Paul Staszel :

I was looking to come in with a low offer and waiving the inspection.  Its an old building, I know things are going to be wrong with it, so why pay someone to tell me that.  I was just going to factor in the cost of plumbing and electrical and subtracting that from offer.  Also waiving inspection can be a  competitive advantage as a lot of people do not do it.  

 Do you have the experience/know how to inspect a house? Even if you do, a inspection can usually be used to knock down some on price... or if major items are found and they won't knock down the price you avoid a huge headache/outlay of cash. Granted a appraiser will catch some stuff too, but not always...

Foundation issues can be the biggest bogey with really old buildings. Electrical and plumbing are known issues. Foundation problems can stop future funding opportunities if you ever want to re-fi or sell.

I would get the inspection as a yes  I will buy or not. You don't want to underestimate a big issue. Its not about every little thing. It is about finding out if there is any deal breaker for you in terms of needed repairs

I'm a newbie to rental real estate but I know a little more about home plumbing and wiring that might help you make a decision. 

1) The rebuild value of an older home like that can be pretty high requiring a higher insurance premium. I agree with others that foundation, electrical and plumbing are going to be your biggest issues if they date back to the original build. But in the case of disaster or catastrophic loss, the rebuild costs of an older home can be a lot higher than that of a recent home. Depends on a number of factors though so knowing more about the home would help. 

2) Regardless of how "solid" iron plumbing can be (iron tends to last roughly 100+ years), it's been 146 years since that home was built. Brass lasts roughly 40-70+ years, steel: 20-50, copper: 50+. Just pray to God it isn't lead, which can last for 100+ years but has inherent safety hazards. Even though cities started moving away from lead in the 1920s, it wasn't officially banned until 1986!

3) Since most homes in the U.S. didn't have electrical wiring until 1915, your potential investment home had to have been retrofitted. How long ago and with what materials is the burning question. I own a rental property originally built in 1935 and most of the outlets and service boxes were not grounded when retro'd because it wasn't required by code in the 1960s. It also has fuses instead of circuit breakers which is problematic, expensive, cumbersome and potentially dangerous since they do not have AFCI capability and only interrupt the flow of electricity by blowing instead of "breaking" the flow like a tripped circuit breaker. 

Note: AFCI circuit breakers only became mandatory in the U.S. as of 2002 for bedrooms. In 2008 the NEC began requiring them for all dining rooms, living rooms, kitchens and bathrooms in new construction. Any circuit breakers installed before then likely don't have that capability but it's as simple as removing the panel cover, installing the new breaker and connecting the white coiled wire. Hint: most breaker manufacturers print "CAFCI", "AFCI" or "AFI" on the face of the breaker. Another way to tell (in case the print is under the panel cover), an AFCI's "Test" button is green, blue or white, GFCI is typically yellow. 

You might want to visit this site for reading up on some of your questions:

@Paul Staszel My triplex was built in 1911 .. strong and steadfast as the men who built it ! Nothing to be scared away from just know that it will have higher maintenance than a house that’s 30-40-50 years old . Even though today we have way more optIons In terms of materials, When they built houses back then they took pride in foundations, roofs ,brickwork and paId attention to detail .they didnt justvtear themmdown to bigger like today. tgey built them figuring their grandkids would someday live in them its not uncommon for a 200 year old house to still be standing .

I have a lot of buildings built between 1890-1920 and have renovated countless others. These buildings are all built differently. You can go into one 1900 building that used thick 2x12 joists with a huge timber as the beam and then go into the next one that used thin 2x8's with a small beam. There are a lot of things to look out for and potentially hidden issues. 

First look closely at the joists for cracking, as well as holes drilled through them. pay attention to the beams and columns to ensure integrity is still there. Look at the roof rafters as well for cracking a bowing. Foundation should be solid with no major bowing or odd cracks. It may be limestone, which tends to pit and decay, but those foundations are usually 18"+ thick. Look for signs of major movement within the house. Slightly sloped floors are ok, but major slopes could be a sign of failure. 

Also, I would plan on replacing the plumbing if it is cast iron and galvanized. Replace it from the ground up and don't piece it together. The wiring can be ok if the sheathing is in good condition. Buy new light fixtures with LED bulbs. This helps keep the wires from over-heating, which will further decay the wires. If it has a boiler with radiators, look closely at them to ensure they aren't leaking. Boilers only last 30-50 years, so if it is 1985 or older, I would plan on replacing it. 

@Todd Dexheimer has some good points. If you didn't rewire the joint, just keep in mind that you cannot insulate over/against knob and tube wiring or any kind of older asphalt wrapped wiring. It has to dissipate heat though it's sheathing. Blow in insulation included, both types.

My first house/rental was nearly a century old. I would not buy an old property like that every again. Doors had to be cut down to fit, everything was a PITA on this house. Plumbing, everything...The reality is that houses have a limited economic life, and buying an older house is like buying a car with 200K miles on it.