Saturday, January 15, 2011

House Hunting, Part 2: This Old House

Today I decided to take a look at another home that is on the market. This time, I was very excited about not only the location (just 3 blocks walk to the heart of downtown Napa) but also another special feature: the home is a Victorian that was built in 1895.

I love Victorian architecture, and Napa is brimming with these 100-year-old homes. Not all of them are Victorian style, some are craftsman or farmhouse architecture. And, even in the Victorian vein, you may not realize that there are several different styles including the squarish Italianate style and the also-boxy Second Empire style which you might recognize from the house in the movie Psycho (which looks exactly like one that sits on a hill in the valley, across from the Folie a Deux tasting room on 29)

This is not to say that these homes are a dime a dozen. It's still a pretty rare opportunity to find one in my price range (under $400k), and especially one that is right downtown to boot. So I have to go into this with caution and wonder what is up. Walking through the home, it seems great -- stained glass window over the door, vaulted ceilings, bay window overlooking a cool old stone building across the street, a beautiful tiled fireplace, and new paint, inside and out (unfortunately, you have to wonder what that paint is hiding).

It seems like a golden opportunity -- after all, this home was selling for over $600k just a few months ago, then was foreclosed and bank-owned and put on the market for $440k, and now is being listed at $399k. However, the previous seller (who backed out of the sale) got a foundation report which says that the foundation cannot be inspected or fixed without demolishing the finished basement... to the tune of $70,000. More ($145k) is the basement is to be redone back to its finished state. This is a huge bargaining chip, and the reason why I could get the home for $350k... or maybe less. But it's quite scary to think that the home could have a faulty foundation which would cost that much to fix.

Even aside from this, there are special considerations most people don't even realize when they see these beautiful old Victorian homes:
  • lead paint was originally used (not a concern for me, but something to keep in mind if you need to do sanding or stripping or if you have toddlers that chew on things)
  • lead plumbing was originally used (however, in most cases this has been removed and replaced by now)
  • the houses do shift and settle over time, which could cause uneven floors, ceilings, and walls, as well as stuck doors and cracked windows and tileslath-and-plaster walls means there are likely to be cracks in the walls, and it's harder to hang pictures or to make renovations
  • there are historical preservation codes that must be met, in which any fixing or alteration of exterior appearance must go through a permit process first and must match the original appearance
It's pretty amazing to think about, especially when you look at beautifully restored Victorian homes like the one across the street from this one I am considering putting an offer on. The one across the street is a large Victorian owned by Erik Nickel, nephew of Gil Nickel (founder of Far Niente winery) and owner of Nickel & Nickel winery a few minutes up the valley

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