The Process: Walk-Through, Pt. 2

Returning to a much earlier point in the City-owned house purchase process (an outline of the process is located on the righthand side of the page, below the links), let’s talk about some things to look for on your walk-through.  For information on scheduling and preparing for your walk-through, see Walk-Through Pt. 1

Firstly: Cap and Boots, which is a cute way of referring to a house’s roof and foundation, respectively.  These are the most important parts of any house, because everything between is at the mercy of their condition.  Houses in this city are made unlivable mostly by two elemental forces: fire and water.  Water is the less dramatic of the two, but it more than makes up for that with persistence and prevalence.  Water keeps coming and it slowly decays every unprotected surface.  Chances are, water will be your primary foe when buying a fixer-upper.  The roof is your house’s first and last defense against water from above, be it rain, snow or ice.  Foundations are vulnerable to water, so the cap protects the boots.  The condition of the roof is very important.

Most houses in Buffalo are roofed with asphalt shingles.  The most common shingle styles of recent years are three tab and architectural.  Three tab shingles look like rows of rectangles with offset joints, like a brick wall.  They tend to be the economy option.  Architectural shingles have a more irregular look, meant to mimic the cedar shingle roofs (or “rooves”, for you Victorians out there) of yore.  These days, architectural shingles tend to be the higher end of asphalt.  Some older styles of asphalt shingles include T-lock and diamond.   The also tend to be the higher-end choice for asphalt shingles.  The lowest in the hierarchy of residential asphalt is roll roofing, which is properly used as part of a layered roof on a low-pitched deck (that’s the wood surface the roof material is attached to), but too often finds itself nailed up as a “super shingle” on a high-pitched roof.  Look for three foot wide rows, with the seams running vertically, and you will know that someone did that roof on the cheap.

Three tab shingles on the roof of the Green Monster.

Another roof component to look for is gutters.  A functioning gutter system channels water safely off the roof, preventing large amounts of water from falling next to your foundation and undermining it.  Looking at the picture above, you can see that the house lacks a functioning gutter system.  It has the remnants of what is known as a Yankee gutter, sometimes called an integral or built-in gutter.  Look for it on the left side of the photo, just above the drip edge of the roof.  This type of gutter is quite common on older houses in Buffalo.  It represents an older construction method that is largely out of use in modern building, largely because of the high maintenance.  It is made on site by nailing a board, in this case a true 1″x6″, on its side and then placing a metal liner on the uphill side of the board.  Problems arise when even a small leak occurs in the metal, as that water is trapped against the wood in an enclosed space, which invites rot.  That is exactly what happened on the Green Monster.  So pay attention to gutters, and know that “deferred maintenance” is not wise, especially on something like a Yankee gutter.

One last point of interest on roof assessment (books have been written on the subject) is chimneys.  An old house in Buffalo is almost certain to have at least one chimney, and potentially several.  On the Green Monster, we have four.  One was taken down to a point inside the attic by a past owner, probably because it was out of use and deemed not worthy of repair.  Everything below the attic is still in the wall, but at least it is not a leak source.  The second chimney is currently the vent path for the natural gas furnace and the hot water tank in the basement.  It could use some repair.  The third chimney is located in the old kitchen and is a floating chimney.  Instead of being a solid tower of masonry from the basement up through the roof, the bottom of the chimney sits on a wood frame shelf inside the wall.  That means the framing, not the ground, is supporting the weight.  The slope of the floors around that point in the house is evidence that this design is not working well.  Chimneys like this were often used to vent kitchen ranges and the like.  These days, they are much more hazard than help and should usually be removed.  And the fourth is a small chimney in the back of the house that had cement slathered over it in the past, which was a shoddy repair because the hard cement over the old, soft clay bricks broke the bricks into pieces.  So chimneys are potentially both structural and water infiltration problem areas.  See photo below for a visual example of both.  Water leaking around the chimney of a house nearby the Green Monster has not only wreaked havoc on the interior finish of the house, it has kept the wood framing wet long enough to induce rot.

Chimneys are a common leak point in older houses. Failure of the metal flashing between the roof and the sides of the chimney is usually the cause. Photo is from a house nearby that A. and I also looked at.

The boots of your house is the foundation, which we will cover in Pt. 3 on the Walk-Through.  We just happen to have a model foundation problem at the Green Monster, so I will have some authentic photos yet again.  And to close out, here is the parting thought on roof assessment.  If you can see daylight through the ceiling, you have a problem:



It took us almost eleven months from the submission of our purchase proposal to City Hall, but we are finally the owners of the Green Monster.  Since first seeing the place, closer to a year.  Add to that the six months or so we spent on the dead-end of 247 Rhode Island St, and it is a bit strange to finally own a house in Buffalo.  Going in, we never thought it would take so long.  Now, A. and I have joined the club of jaded Buffalo homeowners who chuckle when some bright-eyed kid starts talking about their house dream.  We ought to keep a cache of airplane-sized bottles of whiskey to give those twenty-something innocents.

But I digress.  Closing itself is a fairly straightforward process, for all that it takes to get there.  It takes place at the Erie County Clerk’s office, in the County Courthouse downtown.  A representative of the Division of Real Estate meets you at the Clerk’s office, you look over the deed, may your payment for garbage user fee (oh that fee), hand over your certified check for the amount of the purchase (minus the 10% deposit required back at the purchase contract signing), and then go see a secretary of the clerk to record the deed and pay the required transfer tax and filing fee.  And just like that, your fee simple interest in the house is recognized by the reigning authority in the land.  That is to say, you own the rights and privileges pertaining to the specified parcel of land, including all improvements thereupon.  I mean, you own the house.  As long as you feed the beast and pay the taxes.

Now, we just have to figure out how to get some new garbage totes, to take advantage of our paid-for City services.

Title Search complete

We received news this week that our title search is complete.  Normally, when you send out for a title search it takes about two weeks to get it done.  This one took four weeks because of certain irregularities.  We are eager to get our hands on the hard copy to figure out what those are.  The chain of ownership provides an important window into the history of this 120+ year old house, so we shall see what it reveals.

For folks interested in tackling a fixer-upper, the cost of the title search was $650.  The title search company is Capital Abstract out of 3659 Harlem Rd in Buffalo.

Oh Those Documents

Well we’re rolling into December and still no deed.  But for the last month, the delay has been on our part, not City Hall’s.  We were waiting on the property survey (now completed) and the title search (pending).  What was supposed to be a two week affair has turned into four, partly because of the Thanksgiving holiday and partly because the title search has been a “tough one” (so say the professionals).  I cannot say I am surprised about that, given the age of the house and its location in a part of town that has seen much change over the years.  Hoping for early this coming week on the finished title search, and then we should be able to set a closing date quickly and get this thing done.  Excelsior.

*Edit (12/8/2012):  I should add that the cost of the property survey was $400.  The survey company was Millard, MacKay and Delles Land Surveyors, LLP.  Their office is at 150 Aero Dr. in Buffalo and their number is (716) 631-5140.

Weekly Check-In

What a beautiful day outside.  Would be a great day for working on an old house!  With that in mind, I made my weekly check-in phone call with the Real Estate Department.  It is very important to be a squeaky wheel when dealing with a bureaucracy, so you do not get forgotten about and your file used as ballast to keep City Hall from rising up out of the ground and floating into space.  I’ve settled on a weekly call, partly because I do not have the time and energy to be making daily phone calls, and partly because I imagine that there is a place where you can become too annoying to the folks upstairs.  Just a theory.  Today’s phone call did not yield specifics, but I did get a sense (not much to go on, but…) that things were moving forward after getting stuck for a few weeks.  I was even told that we might get a phone call in the next few days with more information about closing.  So, while I do not have any hard facts, I do have soft clues that sound good.  We’ll see.


P.S.  If you are considering buying a fixer-upper at the upcoming tax auction (Oct. 29, 30 and 31), the list has been updated twice since our first post on the subject, and is now current to October 22nd.  You will notice that the list is shorter, due to property owners paying their back taxes and taking their buildings off the list.  Also, be aware that the three days of the tax auction are organized by tax district.  Properties in Districts 1 through 4 go up for sale on Monday, Districts 5 through 10 on Tuesday and Districts 11 through 14 on Wednesday.  See the notice at the front page of the City of Buffalo’s web site:

You can check the Tax District of a particular property on the list by finding that column in the Excel file (Column G, it appears).  Here again is the link to the list of properties:  InRem 46 Foreclosure Properties.

Tax foreclosure listing

It’s that time of year again: tax sale time.  Where you just might get lucky and snag a house in Buffalo without waiting the nine months or so it takes the City to sell you a property at any other time of the year.  I’ll make this quick.  Here’s the first issue of the list, for your perusal.  A good number of these will be taken off the list by auction time (owners still have time to settle their bill with the City), but you can start your researching now.

City of Buffalo Inrem 46 Foreclosure Listing

Purchase Contract: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Last Tuesday, our purchase proposal went before Common Council, carrying the Community Development Committee’s recommendation to approve.  And hey, we got our approval.  It seems there is a ten day window following the approval during which the mayor has the option to veto the Council’s approval.  We must wait for that window to pass before we can start closing on the house.  Of course, there is no reason why the mayor would want to veto our proposal; it’s just the process.  If this were the sale of a larger building or a group of homes, I could see why such a window would exist, especially if there are unresolved issues in the community regarding the sale.  For us and our house, it is just another wait.  On the other hand, we’re lucky that our scarred house is not valued anywhere near $50,000 or more, because a visit to the Fiscal Stability Authority would be required.

Fortunately, while we wait we can get a head start on the paperwork.  On Friday we received our purchase contract in the mail, with instructions to sign it in front of a notary and return it to the Real Estate Dept.  On a hunch that someone in Real Estate would be able to notarize, we simply took the form down during lunch today and signed it there.  A check for one tenth of the sale price is also required as a deposit, so now we have money in this.  In addition to the cost of the appraisal, of course.

We don’t yet have a closing date set, but I’m hoping for full ownership by October.  That might be optimistic, but I’m still hoping.  Who knows; in a few weeks we may have some rehab photos to post.