Beware the ‘Franken-House’

The California Association of Realtors recently released the results of its 2014 investor survey. In its report, C.A.R. stated that rising home prices have induced an increasing number of investors to flip houses instead of renting them.

“In 2014, 28 percent of investors flipped their property, up from 20 percent last year. Fifty-eight percent of investors rented their properties in 2014, down from 73 percent in 2013,” C.A.R. reported.

Those of us who have watched Flip This House on television have seen how just how easy the concept can be: Buy a fixer-upper at rock-bottom prices, bring in a wrecking crew, totally renovate the place, call in a Realtor, sell the house and walk off with a tidy profit.

As the viewers are enjoying the show from the comfort of their easy chairs or couches the “totally-renovate-the-place” stage looks all too easy. The “ease” of this stage of the process can be particularly deceiving in a city like Alameda.

First of all, the construction of so many homes here predate today’s strict building codes. Secondly owners have tinkered with some of these older homes — often without permits.
Meet grandpa, the world’s most efficient handyman. You know the type. You can’t tell him anything, and he has no need to get any of those pesky permits. He got started here in the late 1940s when he purchased that “old-fashioned” Victorian on Eagle Avenue. By the mid-1950s grandpa had rewired the light on the front and back porches. He also “ran electricity” into that old raised basement to accommodate his workshop.

Then he got to work putting in a completely different set of wires for grandma’s “brand-new” (1950s-vintage) washer and dryer.

After that he decided that the upstairs needed some newer lights, so put in even more wires.

By the late 1960s the kids had grown, and grandma talked grandpa into getting rid of the workshop downstairs and “fixing the basement up” to rent out.

In went more wires “bound” with at least three rolls of the handyman’s best friend — duct tape. Remember none of this work got done with any pesky permits.

Grandma and grandpa passed on and left the house to the children. The oldest son bought out his siblings and moved in. The son didn’t know AC from DC and did no work on the house at all. The son did not know that his father had created a monster — a Franken-house that needed major work. Plus, he already used the equity in the home to live large. (You saw that nice car in the driveway and wondered how he could afford to take all those trips to Vegas.)

The son has now decided it’s time to move on, and two investors are bidding for the right to own this Franken-house. The more experienced investor of the pair did some “homework” while the Realtor was showing her the house. Instead of admiring the two downstairs bedrooms she opened the hall closet and noticed the grey matter — all that decaying duct tape.

She saw the bunched-up wires streaming from the closet’s old-fashioned breaker box. And she certainly did not like what she smelled.

The second investor had watched at least one to many “Flip This House” shows and even attended a seminar with the show’s stars, Armando and Veronica Montelongo.
He purchased the house for just $590,000 and was sure he could flip it as easy as Armando and Veronica did on television. He’d bring in the wrecking crew, fix the place up and sell it right away.

Then he applied for permits with the city. The inspector arrived and saw more than just rotting duct tape. The investor learned that he needed to rewire all of grandpa’s projects.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” the inspector said. “You’re lucky this place is still standing.”

The investor called an electrician, who looked forward to that vacation in Yosemite. The electricain couldn’t wait to tell his wife that they were going to be able to stay at the Ahwahnee Hotel after all.

“Don’t you just love Franken-houses?” he asked his wife.

Contact Dennis Evanosky at editor@alamedasun.com.