Comment of the Day: The Case for Taking Down Timbergrove

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE CASE FOR TAKING DOWN TIMBERGROVE “. . . The Timbergrove houses East of TC Jester are not particularly well built, and they don’t really lend themselves to expansion. The slabs are undersized as well, so building up is very difficult. I would love to update and add to our house, but by the time everything is done, we could almost build a modern house with more room, better infrastructure, and lower operating costs. And that’s after adding something that will really be just a tacked on space that’s not well integrated. Tear downs make a lot of sense under those conditions.” [Ross, commenting on New Timbergrove Manor Cottage Puts Some Skin in the Real Estate Game]

13 Comment

  • Are there any other particular neighborhoods, eras, or styles of house that should be avoided?

    Going on a bit of a tangent, I’m of the mind that most new housing construction is of poor quality and not made to last. I’m not an expert, just someone who notices when things are well-made and when they are built to a price point. Most of the townhomes that are going up inside the loop look like they will be in teardown condition within 20-30 years. Paying $450k for a stucco nu-McMansion-rowhouse does not seem like a smart move. Obviously older houses have their downsides, like low ceilings, smaller spaces, outdated plumbing/wiring etc. Does it make more sense to buy a nice 50/60-year-old house for $200k and spend another $200k fully modernizing it, or to buy a new $400k townhome and treat it as disposable? Somehow I feel that I’m more likely to lose money on the latter option if land prices don’t blow up sufficiently.

  • Rodrigo has it right.

  • Not that simple. Much of this section of Timbergrove is in the 100-year floodplain. Put a major addition on the house and base flood elevations come into play. Simply, a major addition may not be feasible.
    Houses in this neighborhood are 60 years old; most have lasted nicely and have accommodated significant additions over the years. ‘The houses are not well built’ is a misstatement.

  • Rodrigo, the notion that old houses are somehow of better quality or that new construction is somehow of poor quality is a fallacy promoted by a few people here on swamplot. Those 50-60 year old homes were the cheap tract homes of their day, made with cheapest materials available. New construction townhomes may be of questionable aesthetic quality but modern construction materials are light years ahead of what was available 50 yrs ago.

    The comparison you mentioned is not a realistic one, unless you have $200k in cash, no bank will lend you that to “upgrade” an old house.

    If for argument’s sake that comparison was in play, then everything boils down to location, location, location, with an edge to new construction because of easier resale.

  • Thank you all for these and further responses.

    @commonsense, what if the age of the house increased to ~100 years? Does that put us in an era of “better” construction or will any construction last that long if the owners have been meticulous in their upkeep?

  • That’s a legitimate question, Rodrigo. If a structure is masonry based, with decent upkeep it technically can stand indefinitely (although may become functionally obsolete). Anything that old based on wood frame (even with old growth woods) would require a lot of upkeep over the years to even keep standing upright. To make a long story short, modern wood frame construction CAN last 100 years provided there are major upgrades over it’s lifespan just like anything else.

    My view is that all wood construction is only meant to last until the value of the land under it becomes more than the structure itself (40-50 years in Houston on average).

    I see it as a old cars, outside of a handful of really nice classics, does anyone really want a mid 60’s mass produced rusty deathtrap from Detroit?

  • Prefer plywood -used as roof base in older homes vs OSB currently used-

  • commonsense, You are comparing oranges to semi-trucks. You abstractly compare the cheapest materials of today to the cheapest materials of yester-year. Do you really believe the cheapest materials slapped on new construction today are of equal or superior quality to the cheapest materials that went into houses 50, 60 or 100 years ago? I agree with you that there are materials available today that are “light years” ahead of what was available 100 years ago. That is a truism. I disagree with you, strongly, that those advanced materials are going into the inner-loop tract house new construction. Rodrigo is right, the truth is in the pudding.

  • I do believe that cheapest materials of today are still much better than cheapest materials of decades ago. Also, the least common denominator of construction today is pushed by the building code to quite good quality compared to before. Pier and beam foundations are strong enough to be a nuclear bunker, waste pipes are plastic vs. cast iron and as we know “plastics are forever”, aluminum double pane windows are better than all wood or single pane, bottom level of frame has to be pressure treated to resist rot, you have to have it all strapped together with hurricane clips, insulation is much more efficient and will not collapse into the wall cavity after a few years like the old days, Tyvek lets moisture out but not in, they couldn’t even dream of that back in the day, TechShield makes house infinitely more energy efficient, and I could go on and on and on.

  • In theory, today’s new home construction should be vastly superior to the housing stock of the 1920s, 50s and 60s. The reason there are so many residential construction problems today is because the craftsmanship of the products used in the home and the craftsmanship of the actual construction of the home can be disasterous.
    Plastic pipe is great, unless you got the polybutelene pipe that corroded at the fittings when chlorinated water passed through the pipe. Stucco is great, unless you got the bad synthetic stucco that trapped moisture. And then there is the bad Chinese drywall that emitted sulfuric gases.
    But the big problem is the actual construction. Texas has almost no construction related trade unions. If a contractor is not closely watching the subs, all kinds of short cuts will be taken and sloppy work will get sealed up when the stucco and drywall go up. I have seen townhomes built without metal flashings on windows and door frames. Rain water would just poor in to the house during a storm. I have seen upstairs sewage pipes installed with a slight uphill grade to them, allowing waste to pool and produce mustard gas if the upstairs bathroom was used infrequently. In both cases, the homes passed City and the buyer’s inspection.

  • New construction certainly has it’s share of construction defects, much like new cars also have recalls and warranty issues. Having said that, old construction is also riddled with construction defects, some have been caught over the years, some were never caught. I have personally found while demolishing old homes is that they tend to have Structural errors vs. fit and finish errors. Older homes are much more likely to have misplaced support beams, sagging beams, insufficient reinforcement and foundation defects. Newer home issues are generally related to water penetration.

  • Anyone who is seriously concerned with saving money with real estate investment should buy the cheapest place, do the least to make it safe, and then just put up with it! You’ll make money when you sell.
    However if comfort and/or style are your goals then either money-pit option – reno-ing a charmer or scraping the lot for a new build – are equal: Both will take all your cash.

  • @commonsense, that’s what Ive seen in our house. The finish is fine, probably because the slower pace necessary with hand tools makes it easier to take the time to get everything straight. However, the structure is adequate at best. The walls are 2×4 on 24 inch centers. The rafters are 2×6, but a couple of them are made from two pieces of wood spliced together with bad joints that have no weight bearing capability. The insulation that was added in the 90’s has compressed to about 2/3 the height of the wall, and the 2×4 ceiling joists don’t allow for a lot in the attic.

    Renovating properly and adding a master bath, closets and a utility room (washer is in the kitchen, dryer is on the back porch) will run about 2/3 of the cost of replacing the house with something newer. Either way, we would be better off than buying a comparably priced town home in one of the popular areas.