Solid Kitchen Floor Danger

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I was looking for something in my old properties folders when I came across a couple of gems that made me smile and, at the same time, made me thankful that no one was killed in the process.  Now, before you think I’m being all dramatic, let me explain what one of these two properties was all about.

This was “back in the day” when most of the properties that we acquired came off the MLS.  Life was so much simpler then.  Banks would foreclose on properties in default, many of which had been long since abandoned, then they would take them back into REO inventory and have a REALTOR list them.

We miss those days of so-called easy pickin’s when banks had no intention of touching the properties, they just wanted them GONE to eliminate the “non-performing asset burden” on their books.  Now there are “programs” and “PMI” and other things that can make holding these assets lucrative.

We all thought it was weird when a bank would come in, strip out carpet, spray everything in sight with a bad flat white paint, carpet the floors, and then list the property at a price as though it was newly remodeled.  It was truly lipstick on a pig in the strongest sense of the word.

So, let’s talk about property 1 – it was pretty trashed and had that special brand of homeowner uniqueness to it – one step up into the living room, one step down into the kitchen, two steps into the main floor bathroom, etc.  You get the idea; an ADA nightmare.

But we noticed something interesting about the kitchen – the floor was rock-solid, but all the surrounding floors (one and two steps up and down) were regular-sounding wooden subfloors.  The kitchen sounded like it was “flat on grade”.

When I got to the basement, I was looking up at the floor joists and noticed a severe sag across all of them in one area, and there were some makeshift timbers stuck in random places to hold up that sag.  Then I realized that this was under the kitchen floor that we thought was so solid.  Really confusing.

After more investigation, I determined that a previous homeowner had poured about a 3” slab of concrete directly on the wooden sub-floor of the kitchen.  He must have been pretty pleased with how solid that floor was, and I wonder at what point the joists started sagging.

It would not take much for that entire sub-structure to collapse under all that weight.  As the joists sag, they pull away from their connection points, either nails or joist hangers, until there’s nothing there to keep them up, then – boom.  Because part of the kitchen was on an outside wall, this could have caused failure of that wall, collapsing all the way to the roof.  If there were people inside, they could have died.

Once I realized this, we carefully got out fast and I reported all of this to the listing agent.  Who knows if anyone ever did anything about it.  And I have no doubt that many other investors toured that property before and maybe after me.  Everyone was at serious risk of death for just walking around.  Just imagine someone thinking the kitchen floor was really cool, then jumping up and down on it to feel the firmness.

So, the take-away is this:  If you’re touring vacant properties, especially those in REO, learn what possible hazards could exist and look for signs of those hazards as you carefully move through the building.  You should have a good familiarity about generally-accepted building practices so you can identify things that are potential life-threatening hazards.

We’ll take some time in later installments to talk about the most common hazards for you to be aware of as you’re touring properties, and as you’re preparing to rehab a property back to usable condition.



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