Hurricane Sandy

Of course there is a hurricane at the exact moment that the demolition crew has completely opened up the back of the house!

Since the house is not in a flood zone, we weren’t worried about the coastal surges but we were very concerned about excessive rain and wind.

The crew had put a tarp over the debris in the back yard and the openings to the back of the house were boarded up but there were lots of gaps.  The four foot pit test (a giant hole leading into our basement) was our main concern but there was so much debris on top we thought it would block most of the rain.  We added an additional tarp to direct the rain away from the house.

The day after the storm we headed over to have a look.  The tarp had blown off of the debris but the house was dry and the basement had a few damp areas but otherwise unscathed.

We feel very fortunate.   Our apartment is on the edge of Zone A and we had no damage and did not lose power.  So we are going to count our blessings today–and save the renovation gripes for another day.

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Know what the DOB thinks before you buy your brownstone

A reader recently wrote me to ask if we had any advice before the buy their own money pit… ahh I mean brownstone.  The email was a great reminder that while we discussed in a few past articles details about the Alt 1 vs Alt 2 we never specifically gave advice on how to avoid our expensive experience (aka fiasco).

Tip: As part of your contract make sure the stipulate that the seller must provide either a Certificate of Occupancy (CofO) or Letter of no Objection.

Here’s generally how the issue works out. Historically, most old building didn’t have C of O because they were built back before the DOB issued them. The DOB only asks you to get one when you do a major renovation. Such as conversion from 1 to 2 family or an extension, which affects the building egress. If you’re building doesn’t have anything (like ours, Yeah!) then the DOB records probably show the house as a 1 family even if it’s been used as a 2 family for 60 years. Our home has 2 power meters, 2 gas meters, tax records and more yet the the DOB considers it a 1 family.

As a result we had to file what’s known as an Alteration type 1. Essentially despite all our evidence the DOB is forcing us to legally convert the building from a 1 family to a 2. What’s the difference?  The Alt 1 carries higher filing fees, more costly inspections and in some cases we have to do additional renovation work to comply with building codes. For example, to comply with fire rating codes to the tenant’s staircase we have to install sheetrock to the hallway and add a metal door for the tenant apartment. Depending on the home of course there could be more work. An expeditor can help you get the details if needed.

The alternative is a Letter of No Objection. This is sort of a compromise where the DOB agrees that while there’s no C of O they will legally agree to allow you to continue to use the building as is. If you qualify for this you can file what’s called a Alteration type 2. This is the filing type for a renovation on a home with a C of O where the renovation doesn’t change egress or occupancy. This is less expensive because you don’t have as many inspections or extra work to comply with codes. You want this if you can get it.

Looking back we should have forced the sellers to obtain the Letter of No Objection for the building before we closed. They filed for one before the closing but we were so eager to get started that we went ahead and closed before we heard back from the DOB. As a compromise they put some money in escrow to pay for some Alt 1 expenses if the letter wasn’t approved at the closing.  Just to give an example, the expeditor fees are doubled with an Alt 1/C of O.

Of course it wasn’t approved and all their motivation disappeared after the closing. We thought about pursuing it further but it could have taken months to work out the letter with the DOB and with our new mortgage kicking in we decided to avoid the delay risk and go for the C of O. It was a trade off of unknown time vs known expenses and time is money when you’re paying 2 mortgages.

Had we had stuck it out and forced them to get the letter we could have waited out the months just fine. Expensive lesson to learn but one I share with you here for free.

House of Doors

More accurately, an extension made of doors.  The demolition crew recently started taking down the ramshackle original extension on the back of the house.  They removed the old veneer wood paneling inside to discover that underneath there was no wood framing.  Just doors.

From what we can gather, they collected old door paneling, some even with glass panes, to construct the core of the extension and then covered it on the outside with siding and on the inside with thin paneling.  No insulation.  No drywall.  We would not have been surprised if it had been duct taped together.

What is even more extraordinary about this construction is that it is two floors.  We theorize that cousin Vinnie came over one day and said I have some extra doors that I don’t know what to do with, and I’d hate to throw them out.  I know, let’s add two rooms to your home.

The second floor of the old extension housed a bathroom with a very heavy cast iron tub.  We marvel that it stayed intact for such a long time.  It might also explain the termite damage that was located under the floor near the extension that was found when we had the home inspected prior to purchasing it.  Who knows where those doors came from.  It certainly makes us glad we decided to replace that extension.  It also brings into perspective that building codes, as annoying as they are, are a good thing.