“Does This House Have ‘Good Bones’?”

If you’ve ever shopped for a house, you’ve likely wondered whether a prospective home has good bones. I hear buyers make this judgement all the time, then look to me for reassurance that their assessment is correct.

But what does this expression really mean? Though there is no standard definition, the widely accepted meaning is that the home is of sound structural condition and not in need of major renovations or repairs. It’s important to understand that this does not consider any cosmetic updating that is needed, no matter how extensive. If a home has problems with its “bones”, a few weekend DIY projects with the help of the nice folks at Local Hardware won’t be enough to fix it.

Bainbridge Island-based home inspector Dylan Chalk of ORCA Inspection Services, in his new book The Confident House Hunter, states that “a house with good core systems has good bones”. He defines the Core Systems as site work & drainage, rooflines, framing, foundation, floorplan and access to the attic & crawlspace. If built properly, these systems will last the life of the building, easily over a hundred years.

On the other hand, problems with any of these elements will be complicated and in some cases impossible to fully remedy. When evaluating these, it may even be tough to determine where problems begin and where they end. Said differently, a home in need of major renovations with one or more of these systems is going to cost of lot of time and money to repair, and should not be undertaken by someone without the financial resources to see the project through. Said yet again, these problems do not lend themselves to a buyer looking to build “sweat equity”.

Consider a home here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s crucial that a home site is set up to move the annual 36” of rain away from the house, especially for those tucked in the trees where the sun doesn’t easily prompt moisture to evaporate. If moss starts to grow on a roof its roots can pry the shingles open and allow water to penetrate the attic causing mold growth and start the decay of the wood inside. And if water penetrates a foundation, it can cause mold and wood rot in the crawlspace. Left untended for a significant period of time, and the home’s bones will literally start to rot away.

In fact, I’m currently selling a piece of land in Indianola, WA that does have a home on it. However, the home has been certified by a home inspector to have such strong conditions of Wood Destroying Organisms (WDO) that the owner was able to persuade Kitsap County to assess the value of the improvement at $0. Now the buyer and their builder will need to tear down the structure since the Core Systems were not protected.

I will argue it’s worth considering two of Dylan’s so-called Entrenched Systems, plumbing and electrical wiring, into this conversation. I say this because I think of these systems as the circulatory and nervous systems of a home- they are the life blood and keep the lights on.

If an older home has a knob and tube electrical system or galvanized pipes as its plumbing system, there is going to be a major expense when the time comes to bring the system up to modern standards, as they are likely now beyond their serviceable life.

While the performance of these systems doesn’t necessarily impact the structural integrity of the home as it now stands, a renovation of these systems can easily mean altering the structure as accessing and replacing these systems is intrusive, to say the least. Again, these are projects that will take significant financial resources to remedy and should separate a DIY home buyer looking to perform updates from the financially secure buyer with the ability to hire a professional at great expense and has a tolerance for cost overruns.

So next time you’re shopping for a home and wondering about its bones, make sure to work with a REALTOR© who knows how to recognize which systems of a home will be of concern to your budget and knows how to utilize the services of a qualified home inspector to evaluate your options.

To discuss the bones of a home you have interest in buying or selling, contact me at jason@mrshutt.com or 206.399.3641.