Please take the time to read the following information…it could save you thousands of dollars.
Throughout my career as an adobe restoration contractor, I have done numerous bids for real estate agents and homeowners in the process of selling their adobe homes. Often, I receive calls from adobe homeowners after they have purchased a home to seek my advice on what to do with this “new” home that is disintegrating.
One question I am certain to ask them is “Did you get a home inspector to check the house out before you purchased it? If you had you may have been able to negotiate a price reduction based on his professional opinion that the adobe was in need of attention. Additionally, you may have put a stipulation in the contract that the home would first need to be repaired and treated before you would finalize the sale.”
I have learned that many home inspectors have little, if any, specialized knowledge in the area of adobe. I have also learned that many people sell adobe homes without knowledge of what maintenance needs that home should have before putting it on the market. Conversely, many people purchase adobe homes without any idea of what that home would need to enable them to make an educated and informed purchase of that particular home.
Some years back, I was called by an adobe homeowner in Green Valley to come and look at his home. He wanted to sell it, but the home had unattractive “curb appeal.” Previous attempts at trying to repair the severely damaged and weathered adobe had resulted in a truly “bad” repair effort. Many of the adobes on the front of the house, facing the street, were colored pink. Many of the other bricks were severely deteriorated, giving a run-down, first impression to the home. Consequently, the owner had no offers from interested buyers.
I gave him an estimate to fix the most glaring and obvious problems. He accepted the bid, and we started and soon finished the job. The result was remarkable, and the homeowner was so pleased he called me later to thank me for a job well done.
The problem with this house was that the seller (my customer) was adamant that he did not want to spend any more money than what was absolutely necessary to get his house in a salable condition. Consequently, I did not do even one fifth of the work that should have been done to do the job correctly; my part was mostly cosmetic in nature.
I pity the unsuspecting buyer of this property, for he or she is purchasing a nightmare. The owner had an appraisal done to the house, but as is typical, that appraisal did not mention nor take into account the advanced and severe deterioration of the adobe. A home inspection report may have, but again, maybe not.
Unfortunately for the buyer of this property, they will probably not know that they are purchasing a fix-up special unless that person or persons has at least a rudimentary knowledge and experience with adobe. They will find out only afterward when they move in and soon discover that the condition of the home they thought was in great shape was actually in severely deteriorated condition.
The seller’s price will not necessarily reflect this knowledge, at least in this particular case, for he did not take into consideration the problems with the adobe, choosing to “hide” it from unsuspecting buyers. Unethical? Of course. Against the law? Yes, and the whole transaction is just a lawsuit waiting to happen.
This scenario is, surprisingly, not that unusual. Occasionally I will get a call from a recent adobe home buyer who never noticed the condition of their home until some time after they purchased their “dream home.” After the newness and excitement of their purchase settles down, they begin to notice that their adobe doesn’t quite “look right.” Maybe their concerns were raised after a particularly violent monsoon left an inordinate amount of “adobe dust” lying along the edge of their foundation, on on their concrete driveway or porch.
Upon closer inspection, they find out that many of the adobes are in different stages of deterioration, something they had never noticed before. Since nobody pointed it out, they simply never noticed it before–until now. Alarms begin to go off in their heads, and they start to do research their adobe home, finding out from neighbors or a website like this one that adobe is indeed a high maintenance building product.
This is when I get called. One of the first things I always, (see the second paragraph of this section) ask of my customers is, “Did you get a home inspection on the house before deciding to purchase it?” Many times they say yes, but the home inspection did not reveal any serious problems. Or maybe the home inspector made a brief note on his report that the adobe needed to be “sealed” and left it at that. Perhaps this brief note caused the seller to drop the price by five hundred dollars, when in reality the price should have been dropped by five thousand. Yes, this happens.
Here is another true nightmare story that happened in November of 2005. I was called out to do a bid on an adobe home. After meeting the owner, a very nice woman whose husband is an attorney, we looked around her home and discussed the issues and problems with her adobe. It is standard procedure for me to go up on the customer’s roof in order to investigate the adobes that cannot be readily seen from simply walking around the house.
Her roof had problems that were easily evident on my inspection: tears in the roofing material where water could penetrate, clogged scuppers from debris falling from her mesquite trees which were allowing water to dangerously back-up and sit without draining, and a deterioration of the roofing material in those areas where rainwater was ponding in the low areas…typical maintenance problems with Tucson’s flat roofs. This flat roof, coated with a white, elastomeric roof coating, was in need of a re-coat.
I sent her a bid for the needed work to be done and she accepted it. I scheduled the work and we completed the job as specified. Part of our contract was repairing a gate where the lag screws had worked themselves out of the adobe which was causing the gate to “sag” and become inoperable. (This process of repairing these common gate problems is a story all in itself. Our unique repair method is a permanent fix to these problems.)
Several weeks after completion of the contract, she called back to inform me that they had purchased another adobe home and were selling the one we had recently repaired. They had the same problem with the gate at this new home as they did on their old, and that she wanted me to come by the new home and look at this gate issue. She also mentioned that there were a few problems that she noticed with the adobe on this home that she wanted my advice on. Since she did not express any urgency for me to come look at this second home, I assured her I would come by and look at the gate problem when I could.
Several weeks later, she called me again. By this time, they had moved into this second home and she and her husband were planning on having an “open house” party. The problem gate was a gate that opened into her backyard pool and bar-b-q area, so she desired to have this repaired before the party began. I made an appointment and went to her home.
It is a beautiful home situated in the foothills of Tucson with stunning views of both the Catalina Mountains and the city lights. Entering her back yard, I was shocked as I looked at the wall surrounding this pool and bar-b-q area: the adobes were in a severely deteriorated condition. There were large settling cracks in several portions of the walls, hundreds of adobes that were deteriorated, and the mortar cap was hollowed out and breaking apart on many areas on top of the walls. The wall had been heavily mortar washed, and because the adobes were so deteriorated, there were large swaths of this wall that were no longer mortar washed.
I asked this customer if she was aware of these problems. She was, but neither her realtor or home inspector seemed concerned about the problems. Relying on their expertise, she felt they were not a great issue.
Unfortunately, the bid to repair this area was very high and, of course, an unexpected shock to the new homeowners. What could they do? The deal was closed, they were moved in, and had a house warming party scheduled just around the corner.
The attorney husband was upset and naturally looked into the possibility of instigating a lawsuit against the responsible parties. I did not want to get involved in this and laid low. I never did find out what these homeowners ended up doing.
Adobe homes are unique, requiring specialized maintenance. If you have never owned an adobe home and are considering purchasing one, I recommend you view the adobe portion of the home in the same manner you do the plumbing, roofing, electrical, termite inspectors, etc.: just as you would hire professionals to inspect these areas and give you their expert advice on their condition, view your adobes in the same way: hire an expert.
If not, you may end up like any number of my customers whose stories I described above. Rest assured it happens more than you think.
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Teaching at two miles high in Leadville, CO
In 2007, I returned from a two week teaching stint in Leadville/Twin Lakes, Colorado. The elevation in historic Leadville is over ten thousand feet in elevation, making it the highest incorporated city in the United States. I was contacted by Bob Ogle, Associate Professor for the Historic Preservation Program at Colorado Mountain College (CMC) in Leadville to see if I would be willing to participate in an educational venue which included teaching a two-week course to students and volunteers on adobe preservation/restoration that was scheduled in July of this year (2007).
Bob’s timing could not have been better as I was indeed available for the time he requested. The project I was going to be associated with was the only known adobe building in all of Lake County, CO known as “The Clarion Hotel.” This distinction in itself makes this building worthy of attention, and with it being historically significant to the area only adds to the value of the property.
The Clarion Hotel was built in Twin Lakes circa 1880. For its age it is in remarkably good condition. Built out of unstabilized mud adobe with a layer of lime-based stucco applied over it, I was stunned at just how well this structure had held up in the harsh Colorado winters for over 130 years. My job was to teach the students and volunteers condition assessment (why the adobe portion of the building was in the current shape that it was in, particularly the areas in need of repair or restoration), material analysis, repair techniques, hands on training and stucco/faux finishes. We built mock-up walls out of 8″x8″x16″ concrete blocks where the students and volunteers practiced applying stucco and texture techniques.
Twin Lakes, the tiny town where the Clarion Hotel was located, is a beautiful place. The Lakes from which the town derives its name is stunning. Coming through and over the hills to reach the area presents a view at one point that can be considered breathtaking. A natural stream runs right next to the Clarion Hotel and helps feed Twin Lakes.
I met many wonderful people through Bob Ogle’s program. CMC partners with many different trades people, government agencies and organizations in training their students in Historic Preservation. I worked closely not only with Bob himself, but many of his students, Forest Service personnel, and other volunteers from across the United States.
(Click on each photo to enlarge)
Photo 1 above: This is the scenic back yard view of the Clarion Hotel, just steps from the building, with snow on the peaks even in the month of July.
Photo 2 above: A picture of Twin Lakes, taken several miles from the Clarion Hotel.
Photo 3 above: A shot of the Timberline Campus of the Colorado Mountain College in Leadville. I stayed in the Residence Hall located just a little left of this angle.
Photo 4 above: This is what is believed to be a later addition added to the Clarion Hotel with some of the volunteers standing in front of it. Bob Ogle is standing in the foreground conducting an experiment on the paint covering the lime-based stucco (the blue squares are test patches).
Photo 5 and 6 above: The original portion of the Clarion Hotel showing the damage that the Blue Spruce pine trees are causing to the building. Photo 6 gives a better angle and view of the roots lifting up the sidewalk on this portion of the building. The roots were also causing the stucco to buckle away from the wall just underneath the boarded up window. The white that you see on the exposed adobe is what is believed to be a lime wash which what is thought covered the entire exterior of the building and preceded the stucco coating that was added later.
The Blue Spruce trees are magnificent and were planted all around the building. These type of pines are rare for this area in Colorado. When first planted perhaps a hundred years ago, they were small and caused no damage. Now, they are threatening the health of this historic structure and the Forest Service is planning on cutting them down. As can be imagined, this is causing some controversy, but the sad reality is that if the trees are allowed to stay, the building will continue to suffer irreparable harm. This is a perfect example of not thinking ahead and stands as a warning to all of us who plant trees too close to our houses. Trees can grow huge, so plant them far away from your house.
Photo 7 above: Some of the volunteers and Forest Service personnel posing for a group shot at Cabin Cove in Twin Lakes. Cabin Cove is a cabin owned by the Forest Service where much of the planning and staging occurred for the preservation work that was done in the area. I am kneeling down in the first row, far left.