Reader Questions – Rehabbing a Fire Damaged House

We’ve rehabbed alot of houses that have fire damage, because of this I get quite a few questions from our readers on renovating fire damaged homes.

These types of properties can seem very intimidating to the new and experienced investor alike. You have multiple issues with fire damaged homes; not only are you dealing with the burn damage, but there is also smoke and water damage that come into play when renovating these houses.  Because of this trifecta of potential problems we usually just look at most fire damaged properties as full guts…. this way there is little question as to what we can save and what we need to replace….. we just replace it all!!!

Below are two recent questions I’ve recieved from visitors to the site along with my responses. 

Matt,
I was curious if you could give some tips on rehabbing a fire damaged property. I am making an offer on one today and would like to hear from you about any ‘gotchas’ or unique requirements from buyers, lenders, fire departments, municipalities, etc.

Thanks!

My response:

Hi,

Alot of it depends on the extent of the fire damage. Was it contained to one small room, or did the fire spread throughout the house?

We generally budget for a full gut rehab with all new mechanicals when doing a fire job. Once you have the house gutted out it becomes pretty easy.

Make sure you pay close attention to any burn damage to structural beams and joists. These usually will have to be sistered or replaced depending on the extent of the burn damage.

You can walk the building inspector through before you start the project and he will point out what he wants fixed and corrected.

Also be sure to work with a very good contractor that has experience with full gut rehabs and knows alot about framing and correcting any structural/support issues.

Good luck with your offer!!!

And now the second question:

Hey Matt

I live in Baltimore and am looking to do some similar things to what you and your partner are doing up in MAss. Can I get any tips on renovating a burned out place…Is there anything specific I need to do prior or during renovation? How do you deal with the smoke smell, do you guys like wash them down inside or once the drywall goes on it kind of encapsulates all that? Any kind of special testing group I need to bring on or anything?

And my response:
Hi,
Most of our fire damaged renovations are full guts. So we rip out all the sheetrock, carpeting, electric, ductwork etc…..
The smoke smell is tough to get rid of. We encapsulate all the burn damage with an oil or shellac based primer/sealer like Killz. We are usually tearing all the sheetrock out so this is done to burn damage that remains on wood framing, ceiling/floor joists or the roof rafters. On one project we did the fire was contained to an upstairs bedroom and hallway. So we kept some of the sheetrock on the first floor. However I did notice that on really warm days I could still smell some of the smoke left in the walls.
Make sure you are working with a good contractor that really understands framing and building codes.

Hope this helps – Matt

Obviously theres alot more that could be said on this topic and each fire damaged property is going to be unique. The best ones are when you are dealing with a small fire that only burned a couple interior rooms. The more questionable ones are when the fire really spreads throughout most of the house and does damage to the exterior walls and burns up through the majority of the roof. I’ve found that some of these can’t be fixed or it doesn’t make sense economically to rehab them, as the potential rehab cost far exceeds what the house will be worth when finished (especially in areas with lower priced homes).  
You’ll notice that in both responses I made sure to recommend using a good contractor, as this will make or break your rehab, especially when your dealing with fire damage.

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