Who knew that a closet shelf could be structural?

This is the situation at our rental house.

A support beam failed under the house. The crawl space is too shallow to work in, or even to survey the damage, so we’ve had the floors ripped up in one room and soon in another.

This home was built in about 1890; the room with the failed beam was a later addition. As so often happens with older homes, investigating one repair reveals the need for several more. In our case, we found past repairs and improvements that weakened other support beams. One floor joist was cut in two when the last furnace was installed. Also, water damage has rotted the sill along one wall.

How the beam failed is a sad story. A couple of our sons ripped the carpet out. We decided to lay laminate wood flooring throughout so I stacked all of the flooring bundles in this bedroom. It was easily a ton of flooring.

One of our sons has a friend who’s experienced in construction and he was over to remove shelves from this bedroom’s closet so it could be reconfigured. When he knocked out the first shelf, this whole side of the house groaned and the floor shifted beneath him.

We think this is what happened: the foundation was already weak, and the walls were bearing a lot of stress. Putting a ton of flooring bundles in this bedroom only exacerbated it. That shelf had, in a way, become structural, like the keystone of an arch.

We’ve consulted with a structural engineer, who’s given us great advice. Our son and his best friend have enough experience in this arena that, with the engineer’s guidance, they can do the repairs — and turn this from being a major financial disaster into merely another demoralizing setback. They’ve expressed interest in doing the work.

But that’s a lot to ask of a couple guys who already work for a living and, in the case of our son Jeff, is about to become a father. We have other options, including hiring pros and just selling the house as is. I’m not sure what’s best. Margaret and I keep trying to talk about it but, frankly, it’s overwhelming.


21 responses to “Who knew that a closet shelf could be structural?”

  1. J P Avatar

    Wow, there really were monsters living under the house.

    I have no advice, only sympathy to offer. I do have one thought. Whatever the place is worth in fixed condition, selling now will likely net you less than the value with the repair cost subtracted. So selling now may be the easiest but most expensive way out. That kind of does sound like advice. Good luck!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, clearly selling as-is is the worst financial decision. I don’t think I could talk Margaret into it anyway. But if we did it — this stress would be GONE.

  2. Dan James Avatar

    I sympathise Jim, and I think JP’s advice is solid. Any sign of a weakness or issue and it will either put buyers off completely, or those interested and more knowledgable might use the as yet unknown repair extent and cost as leverage to try to knock even more off the selling price. In the long run you’d be down financially.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There are buyers who flip homes in this condition, but only if they get a solid bargain on the purchase price. But we’re far more likely to fix the known issues before doing anything else.

  3. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Lots of discussion…and carefully consider all options. Thinking good thoughts for you here.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yup. Unfortunately we are both completely out of gas. This has been a known issue for a few weeks now and we just can’t find the emotional energy to talk it through. One bridge too far.

  4. Kurt Ingham Avatar

    Old house stuff….never seems to be straightforward. Take several deep breaths.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      And a stiff drink.

  5. Pat Chase Avatar
    Pat Chase

    Jim, I am new to your site. I too own rent propert. But, I found you from your post on the National Road. I live in Texas but grew up in Knightstown, which is on the National Road. So I have a big interest and I even have a Power Point that I do on the subject. Anyway I am planning a trip in June to travel much of the Old Pike through Ohio and PA. I will hopefully be visiting some of the sites that you reported on a while back.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good luck with your trip! I hope to go back one day to MD, PA, and OH.

      1. analogphotobug Avatar

        Pat has a great idea. I grew up in Ohio. I should plan a road trip to follow some of sites locations.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I’m a total National Road nerd so I’m biased, but I think it’s a great trip.


  6. DougD Avatar

    Oh, man. I know several people with farms, cottages, and rental houses and I’ve always been glad that I only have one building to maintain.

    Since it’s spring maybe you should just try to sell as is and see what kind of offers you get. Seems to me losing some money just might be worth the reduced aggravation, and the house is empty anyway so you’ve got some time to try?

    One of my co-workers had to sell a run down property his father owned following his death, and was surprised that he was able to sell it as is. However I suspect that the real estate market is apples to oranges in our two cities (and countries!).

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Margaret and I are kind of taking a break from thinking about it right now, I think to get our bearings. The house isn’t going anywhere. We have to pay the mortgage on it while it’s vacant (no offsetting rent income) but we can manage it.

  7. Nancy Stewart Avatar
    Nancy Stewart

    Isn’t it the truth … it’s always a few steps forward and then a couple back. Just when you think things are under control … something happens. Such is life. Hopefully your situation will be resolved in a good way.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      We’ll get it resolved, to be sure. My big hope is that it doesn’t require too much of our time as we don’t have it, or too much of our money as we’d like to be able to retire someday!

  8. Heide Avatar

    Aw, Jim … I’m so sorry. On top of everything else your family has been through! I’m glad you’re taking your time to make a sound long-term decision, though. I know from experience how overwhelming old-house things can feel when they happen unexpectedly, but sometimes once the shock fades you can see the path forward more clearly. My best to you!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I remember the house disaster you and your husband had. :-( This isn’t as bad as that.

      1. Heide Avatar

        Well, yes … our three-story flood WAS pretty bad. But structural things can be worrisome too. Fingers crossed it will be an uncomplicated fix for you, Jim.

  9. Ric Bell Avatar
    Ric Bell

    Wow! Sounds like you’re going through quite a lot! I’ve had similar problems multiplying as I’ve worked on my old houses. Keep plugging along, there is an end and the reward is a beautiful new living space.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yep, we’ve had a couple years of unwanted surprises like this. One right after the other. I hope that what’s at the end of this rainbow is no longer owning this rental house.

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