A kitchen renovation is almost always a major return on investment. But it can also be one of the more complicated rooms in your flip to renovate, especially if you’re in the Washington DC area. On average, homes in this area were built in the 1920s. Although older homes bring character and unique design, it’s likely that these properties have issues that can hold up inspections, bust your construction budget, and even hurt you and your contractors.

When you identify the problem areas in your kitchen before requesting a fix and flip loan, you’ll be able to budget for these renovations and get the correct construction funds from your lender. Don’t let structural or electrical issues frighten you from taking on a great investment. Here are 7 scary situations you need to watch out for when inspecting a potential investment property.

Mold and Mildew Creeping In Cabinets

Washington D.C. has more mold issues than many other cities because of the high humidity. Humid air that lingers in areas with moisture problems, especially cabinetry with plumbing, become the perfect breeding ground for spores. Mold spores will visibly stain walls and wood, but active spores are also dangerous because they can trigger asthma, allergic reactions, and lung infections. You’ll need to look beyond the obvious places to make sure you’ve taken care of all of it, even mold you can’t see, including:

  • On top of every cabinet
  • Walls
  • Floors
  • Ceiling
  • Space between the backsplash and countertop
  • Space between the wall and cabinet back
  • Areas around the dishwasher

Use mold remover or bleach to get rid of the live spores. Always follow the directions on the package, then use a good stain blocking primer to cover up the dark sport before painting or wallpapering.

Mummified Plaster Walls

Homes built before WWII, likely have plaster walls. Drywall wasn’t used in houses until after the war when soldiers returned home and started getting married. Suddenly everyone needed houses right away. Drywall was the faster, cheaper option and the post-war boom made it the popular choice even though plaster is more durable and has more sound insulation.

Plaster is more difficult to repair than drywall. So if you need to make big changes to your kitchen, install electrical, or work on plumbing, you’re going to need lots of holes for access which means allotting extra time for patchwork.

The good thing about plaster walls is that they are pretty easy to identify. If your wall if hard, like concrete or rock, it’s plaster. If it’s soft and you can easily get a nail into it, it’s drywall. If you have plaster walls, you need to decide before you start your project whether you’re going to keep them or to change the walls out for more modern drywall. Plaster can increase resale value in historical homes, so you definitely want to keep it if you’re doing a rehab, but it’s hard to drill into it to attach things like kitchen cabinets.

If you need to do extensive plumbing, wiring, and insulation work, run the numbers and see if you’ll come out cheaper replacing everything vs. repairing the plaster when it’s all done.

Invasions and Infestations With Deadly Consequences

Pests can be annoying, but there are several local creatures that can be dangerous to humans and pets. Snakes, rodents, and bugs that can kill, or at least make you very sick, are unfortunately common in the area. Here’s a guide to harmful animals you might find while flipping a home the D.C. area and what you can do to control them:


Type of Pest Danger to Humans DIY Pest Control Tip
Black Widow Venomous bite Easy to kill by spraying with insecticide or soapy water.
Centipedes Venomous bite Get rid of rotten wood in floors and cabinets so they aren’t attracted to your kitchen.
Cockroaches Can trigger asthma attacks Avoid using bug bombs. You’ll drive them out of the kitchen and into the rest of the house spreading the infestation.
Copperheads Venomous bite If you remove their food source of rats and mice, they’ll move on.
Rats and Mice Spread disease Stuff steel wool into cracks and crevices around kitchen pipes where they exit the house or go through the floor. Rodents can’t chew through it to find their way in.


Old Wiring Causes Extra Problems In The Kitchen

Discovering that your property has old wiring is not uncommon with DC homes. Houses built before the mid-70s, which includes most homes in the DC area will either have outdated knob and tube wiring or aluminum wires that will need replacing. Even if your property’s wiring has been updated you might have other electrical issues that could keep your reno from passing inspection including:

  • Not enough outlets in the kitchen, especially near countertops
  • Circuits that can’t handle modern appliances

The 2011 NEC (National Electric Code) has been adopted in Washington, D.C. as the standard and it has several requirements that you might need to update. For example, kitchens will need a 4-plug connection for stoves and a dedicated branch circuit for the range hood. The dishwasher and sink disposal might need to be on separate circuits, too, and you may need to install GFCI outlets near the sink.

You’ll need a licensed electrician to do a thorough inspection of your property’s system so you can adjust your construction budget accordingly.

Shocking Home Repairs and Horrible DIY

Older homes have often had several homeowners, and any one of them could have attempted some poorly done DIY home repairs. Whether it’s from inexperience or just not knowing better, bad DIY is a recipe for disaster especially in the kitchen which often has water, electric, gas appliances all in the same room.

It’s impossible to list all of the ways repairs real estate investors find cobbled together in a kitchen, but you’ll know a bad DIY job when you see it. Some people get truly creative when solving a problem in the home and can cause multiple issues from a single fix. Here are a few warning signs that you might want to have things looked at by a professional:

  • Using the wrong material for the job, like using duct tape on pipes or adhesive vinyl glued to countertops.
  • Wonky cutouts and customizations, like holes cut into the sides of cabinets to make way for an electrical cord.
  • Multistep processes, like a light switch that moves a lever, which then presses a button to turn a light on.
  • Extension cords that are permanently attached to appliances or outlets.
  • Visible glue or adhesives oozing from cracks and joinery.
  • Non-standard sizes, like countertops that seem too high or a dishwasher that doesn’t quite fit in its space.

If you spot any of these home repairs gone wrong, correct it as soon as you can even if it means hiring an expert. You’ll bring value to the house by bringing it up to code and as a result pass the building inspection.

Lost In the Labyrinth

Open floor plans are all the rage in the 21st century. However, long ago rooms used to be difficult to heat and people wanted privacy in closed off rooms. You might have noticed some older homes in DC have tiny rooms and long corridors filled with doors. Kitchens, in particular, are usually closed off from the rest of the house, so the stove wouldn’t heat it up in the summer and to keep heat in during the winter. If your home has a weird layout, it may be because of this or partial renovations. It’s common for past homeowners to do partial renovations over the years to make room for new inventions like refrigerators and microwaves, leading to an awkward space.

Kitchens often suffer from problems like doors that bang into each other when you open then. Hiring a designer to correct an issue like this one or other common issues like:

  • Windows in odd locations
  • Windows blocked by permanent fixtures like cabinetry
  • Kitchen layout that feels more like a maze

A good kitchen designer will know all of the best practices for an efficient kitchen that’s easy to work in, and their expertise will be invaluable in helping you make the most of the room.

Disgusting Blobs And Other Plumbing Problems

Plumbing is one of the biggest projects to tackle in a kitchen flip. Especially, when flipping older homes, older plumbing fixtures have their own set of problems. As the times change, expectations and preferences for kitchen amenities and design change. The design of older kitchens just aren’t up to modern standards. Most investors realize this and know they will need to install water lines or drains to accommodate ice makers in the fridge or adding a dishwasher.

Lead and galvanized pipes were commonly used in plumbing fixtures in the past can cause headaches during your flip. Lead pipes are dangerous and can leach lead into your drinking water. Studies have found that water for lead pipes can cause birth defects and learning disabilities. These pipes will often corrode and wear out leaching sediment and making water taste terrible.

They can also collect household waste that goes down the drain including cooking grease. Significant grease build-up that eventually congeals into a “fatberg” clogging the drain with a giant blob of fat. How bad is the problem? Last year Baltimore spent $60,000 removing a giant fatberg that had been growing for over 60 years and had blocked a 24” sewer pipe.

If you manage to avoid revolting clogs, you might have to deal with another problem with the plumbing in DC: burst pipes. An empty home left unheated for the winter, exposes interior and exterior plumbing to freezing temperatures. Indoor plumbing can develop leaks or splits after a hard freeze, especially if it’s on an outside wall. You won’t know that it’s even a problem until you turn on the faucet and see water coming out from under the sink. If a pipe froze and then thawed when it turned warm again, the water could have leaked into the cabinet or floor below causing water damage or mold.

Carefully inspect all plumbing and the surrounding area before having the water turned back on. If the home is vacant or abandoned, ask the seller’s agent if it was winterized to protect the pipes. You’ll also want to be on the lookout for soft spots on the floor, especially around the sink, that might indicate rotten wood or water damage caused by leaks. Also, have the water tested for lead and other contaminants, and if the kitchen drain seems sluggish, have it checked by a licensed plumber.

Investing in properties and flipping homes is a great opportunity in a hot market like DC, and you shouldn’t let possible issues scare you away. Confront any problems that arise and you’ll be ready to close the deal and start on your next flip before you know it.

Flipping homes is a great opportunity in a hot market like DC, and you shouldn’t let these issues scare you away. Fortunately, most kitchen problems are easy to fix if you understand the basics of how the systems work or know an expert that can assist you.