13 Things To Know About Buying Older Houses

By on July 3, 2017

Some people absolutely adore how modern houses look and cannot imagine life without living in one.

But there are also people who simply love older houses.

Maybe it has something to do with the retro rustic look that draws people in. Or sometimes, it can be a budget issue.

For real estate investors flippers, this can be a pot of gold if they know what they are doing.

And there is an eternal debate going on about how old a house has to be to be considered old. There is no right or wrong answer in this one as there are too many tangible and intangible factors involved.

But personally, whenever I come across a house that is more than 30 years old, I start to look for signs that it is indeed old instead of signs that it is still young.

No matter what your motivations are in buying a house that has matured with age, here are some critical things to know about older homes.

You need to factor them in and weigh up the pros and cons meticulously. Because the good deal that you are already closing in your mind could turn out to be a nightmare.

1) Wiring

It’s not surprising that wiring practices evolve with time. As we move through the years, better techniques are adopted with better technology to make home a safer place.

Coupled with real life accidents with old wiring problems, authorities constantly update and improve on regulations to keep families safe.

There’s a high probability that old houses come with knob-and-tube wiring.

While such systems can still serve it’s functions very well as long as homeowners don’t overload the fuses, insurers seem to hate such wiring setups. Often refusing to underwrite any policies for coverage.

There’s also a high likelihood that wiring has been modified or tampered with over the years. This raises the risk that the wiring behind those walls are not as proper as they are supposed to be.

To put this fear behind you, insist on seeing the proper permits and reports on all electrical works.

2) Basement

Basements in older houses is not how you’d imagine an income suite these days.

In the old days, basements were not constructed to be living space. Because a house needs to be protected from the water on ground level, basements were constructed to provide that buffer between the house and the ground.

This means that basements were actually supposed to get wet!

Be mentally prepared to find mold, wetness, and critters.

You could be looking at a huge bill coming your way to get the basement properly treated and waterproofed.

3) Hardwood floors

This will only apply if the house you are eyeing uses hardwood floors.

Wood is not known for it’s longevity. And hardwood flooring that has been exposed to the elements for decades will very likely not be in very good shape.

Imagine that they have expanded and contracted for tens of years. That is without mentioning their tendency to warp and the number of times people have stepped on it.

Expect flooring defects like slight slopes caused by settling, raised edges from warping, chips from damage, scratches from abuse, sound of creaks from coming loose, etc.

4) Building code

If you are remodeling the house, you will have to bring it up to the standards of current building codes.

This can pose huge challenges that even experienced investors wouldn’t touch with a fishing pole.

5) Roof

While the roof does not play the role of repelling water alone, it definitely is the most critical part.

A typical roof will last for about 20 years. Give or take. After which, it stops shedding water as efficiently as it’s used to in it’s younger days. And there is every chance that it would start to leak in any area you can and cannot imagine.

Even if you have hired a home inspector to take a look. Don’t take his words literally if he says there is nothing wrong with it.

Unless you have already budgeted a roof overhaul in your renovations shortlist, and it’s something you will be doing absolutely, I advise that you definitely want to take a roof at the house when it’s raining.

Sellers are not going to admit that their house is leaking from the ceiling.

Together with their agent, they are going to paint a beautiful picture of the roof’s condition. You need to see it with your own eyes.

6) Insulation

Houses built before the 1950s have a high possibility of having no insulation within the walls at all.

This is not something to shrug your shoulders over unless you live in a tropical climate.

You can hire contractors to Install insulation into walls. But it can be generally expensive to do so.

7) Bricks

During some period in the past, sandblasting of bricks became a trendy thing to do. It is basically a method of removing paint from brick walls so that a newer more beautiful coat can be painted over it.

When a brick is exposed to sandblasting, it’s outer most layer which protects it from the elements are either removed or badly damaged.

It can appear smooth and nice. But that’s just the surface.

Because it is now more susceptible to the elements, moisture problems can arise if it has not already done so.

8) Hazardous material

Whenever there is a new breakthrough in technology where homeowners can get more value out of a lower price, there will usually be a surge in demand.

Years later, authorities can realize that the “new” materials used for building homes are hazardous to health. Leading to a ban.

This has happened to asbestos in building material and lead-based paint just to name a couple.

When buying an old home, it is your responsibility to ensure that these health hazards are effectively managed.

Surely you don’t want family member to fall gravely sick because of the house you bought.

9) Drainage

And older home would be understandably more vulnerable to water than a newer one. This is partly due to wear and tear decreasing it’s resistance.

So any problems associated with water should be perceived as double the danger.

Improper drainage is a common occurrence even in new homes. These will be more troubling when it exist on an aged house.

Works have to be done to assess the drainage system of the house and remedies be executed as soon as possible.

This is an area that you have to pay attention to when inspecting the house.

10) Water source

A lot of people take the availability of water safe enough to drink from the tap for granted.

There is a higher chance for older houses to need better or more unique water filtration systems to cleanse their water before using it in the household. Even then, it might not be safe to consume yet!

There’s a host of water contaminants found to be hazardous to health over the decades. Some of which are radon, lead, asbestos, etc.

Newer houses are very likely to be constructed with mitigating these issues in mind.

An old house might still have to deal with these issues actively if old plumbing systems were never replaced with newer and high tech plumbing systems.

And one more thing.

It might be surreal to have your water coming from a well. But you are not going to love it after moving in.

Even if there is a proper system in place to disinfect and filter contaminants to make it safe for household consumption, there is every likelihood that the water will come with an odd aroma and aftertaste.

11) Vegetation

The nature around the house can be beautiful and bring a touch of tranquility to the house. But they can be destructive as well.

Vines climbing up a brick wall can cause enough damage for moisture to seep through.

And plants including adult trees around the house can potentially cause structural damage when grown too close to the house.

Trees for example can dislodge piping underground causing water to leak into the soil underneath. You won’t even get a sense of this happening until it’s too late.

This is also something that needs to be assessed by an expert and rectification actions be recommended.

12) Pests

I think it is fair to say that an aged house has a higher chance of pest infestation than new ones.

An old house, after all, has a few decades worth of head start to invite pests to enter.

While in most circumstances, infestation problems can be handled professionally by pest control, termites should be taken a little more seriously.

This is because among all common house pest and wood-boring insects, termites can devastate a house the most. And they are first place by a long shot.

Another huge bill coming your way…

13) Conservation

Some vintage buildings can be classified as heritage sites by the government.

This effectively puts a lot of limitations on what you are allowed to do with it. There might even be retrofitting requirements that you have to meet constantly.

While there are various reasons why a home buyer would ultimately prefer an older house to a new one, just be mindful of the variety of challenges that might await you once you officially takeover the place.



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