For many history buffs or lovers of old architecture, buying an old home is at the top of their list. They salivate when they see that 1700s-built colonial or that perfect Victorian from the late 1900s. They envision an old home as the ideal house for them and the one they’ve been waiting to buy for years.
So, when the opportunity arises to purchase that perfect old house – you know, the one you purposely pass each day on the way home from work - many people jump in with both feet…without really thinking about the consequences. While the historical home you’re eyeing might be in great condition – or APPEAR to be in great condition, more often than not there are many things to consider prior to purchasing and others for which you should be on the lookout!
Yes, indeed, with an old house comes old materials that we simply don’t use in construction these days. The most obvious is asbestos, which was used for decades until the late 1970s when the EPA issued guidelines about the use of asbestos-containing materials. However, it was never banned.
You can find it in attic insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, drywall and drywall adhesives, roof shingles, pipe insulation, and in all sorts of other products that were quite popular for many years.
Another problem? Lead paint. If you have a child under the age of 6 who will be living in your older home, any lead paint MUST be removed under federal law. That’s because lead paint is extremely harmful, especially to the development of small children, and painting over it doesn’t make it go away. Take it seriously!
The home you’re considering may have an updated electrical system. However, if it doesn’t, you may need to consider replacing the whole thing. Old electrical systems simply were not designed to withstand the kind of electrical usage we take advantage of in the 21st century. With multiple computers, large appliances, and much more, an old system can easily be overwhelmed, resulting in a fire.
Old knob and tube systems, for example, which consisted of single-insulated copper conductors run within the walls or ceilings, passing through joist and stud drill-holes via protective porcelain insulating tubes, simply won’t do the job today and could present huge problems if not addressed immediately.
Another common electrical problem in old houses is the fact that the outlets are not grounded. If you notice that they have two holes instead of three, you’re not going to be able to use many of today’s electronics without an adaptor. And while adaptors might solve the problem short-term, they should not be viewed as long-term solutions. Ask an electrician about more permanent, safer solutions.
While having many grand, old trees on your property sounds – well – grand, the fact is that they can cause a lot of trouble AND can require lots of care. Often, old trees are in bad health, maybe overgrown, and can be a huge problem in storms of all kinds, whether you live in a snowy, icy climate or one where hurricanes and other wind/rain storms are prevalent. Plus, if you’re in a place that experiences the seasons, think about all the leaves that will fall!
Add to that the fact that you won’t likely be trimming these trees yourself, and it’s easy to see how their care can set you back lots of bucks.
Crooked, Creaky Floors
Love those old hardwood floors in your dream home? They might look great at first glance, but the potential is there for some problems, so be sure you have an inspector look at them carefully. They may sag a bit. They could slope uphill or downhill and may be seriously stained from decades of use. That may be okay with you. If it is, no worries, but if that’s a real concern for you and your family, know that replacing those floors could mean a significant strain on your wallet.
And, of course, there’s the roof. It’s tough to tell from ground level if the roof on your future purchase is in good condition. With old homes, roofs may have been replaced numerous times, only a few times, or not at all. Sometimes you’ll find shoddy patch jobs, including new shingles placed over old ones, which is only a short-term solution.
Make sure your inspector does both an interior and exterior roof check and look for issues such as signs of moisture, sagging, excessive wear, and aging shingles, which can cause roofing granules to form in your gutters, restricting drainage.
Access your Options
Despite all the potential pitfalls of purchasing an old home, it’s still the only way to go for many determined buyers. It’s all a matter of being educated, however, as to problems that CAN occur. If you and your inspector are thorough, you’ll get off on the right foot, but it’s necessary to understand that things can and will go wrong more often than if you purchase a newer home.
So, weigh your options and decide which is most important to you – an old home with “character” and perhaps some costly problems, or a newer home that’s not quite so dramatic but is likely to require less maintenance.
Only you can decide what’s right for you!