There are many of us who dream of owning an older home, full of charm and personality. We imagine gorgeous woodwork, wrap-around porches, arched doorways, ornate fireplaces and sweeping carved staircases. All those hopes may come true, but be careful to evaluate the work and expense that can go along with owning an old house.
Talk to your real estate agent about getting a very thorough inspection. Some experts even recommend two inspections for an older property because there can be so many hidden problems. You want to be in a position to negotiate repairs in case significant or dangerous problems are discovered. Here are some possible pitfalls to anticipate.
Foundation and Structural Issues
Even meticulously built homes can shift over time, causing cracks in foundations and walls. Doors and windows may jam; chimneys may need realignment and stonework might need attention. Moisture creeping in over time can cause dry rot or corrosion, which can lead to mold or mildew. Old homes have a high risk of termite damage which can devastate floors, structural supports and drywall. All these repairs can be extremely expensive and homeowners insurance likely will not cover the cost.
If the house was built before 1978, it likely contains lead paint inside and out. Professional paint removers can be hired if you are uncomfortable living with lead paint, especially if you have young children. Old lead pipes pose another issue. A water filtration system for the entire house or at least the kitchen faucet is the most cost-effective fix, but you might be faced with replacing all your pipes.
Asbestos was commonly used in insulation and fireproofing material until the mid-1970's. Old popcorn ceilings probably contain asbestos, too. Removal costs vary greatly depending on the size of the project. If you are planning to remodel, asbestos removal is recommended.
Unsafe Electrical System
Find out the age of the home's electrical system. If it is still the original knob-and-tube wiring, you should get a quote to replace it. Insulation for the wiring needs to be intact and the electrical panel and circuit breakers should be up-to-date. If the original wiring has already been replaced, it must be up to code to be safe and efficient. Check for code with updated plumbing as well.
Old Appliances and Mechanics
Kitchen and laundry room appliances, air conditioning systems, furnaces and water heaters all have an expected lifespan. Check the age of every unit to determine how much longer it should be operational so you can create a reasonable replacement schedule. Figure that into your household budget for the coming years if you decide to purchase the home.
Trees, Leaves and Roots
The beauty of a long-established neighborhood is usually a big plus when buying an older home. Towering trees and mature flowering shrubbery have great appeal, but keep in mind the price that comes with them. Trees need to be trimmed regularly or you risk dramatic problems when they are covered with ice in the winter. Autumn brings bushels of leaves to be removed. Old, tall trees have long roots that can crack foundations and sidewalks or grow into plumbing systems. All of this is costly.
The caution here is simply to be aware of hidden costs when you find your perfect antique dream house. There are plenty of excellent reasons to buy. Older homes are frequently in wonderful locations close to downtown cores. You are likely to find a long-established, close-knit community with lots of history. There is a good possibility that you will find craftsman-quality construction in the architectural features you admire. You also have a good chance for building equity with a strong long-term investment, if the upkeep isn't too steep. Old houses are in limited supply and if you have a gem in a desired part of town, it will likely always be in demand when you decide to sell.