What to Know Before Buying an Old House

March 1, 2017

Buying an older home seems like a romantic proposition. Beautiful crown molding, spacious living rooms, and original hardwood floors can convince even the most skeptical of borrowers to invest in an old property. Some people search out these homes on purpose, entranced by their uniqueness and beauty.

But hiding underneath all that woodwork and charm can be a litany of problems. Older homes might have termites, poor plumbing, and lead pipes. They can have issues that a homeowner doesn’t realize until it’s too late. Then, they’re on the hook for thousands of dollars worth of repairs.

Buying an old house can feel like navigating a minefield that’s missing a warning sign. So how do you find a classic home without inheriting all of its problems? Read below to see what the warning signs are.

Electrical

Wealth coach Rocky Lalvani of Richer Soul has flipped several older homes. He said electrical issues are one of the biggest challenges he sees with older homes.

“There are still houses with old knob and tube wiring that can be difficult to replace depending on access to the walls from above and below,” he said. “In addition, many older homes may not have enough outlets for our modern life.”

Installing extra outlets can cost a couple hundred dollars per outlet, and a complete rewiring can run several thousand dollars. You can also patch the problem with outlet extenders and power strips, although Lalvani said older homes often blow fuses if overloaded with electricity.

Again, this is an issue that only comes up once you’ve moved in. Does anyone tour a home counting how many outlets are in each room? If you don’t have a lot of electronics or aren’t always charging a few separate devices, then this issue might not matter to you.

You generally don’t look for these items when buying a house, but the cost to add to/repair the electrical system can be thousands of dollars,” Lalvani said.

Air Conditioner

When you tour an old house in the cooler months, you might fail to notice an important component missing: an air conditioning system. Central air only became popular in the 1960s, so older homes likely rely on window units to keep them cool.

Adding air conditioning costs up to $4,000 if the house is already equipped with forced air heating. If you’re located in the south or southwest, that installation might make sense.  

Insulation and Windows

Homeowners transitioning from apartment life might be shocked to see a difference in their heating and cooling bills. Older homes have drafty windows and less insulation. Replacing those can decrease your monthly expenses and make your new house more comfortable.

New energy-efficient windows cost between $270 and $800 including labor and most homes have at least a dozen windows. Most people recoup the costs eventually with lower gas and electric bills, but it can take a few years.

Older windows can be used as a bargaining chip if the current homeowner is desperate to get their house off the market. Use the savings to pay for new windows. You can update them all at once or do a few at a time as you scrape up the cash.

Structure

Older homes sometimes look like they could withstand anything, especially compared to some cookie-cutter modern houses. But many are hiding structural problems that can cost thousands. Brick homes sometimes need the masonry redone, which can also break for a homeowner who’s just taken on a mortgage.

Overall, old homes have a wonderful charm, but they do require more upkeep and repairs,” Lalvani said.

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