I looked up at the two stories in front of me. I had memorized the Zillow listing because I thought it was the house I was searching for since I moved to a new city. Envisioning an episode of HGTV come to life, I always planned on buying an old home. Recessed shelving? Check. Fireplace? Check. Hardwood floors that would make your mother cry? Check. But when I got into the house, I was hit with a wall of information from the realtor about what the house and older homes in general, require compared to newer homes.
Buying an older home can have quite a few benefits in and of itself, but there are definitely a few things you should be on the lookout for, too. Here I’ll break down the pros and cons of buying an older home and maybe even give you a few ideas to make your next home purchase a little simpler.
It’s easier than ever to design your dream home and have it built anywhere in the world, so why are so many people opting to buy older properties?
An older home has a kind of character that a new-built property couldn’t possibly equal. If you’re really lucky, you might get a few ghosts in the deal too! If you’re looking for a particular style of architecture, buying an older or even historic property is often the best way to get that as well.
Buying an existing property is almost always cheaper than buying new. You don’t have the additional cost of buying the land, permits for building, etc. Plus, if it needs a little TLC, you might be able to get the house for a steal.
A lot of people buy older properties that need a little bit of elbow grease simply for the joy of restoring them to their former glory. Some people even make a living flipping houses, or buying them cheap, restoring them, and then selling them for a profit.
Sounds like a win-win-win situation, right? You can get an amazing house for a fraction of the cost, and maybe even make a bit of money with it in the future as well. What could go wrong?
I’m not trying to scare you off from buying an old home.
Okay, maybe I am, but in this case, it’s something that you should be scared about. Here is a list of the most common dangers you could encounter when buying an old home.
Look at your nearest electrical socket. Does it have two holes or three? In most homes built since the 1970s, you’ll find the 3-slot grounded sockets, but in older homes, you may only find 2 slot ungrounded sockets. If you have a plug that requires that grounding tab, you may be out of luck. Additionally, things like laptops that have rechargeable batteries can be damaged from being charged in an improperly grounded socket. Fixing this often requires some extensive professional electrical work.
While it worked well as fire retardant, asbestos can cause a variety of health problems, up to and including cancer, so in 1989, the EPA finally banned the use of asbestos as a building material. While many older houses have already had their asbestos removed, some still exist that haven’t received such treatment, so you may end up with an asbestos-riddled mess on your hands.
Any home built before 1978 could potentially have lead paint on its walls. While this isn’t generally a problem as long as you’re not nibbling on paint chips, it could be dangerous for families with small children. Even if the house has been painted with non-toxic paint, the lead paint is still there beneath the fresh coats of semi-gloss color. Buying an old home will often require you to sign a paper stating you know the house could possibly have lead paint.
Older homes are generally seen as pretty stable, but that doesn’t mean that your foundation isn’t cracked, sinking or in some other form of trouble. Repairing a foundation problem can cost quite a bit — between $500-1500 each for steel or concrete reinforcement, or more than $40,000 for a whole new foundation.
The whole point of buying a new home is to get a roof over your head, so it kind of defeats the purpose if the roof leaks, crumbles or falls in completely. Previous owners may have also opted to have the shingles layered rather than replacing the entire roof. This works and saves quite a bit of money — once. Any more than two layers, and you risk damaging the home or purchasing a house that homeowners insurance companies won’t touch with a 10-foot pole.
Speaking of the expensive elephant in the room, homeowners insurance can be a big problem for people purchasing older homes. Many companies won’t insure against things like electrical fires caused by old wires or water damage caused by old and leaky pipes. You might find yourself spending more money on repairs than you spent on the house just to make it insurable.
Nothing is tastier to a termite than an old wood-frame home made from untreated lumber. You might not even know there’s a problem until you settle into your bed one night and the floor beneath your feet collapses. You can look for signs of termite or other insect infestation yourself, but it will definitely pay to have a professional come in and look too.
Older homes come with elegant architecture and beautiful lines. They also tend to come with single-pane windows and no insulation, meaning your heating and cooling bills will be through the roof. Just adding insulation to your walls and attic can drop your energy bill dramatically, and the cost of the insulation will pay for itself in no time.
There are probably a few more possible dangers we’ve left out, but this gives you a pretty good idea of what you could be facing when signing on the dotted line for your new home.
Even with all the potential problems you could face, it can still be one of the most amazing and rewarding things you’ve ever done in your life. There are so many benefits of buying an older home, not the least of which is the fact that you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint by doing so. There are just a few things you should remember before you sign your life away:
As long as you have a good head on your shoulders and the support of inspectors, contractors, or other professionals, then there are thousands of houses just waiting for you to breathe a bit of new life into them. Don’t let potential problems scare you off from buying an old home. Instead, have a plan to fix them, and spend the rest of your time enjoying your new home.