When house hunting, many buyers prefer the history and character of an older home versus the cookie-cutter design that often comes with new developments. However, if you’re looking into buying an older home, it’s important to arm yourself with knowledge so you can assess the house objectively and protect yourself from costly surprises down the road.
Leave it to the professionals – but ask around
One of the most important things to remember with older homes is the worst problems are often the least apparent. There may be clues to the naked eye, but only professional home inspectors can accurately verify the state of a home. Therefore, it’s recommended you get a few different opinions, and if there’s something specific you’re still unsure about, find an inspector with a background in that area or obtain a repair bid from an expert in the trade.
Additionally, you should consult with the real estate agent and ask when major components were installed, updated or replaced (if ever). The goal is get as full a picture of the home’s history as you possibly can. Most sellers will disclose any plumbing, electrical or roofing issues. Don’t hesitate to talk to neighbours as well – they’re a great source of information and chances are they’ll be honest if their basements have flooded recently or they have mice scampering around.
Be aware of the following risks associated with old homes:
Head down to the basement and check the foundation for signs of cracks, crumbling or shifting. Mold could also be a sign of a weak foundation. Check the grade at the perimeter of the house – settling near the foundation may indicate water in the basement. Quite often, older homes have porous stone foundations and lack effective waterproofing systems, which can lead to water damage.
- Water damage
Water damage is one of the most common dilemmas in old homes and can lead to a range of problems, from damp walls to fungal decay and woodworm. Damaged plaster and stained walls and ceilings are a telltale sign, and you may even feel a temperature difference in the walls. Look for missing or broken roof shingles, rotted or loose trim boards, and disconnected or plugged-up gutters and downspouts.
Read the electrical panel’s amperage rating – modern homes require at least 100 amps, and preferably 200 since we have so many devices plugged in. Look around to see where the switches and outlets are. Three-pronged sockets with reset buttons are good; two-pronged ones with scorch marks are bad. Original knob-and-tube wiring and aluminum wiring pose a fire hazard, and watch out for fuses.
Test the water pressure in faucets and showerheads, keeping an eye (or ear) out for dripping taps. Duck under the sink and take a look at pipework, tanks and cylinders if you can. The plumbing system should be copper pipes with copper soldering, or PVC piping. Lead or cast-iron pipes will need to be replaced. If you’re thinking of installing an extra bathroom, establish where the water supply and waste pipes run.
- Sewage and drains
Many older properties still have clay pipes, which are susceptible to tree roots that grow through the pipe walls and cause blockages. Be alert for overflowing manhole covers or drain covers, and unpleasant smells. A qualified inspector will be able to tell you if the sewer system and drains work properly. If possible, figure out when the sewage service from the street was last upgraded.
If the house has older plaster walls, it probably has little or no insulation. Even if there is insulation, it may well be deficient or contain asbestos. You’ll also want to look for double glazed rather than single pane windows. These things will make your home more energy efficient.
Find out how old the furnace is and what type of energy is used to heat the home: oil, electricity, natural gas or boiler system? Radiators may add charm, but they’re an expensive option and complicate air conditioning in the summer.
What condition is the roof in? Definitely poke around in the attic. Some clues that you may need to replace or repair it include leaks or water stains near the chimney and on the inside of the top floor ceiling. Be sure that the ridges aren’t bowing or the eaves sagging. Don’t forget to examine the chimney’s brickwork too – any chipping or crumbling is a red flag.
Remember, safety first and trust your instincts! Also, be sure to check out this article if you’re still weighing the pros and cons of buying an older home versus a newer home.
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