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Old 01-11-2008, 04:10 PM
Location: Philly
165 posts, read 752,434 times
Reputation: 83


Hi, we are looking to purchase an old home (approx 100 years). While I love old houses, I am a little concerned about issues that may come up.

Can people give me some advice about what to look out for when buying an old home? What are some of the issue to be aware of? What are some of the things we will have to deal with no matter what?

Energy efficiency is one thing that concerns me, so any tips you have will be appreciated.

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Old 01-11-2008, 04:31 PM
70 posts, read 441,799 times
Reputation: 50
Put most of your energy into anything you CAN'T see! Plumbing, electrical, heating and structural (floor/ceiling/roof joists, etc). If any of those areas haven't been updated you will need to do it when you buy. These are also the MOST expensive things to repair on a house.

Problems with all the rest, plaster walls, roof, woodwork, etc, are obvious to the eye and pretty easy to catch. Sometimes its better to buy a shell with good bones, gut it and replace everything.
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Old 01-12-2008, 06:09 PM
3,020 posts, read 23,068,533 times
Reputation: 2686
Default Look for the big ticket things.......

Already some good advice.

Your general concern about energy efficiency is well placed, so pay attention to amount / lack of insulation, type windows, doors, heating / cooling plant.

I would also pay a lot of attention to the electrical wiring. I hate old houses where they have mixed old / new wiring. At 100 years old I would want it to be a total rip out and complete update with the proper sized service and all the whistles and bells. I like a house to be over wired with plenty of outlets, circuits, etc. Good hard wired security, fire, smoke, CO system.

Look for the things that will cost the most. Roof, residing, structural, carpets, heating, plumbing, new windows, doors, insulation, etc. Major type repairs. Getting it and gutting is a very nice if you can get the shell for a low enough price. With the general cost of materials today usually that is difficult.

I would look at the house a couple of times at least. Make a good list of what you do not like and then attempt to estimate what it with cost to get into the condition you will like. Bath and kitchen updates can be pricy even if you do all the work. Pay attention to details. I also hate old houses with original plumbing. Even if the plumbing was correctly installed for the day it is always horribly out of date by today's standards. Again I like a total rip out, start with something that has a prayer of working well in the future. Same with good heating / cooling.

Most older houses were never done with a comprehensive approach to updates. Way to much a piece here, a piece patched over there. I just did one over while living in it. Not a total gut but everything was brought up to modern standards. Hate to think about the manhours I plugged into this puppy, really bore down on the budget and everything cost about $10K, very time consuming if you are limited in the money willing to spend but want a super nice final job.

Older houses can be nice from a bunch of angles but I hate them without a total update / upgrade to the critical stuff. 100 year old house should have had a total gut out at some point in its history by now.
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Old 01-13-2008, 03:55 AM
1,005 posts, read 1,387,292 times
Reputation: 656
Default Cosmic...

Nice to see you back. I hope your house has come out great. I'll scan through your posts to see if you've posted after pics.

In regard to your post, how could you tell if a house's electrical system has been updated, since the wires are interior? Certainly if one sees a 2-prong outlet, rather than 3... that's obvious. Or, lights that dim when heavy appliances go on... something that might not be evident until moving in, particularly if buying an unlived in home.

My 3-decker hasn't been gutted/re-wired, but because I did all cosmetic renovations & minor updates (electrician installed additional outlets/phone jacks, updated several outlets to 3-prong, added several heavy duty outlets ("5-pronged T" or something similar) for w/d), one might think it had new wiring. But, you know how these old Boston houses were originally wired - outlets on walls connecting separate rooms were on the same circuit, back in the days when small table lamps were almost all that were used. Since I'm running a humidifier/lights/computer/space heater all in 1-room 24/7, when my fridge clicks on in the adjoining room, everything dims/slows for a second. Can't be helped... electrician said I've reached my max energy allowed into the cellar fusebox & $3-6K more would be needed to upgrade the box. Nah... I'll wait to sell within the next few years.

Are these commonly revealed by the homeowner to potential buyers? Just curious & in my case it won't matter, probably. Whomever buys it will gut it & make an upscale condo to sell for $1/2M... But, how would the OP know this without being told?

Have fun... VV
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Old 01-13-2008, 05:26 AM
Location: Ohio
2,178 posts, read 7,796,014 times
Reputation: 3890
I live in a house that will be 100 years old in 2013. I bought it in 1989. The one thing I like is it is built out of real wood. And it's hardwood, not pine and not the prefab stuff. It still has plaster and lath walls and ceilings. I could tear that out and replace it with sheetrock but I don't see any real need to do that.
It is alot more guiet than the newer ones because of the materials used. It has rough sawed oak 2x10's for floor joists. It has proved it can withstand what nature has thrown at it so far as far as weather. I live in NE Ohio.
It has some drafty windows but we added good storm windows to help out with that. It is insulated at the roof but not the walls so it isn't as energy efficient as some new homes.
The solid oak floors and steps squeak some but I know I ain't likely to fall through them. The oak staircase and woodwork is beautiful after my wife and I stripped it and refinished it.
It ain't all square. I found that out when I did some remodeling.
The foundation is sandstone that was dug out of the hillside that the house is built on. I know sandstone is kind of porous but the basement doesn't have a water problem even in the rainy times.
I guess what I'm trying to say is "they don't build them like they used to". In it's younger days, it probrably never thought it would ever see such a thing as a computer, LOL.
With an old house you do need to take a good look at the wiring. You might need to update it.
Look for any possible water damage that might have occured over the years.
Termite or carpenter ant damage.
Galvanized water pipes might have to be replaced with copper if the old pipes are leaking or plugged up. Mine still has galvanized but haven't been a problem so far.
I did replace the cast iron drain pipes from the bathroom with PVC.
I think an old house has charm and charactor. If you get one in good basic condition you can upgrade as time goes by. My neighbor built a new house on an empty lot that was next to me about 10 years ago and they have more problems than I do.
Maybe I got lucky, but I like my old house. I might be a traditionalist but I don't like the cookie cutter houses that are being built today with the thin walls and the quantity over quality mindset that seems so prevalent.
I'll take one that has stood the test of time even though I know I might have to make a repair now and then.
But then, you have to do that with the new ones too.
I have no regrets.
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Old 01-13-2008, 06:28 AM
25,573 posts, read 23,763,548 times
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Energy efficiency and safety are two big factors. Remembering a house is that old, so is the plumbing and the electrical. You may want to consider having all those venues checked out by professional contractors, and get a few opinions, not just one. Sometimes those two areas have been upgraded sometime in the past couple of decades, sometimes not. But if the guts are really that old, definately I personally would consider upgrading. How about mold in the walls? That can trigger some serious health issues.
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Old 01-13-2008, 07:34 PM
Location: Old Town Alexandria
14,506 posts, read 23,177,711 times
Reputation: 8829
Originally Posted by VivaLaEvie View Post
Hi, we are looking to purchase an old home (approx 100 years). While I love old houses, I am a little concerned about issues that may come up.

Can people give me some advice about what to look out for when buying an old home? What are some of the issue to be aware of? What are some of the things we will have to deal with no matter what?

Energy efficiency is one thing that concerns me, so any tips you have will be appreciated.

bad plumbing, wood rot, window sills eroding, outdated kitchens that will not sell, damp and mildew (mold) in basement which makes a house unsale-able. Old (or no garage) everyone needs one today, outdated appliances, horrible paint jobs, and/or wallpaper that is archaic.

Oil burners ( a nightmare to maintain). The list goes on.
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Old 01-13-2008, 08:15 PM
Location: Land of 10000 Lakes + some
2,885 posts, read 1,420,882 times
Reputation: 346
A home inspector should be able to tell you most, if not all, of this. It's worth every penny.
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Old 01-14-2008, 09:11 AM
Location: Philaburbia
31,162 posts, read 57,274,608 times
Reputation: 52025
Pay attention mostly to the structure of the house -- those "good bones" -- and don't worry about cosmetic/preference issues. I'd worry most about the electrical system, the foundation, and any possible insect/water damage that has not been dealt with properly.

Is the foundation sound? Is the electrical service capable of handling modern needs? Are the floors level and sound (look for doors that hang crooked, stick or won't close, etc. -- not necessarily a problem, but could be)? What does the plumbing look like? Check the water pressure, etc.

If the house has forced-air heat, make sure it's got return ducts, etc. Our 80-year-old house was built without them on the second floor , and on the first floor they don't connect to the furnace! (I'd love to meet the guy that built our house ... and strangle him ...) We're looking at a couple grand and some plaster work on top of that to correct that.

Look at any updates/remodels as well, and make sure they were done correctly. It's also a PITA to correct someone else's mistakes over the years.
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Old 01-14-2008, 05:38 PM
Location: Philly
165 posts, read 752,434 times
Reputation: 83
Thanks everyone - this is very helpful.

Back to one question - how do we tell if the electrical has been updated? Just look at the circuit breaker? The outlets? Any other tell-tale signs that is was only partly updated in the past?
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