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Old 05-11-2010, 07:21 PM
575 posts, read 1,599,584 times
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Has anyone ever owned a really old house or historic house before? Pros/Cons? Are really old houses hard to maintain? How long will it stand? Can houses stay up for that long? Or is it slowly rotting? Also, do they have a lot of bad qualities like lead paint or asbestos? Are they hard to repair or update as far as heating, cooling, windows, etc. Please share all your experiences good or bad. I am considering a really old house, but have never known anyone that owned one before. Just don't want to fall into a money pit, although I am aware that can happen with any house. Thanks.
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Old 05-11-2010, 07:55 PM
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The oldest home I ever owned was built in 1920. It was adorable with plaster walls, crown molding, oak staircase...charm galore. I enjoyed the house because of its character but we ran into issues because the house was designed during a period when people lived very differently than how we live today. I had a "workers kitchen" or some call a "bumpin butt kitchen." It basically a kitchen so small that only one person could be in it at a time. I had a heck of a time finding new appliances that would fit because when the house was built, appliances were not as deep. The stove and fridge were across from each other and it was a situation of only opening one appliance at a time. We brain stormed on how to change the set up but there was no other way unless we added on to the house. I had a large dining room so that was enjoyable but cooking a large Thanksgiving feast in such a small kitchen was a challenge. I organized everything very efficiently and took advantage of IKEA as this helped me organize the small space. But the small quarters got old and I dreamed of a bigger kitchen. My son's bedroom had built ins which were adorable but again, his room was so small we could only fit a twin bed and a small desk in there. We didnt bother with a dresser because there was no room. We used the built ins and I gather these were put in because of the limited amount of space.

We re-did all the plumbing to copper which was not that big of a deal but when it came to heating and cooling the house, it was a problem. The house was originally built with the use of a coal furnace and at some point previous owners install forced air. Because of the home's age the house was either way too cold or too hot. Our bills were really high due to poor insulation. We did have a HVAC expert come out to see if we could change the set up and he said the only way would be to get in the walls, knock out this or knock out that..welll...with old plaster walls we didn't bother with it. Another issue we ran into is our home insurance was quite high for the small house we had. Due to its age and the quality of materials used to build it, we had to pay higher premiums.

We now live in a newer home and quite honestly I am happy. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge architecture buff and nothing beats the character and quality of an older home. In our case, we had a small older home that really did not fit our needs. I would get a good home inspection to see if the home does have asbestos. If you happen to be getting a FHA mortgage this may be an issue with some older homes. Any house requires constant maintenance but it helps if you are a bit handy and skillful.

Last edited by fallingwater; 05-11-2010 at 07:58 PM.. Reason: misspellings
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Old 05-11-2010, 08:06 PM
Location: Jacksonville, FL
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How old is really old in your book? My sister's house is over 100 years old, and was moved down a river then rolled on logs to get where it is now. I do most of the major work on her house, and all in all it's in as good of shape as a house built 20 years ago.

Cosmetically, if it is a historic home, you will run into higher costs when it comes to trying to match what's there now (example, my sister's house has 11" baseboards - try matching those at the local hardware store). Structurally, older homes were, if anything, built better than what is built now. The wood was much better quality, and the people building houses were true craftsmen.

The windows, if they haven't already been upgraded, will cost a bit to bring up to standard. A lot of those old homes have single pane glass, and over the years the wood frames around the windows have expanded and contracted to the point that they let the wind blow through. Same with heating and cooling, if it hasn't been installed yet plan on paying a pretty penny for getting it done. And make sure that whoever does it won't be destroying the house in the process.

As for asbestos and lead, yes there is a chance of finding these in older homes. However, there is also a chance of finding these in a home that was built 30 years ago. However, having suspect items tested is not that expensive, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Old homes have character, in my honest opinion. My sister's house has minor sloping in the floors (which means the dog can chase the ball all by himself) and doors that don't quite line up (although I have fixed most of the ones that needed it). There are little quirks in any old house that will either drive you insane or that you will come to love, depending on your personality.

All in all, a historic or really old house can be a great investment, provided that maintenance has been done over the years, and that you are willing to take on the upkeep of it.
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Old 05-11-2010, 08:13 PM
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We wanted to buy a "really old house" because of the charm and potential-- if they are fixed up really nice, they can be worth a lot! But a 1900's victorian type house seemed too spacioius and drafty (what pp's have said) for us to afford to heat. We went with an "old" house but not as old-- a 1949 ranch. It is ugly and tiny, but its had some improvements and is a tight little box that is easy on the utility bills, lol!
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Old 05-11-2010, 08:19 PM
Location: Oregon Coast
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The house I live in is about 100 years old. I would guess it would be called an old house. I've lived here a few years. We did get an inspection done before we bought the house. I strongly suggest you get an inspection too.

The house I live in has been kept up pretty well. Really it's in better shape than some I've seen that were 30 years old. I have mostly all real wood floors that just require a dust mop cleaning mostly. We have replaced the old windows with new ones. A person needs good windows where I live. We can get some strong rain storms coming in during winter.

No A/C is required here on the coast of Oregon. We've got wall heaters and a pellet stove to keep things cozy during the cool season.

I really like some of the styles of older homes.
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Old 05-11-2010, 08:45 PM
Location: Knoxville
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Really old is pretty subjective. IN my area, there are lots of homes that are 110 years old. There are a few that are older, but they are few and far between. The oldest I have inspected was 180 years old. IN many parts of the country, there are homes well over 200 years old.

I have inspected some really nice homes over 100 years old. I have also inspected some, that are barely standing, and not long for this world.

While old homes are charming, there are some parts that you had better be prepared to handle, changeout or update, or put up with.
1. Wiring.....the electrical systems in homes 100 years old are just not safe. There are many insurance companies that will not touch a home with knob and tube wiring.
2. Plumbing....... even a house built only 75 years ago probably needs all new plumbing.
3. Heating system.......old homes had horrible heating systems and usually no air conditioning. If it had been upgraded to a forced air system, there is likely asbestos on the ducts.
4. There WILL be asbestos in 100 year old homes. If not on the pipe insulation, or the heating ducts, it will be in the flooring, or in the plaster walls. It will be there, and you will have to deal with it. Same with lead based paint. It may be under 40 layers of latex, but its very likely the wood trim was painted with that stuff at some point early last century.
5. Foundations and wood structure. If the foundation is stone, then there will be the obvious settling, and possible unstable conditions. If it is common brick, the mortar is usually very soft leaving the foundation subject to settlement. The wood floor system is likely to have been infested with termites at some point, and depending on how much attention the owners paid, there could be lots of damage, causing those uneven floors that so many old homes have.
6. Little if any insulation in the walls and attic, and windows that leak like crazy. Energy efficient is not exactly what old houses are all about.

Don't get me wrong, I like old homes. They are very cool. But you better be prepared to spend lot of money on them, to either upgrade, or in upkeep.
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Old 05-11-2010, 09:52 PM
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My house is over 120 years old. It was completely GUTTED 30 years ago.

It's not drafty. It has new windows. The insulation is better than new houses. The wiring and plumbing are all new.

An old house is a great way to build your own house to your own specifications without resorting to boring new construction. I know everything about it because my husband did the work on it. My house has tons of character and top quality materials.

As for updating heating, I wouldn't imagine doing that! Hot water heat is the best heat. When I needed to replace my 50 year old boiler, I considered installing forced air because it was cheaper than replacing the boiler---even with needing to install duct work throughout the house. But I decided that cheaper isn't better, and I chose to upgrade my boiler. I don't regret the decision. My skin stays moist in the winter. No need for humidifiers.

Don't believe that stone foundations are subject to settlement problems. A house over 100 years old has done all the settling it plans to do. Our sandstone foundation is absolutely solid. The walls buckled in my parent's 1970s home when I was a child. I'll take an 'antique' stone foundation over a newer cinder block foundation any day. (Oh, and there is no termite damage in my house either!)

Our upkeep isn't any higher than newer houses.
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Old 05-12-2010, 05:40 AM
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The house I grew up in was built in the 1840's and is on the National Historic Registrar and it is still going strong. If a house has lasted that long and has been taken care of, it could last forever. There are many buildings in Europe that are many 100's of years old. If a house wasn't constructed properly back then, it wouldn't be around today. If the house hasn't been already you will want to update plumbing, heating, electrical, etc.

The pros defiantly outweigh the cons if the house has been kept up. The charm and architecture just can't be matched.
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Old 05-12-2010, 05:54 AM
Location: Queensland
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Our last house was 100 years old. It had some dry rot, there were gaps in the floor boards, the louvres didn't close properly, letting in the rain during cyclones.

But it was high-set, all timber, front verandah, louvres instead of windows, 12 foot high ceilings, and was surrounded by tropical garden. Take the good with the bad.
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Old 05-12-2010, 07:19 AM
Location: Cushing OK
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My house was built in 1930. It is a shotgun style house with small bedrooms and big kitchen and living room. It was gutted and they had gotten to walls and a very bad mud/taping job when the owner died and it was sold. I've been repainting and am now replacing lights and putting in fans and trying to improve the unfinished look. The plumming is new and the electric is mostly new. But I got hardwood floors and charm and lots more yard (currently looking like a clover field which is too wet to mow). Overall, I would eventually like to put in new windows since they used cheap ones and have the floors redone, but some of the floors are uneven and will just have to be. The draft is more than in a modern house, but then this is a whole lot more sturdy than the one built in 1970.

I would love to be able to afford a spray foam on the underside of the house, but can't. So I wear warmer stuff when its cold. But I love the look of the house and that its got some character where the other houses I've lived in didn't. And it is wierd to think of a house built in 1950 as "old" but by todays standards it is.

There is a trade off if you want the feel of time because unless you can redo it all you don't get modern flow, but for me thats good. My current goal is to fix the bad drywall job and plaster over the mess in the kitchen, and make it look like it fits its age. If you must have a modern flow and kitchen don't buy an old house, but if you like that feel of time its well worth the work.
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