10 Things to Consider When Buying an Older Home

Sarah Tolle – Homify Canada Sarah Tolle – Homify Canada
Décoration d'un appartement ancien, Xavier Lemoine Architecture d'Intérieur Xavier Lemoine Architecture d'Intérieur Modern terrace
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Buying an older home can be an enchanting experience, a DIY paradise, or an outright headache. When you're looking at going for an older home – currently, that's a home that's built between 1990 and 1920 (pre-1920 is vintage or antique) – there are some important things to consider before making an offer.  Here's a list of 10 to keep in mind.

1. No matter the condition, it's going to need some work.

With any luck, the older home that you've set your eyes on is in better condition than this one. However, whether the place hails from 1980 or 1890, it's going to need some work. A quick walk-through may leave you feeling charmed, enraptured by the quaint, established feel of the place. However, a detailed examination will reveal that you need a bigger closet, a better foundation, a new gutter system (and the list goes on). Many aesthetic shortcomings can be solved with a bucket of paint or some tools that you pick up at the hardware store. However, other jobs like plumbing, wiring, and roofing will likely require professionals.

(Psst! If you'd like to see how this home ended up after an in-depth reno job, have a look here!)

2. Lead paint, asbestos, and radon

Lead paint was banned from being used in homes starting in 1978; asbestos was banned by the EPA several years later, in the 1980s. When buying a pre-1978 home, you usually have to sign a waiver stating that you acknowledge the possibility that there's lead paint on your walls, and the presence of asbestos is required to be reported to you (but not necessarily removed). While this is not a deal breaker for most people looking to buy an old home, keep in mind that asbestos removal professionals may charge more than $20,000 for a full-home removal, and lead paint removals can cost in the neighborhood of $12.00 per square foot. 

Radon is a radioactive gas that is naturally present in rock, and it's more of a concern for older homes as radon usually enters a home through cracks in the basement walls or foundation. Like asbestos and lead removal, radon mitigation will vary in price according to the job, but expect to spend a few hundred dollars, at least.

3. The humidity

The type of materials the home is made of, as well as the local environment, will determine how humidity has affected the building over the years. Look for warped doors, bubbly paint, warped floors, and any traces of mold. Most importantly, if there's a basement, go down and have a feel for the air – is it very humid? It's important to consider the humidity when determining how much work will need to be done on an older home, as more humid conditions cause materials to break down faster. In prefabricated or modular homes that use lower-quality materials, this will be more of an issue. 

4. Your ability to improvise

If you opt for an older home and begin to undertake some renovation projects, they're not likely to happen overnight. Contractors can experience delays for a number of reasons, and your project may take much longer than expected. So, consider how you can improvise – are you happy setting up a temporary office in the hallway, or will it drive you up the wall? Can you suffer the inconvenience of storing your clothes in the downstairs closet while the bedrooms are being refinished, or are you not up to the task? Patience is a big part of owning an older home – if you're looking for instant gratification, you're better off with a newer one.

5. Your creative vision

On a lighter note, consider your creative vision, and bring it into full force! An older home offers an opportunity to build on an established structure, creating a unique blend of old and new! Many older homes have already been added on to once or twice, and when you're the owner, you can unleash your artistic vision, too! This home displays a convenient, compact kitchen with modern dining area and new flooring – and behind it, an aged brick wall with original wooden beams overhead. An older home offers a great framework for renovation projects that balance modernity with tradition – if your creative vision follows this theme, an older home is an excellent choice. 

6. The seasons

In a summer showing, the home may seem great; fast forward six months, and you find that you're loosing precious heat through every nook and cranny as it escapes into the cold winter air. If you're buying in a place that experiences drastic seasonal changes, consider how the home is now, and consider how it'll be in the opposite season – windows are one of the first things to be updated upon the purchase of a new home, and if you find that you're going to be leaking heat in the winter, it's best to start the window reno right away. You won't want to hire an interior decorator and gardener, only to discover that your budget is tight when it's time to call the window crew. 

7. The pipes

They're out of sight, out of mind, but you have to think about the pipes. It matters what they're made of – copper and brass pipes are known to last half a century, while PEX (a plastic material) gets about 45 years, and steel brings up the rear with about 20 years of durability. That said, if you're buying an older home with steel pipes, there's a very good chance that they'll need replacing within your span of ownership. You won't want to run into leaky pipes later on.  

8. The size of your furniture

It may seem like the last thing to think about when you're looking at foundations and plumbing, but consider your furniture: namely, is it going to fit? If you're imagining a slick in-home movie theatre like this one, you're going to need ample space, and it can be difficult to accurately visualize how much furniture will fit. Measure your larger furniture and take note of how many tables, chairs, and shelves you own so that you can accurately imagine your belongings in the potentially new (well, new and old) home.

9. Your lights, appliances, and gagdets

An older home may not have the number of outlets you need; likewise, it may not have up-to-date wiring. Scope out the rooms to see what kind of power outlets they have, and take note of where you'll need to install more. Simple jobs, you can do yourself, but you'll most likely need to hire an electrician for rewiring projects.

10. The story

Your older home may come with an interesting history – if it does, there's a chance that it's a historical landmark protected by your local historical society. You're bound to be told this right off the bat, but what you might not know is that you, as the owner of a historical landmark, may not be able to make all of the sweeping changes that you'd like – adding a three-car garage to a 19th century cottage might not gain the approval of your local historical society. Make sure that you enjoy the space roughly as it is, without having to make large additions that change the unique character of the building.

If you're looking for innovative renovation projects that inspire your own, have a look at this old country cottage that was transformed and modernized to become a convenient family home.

What's your experience with buying an older home? Share your tips below!

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