Want to buy old house, is it safe?

tiffanyatwellApril 2, 2008

Hi, I'm new to the whole idea of buying an older house but my hubby and I love them so much better than the new cookie cutter houses. We recently found an older one that is nearly 100 years old and it got me to thinking, how safe are they to live in and is there anything I should look for or be weary about before buying?



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You should have a through inspection by someone that is familiar with old houses.
Old houses are no safer or worse than another house, depending on how it was constructed and taken care of.
However, older homes were usually better built than today's cookie cutter homes.
Good Luck

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 2:08PM
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When you go to buy a house, you first take a good look, then make an offer through the realtor, specifying that a formal inspection be done before closing and if it goes well, you're all set, but 99% of the time there are at least small fixes that need doing, 70% of the time at least a couple of not so small things need fixing, and 40% of the time there are a lot of major things that need doing. You can niggle and dime the buyers about the little stuff, but most of us don't make a fuss. You negotiate the 'couple of not so small things" after getting an idea what they'd cost to fix, but you get in real pros to cost the major fixes, and if you're smart you'll use those to get the price lowered down - sometimes sellers will offer to do fixes, but don't go there because they'll do the cheapest thing possible to get out of there, and you want to hire your own workers! For a house of ~ 100 yrs, you need a really well recommended inspector (you hire and pay him) to especially check the whole foundation, plumbing, electrics and roof - they're the biggies, plus everything else he'd normally do anyhow (and those are normal too, but need emphasis in old places).

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 7:54PM
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An old house is no more and no less safe than a new house. You can assume that there will be lead paint buried on the walls, but that's no problem unless one starts chewing on it.

I'd check to see if there's knob and tube wiring.
I'd check to see if the visible pipes are galvanized, plastic, pvc, copper - whatever
I'd check to see if there is any asbestos wrapping on pipes in the basement. If it's wrapped and undisturbed, it's not a problem.
I'd check the slope of the floors. Sometimes older homes have settled. This in itself isn't a problem, but some homeowners choose to jack up the house to level things out.
Check the roof - most inspectors will not get up and actually look closely at it, but see if you can see active water damage in the attic or if anything looks out of order.
Check to see if there are obvious, poorly done previous homeowner DIY repairs. This will most likely be the worst thing you have to deal with in the future.
Don't assume that if the wood windows leak a bit of air, that you have to rip them out and get new windows. Window maintenance can fix loads of problems.

We're on old home #3 and will never live in cookie cutter houses - I very much agree with the comments about better construction....and better quality materials were generally used, too. My biggest recommendation is do not use the inspector that your realtor recommends UNLESS you have done your homework and know that this inspector is an expert in old homes. If you can find an inspector who also lives in an old home and is an old home pro, you'll be much better off in the short and long run. If the location you are in has a historical society or old home owner organizations, call them for inspector recommendations.

Good luck with the home you are considering.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2008 at 5:30AM
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Pretty much echoing the comments. One thing I did was bring an experienced reno contractor with us on the properties that we liked enough to consider making an offer.

I'm of the opinion that a flash light and some time can catch most of the serious issues if you know what to look for and can get at it. Much of the scariest looking stuff is the easiest for an amateur to fix, believe it or not. Some of the most minor looking problems are the most troublesome.

The biggest issue, I'd say, is electrical that needs to be done in a place that has already had renovation done or that has historically significant woodwork, and the like.

I have a blog "manual" of our process.

Here is a link that might be useful: Rehabbers Manual Step 2 at Rehab or Die

    Bookmark   April 3, 2008 at 11:07AM
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Tiffany, just one note: Our home inspector, who appeared to do a really good job, didn't find a lot of issues. We hired a structural engineer for $150 to throughly check the foundation. He told us exactly what needed to be done and how. It was well worth the money. Our house is 100 years old and we had everything checked out BEFORE we made an offer on the house. We ended up buying for $22,000 less than their asking price and we had all the inspector's and engineer's opinions to back up our offer.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2008 at 2:06PM
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Agree with other posts. Don't be afraid of the age itself -- look at the structural elements. Our house was built in 1888, hence my login, and it's as solid as they come. Needs lots of work, but that's always manageable somehow!

    Bookmark   April 5, 2008 at 10:11PM
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fine posts.
Our house is 200 years old. It was remuddled and unloved. It is solid and beautifully proportioned with enough original detailing to make my heart smile. I am happy to bring back its charm.
We've done the systems first - heating, plumbing, electrical, roof, drainage, well, septic. We're about to begin to take off the vinyl siding, one side at a time in case there is serious damage underneath!
A wonderful adventure - But not for everyone

    Bookmark   April 17, 2008 at 5:37PM
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We own a home built in 1910 and love it. I will never go back to a vinyl village. Our home had been rehabed and the wiring and plumbing were in updated condition. There is always work to be done. Right now it is dealing with rotted window sills. Previous owners did not keep the house painted. We are doing a couple a year starting with the worst. $2000 a pop. Its worth it. We feel its going to be close to $10,000 a year for 5 years to get everything in good shape then all we have to do is keep up with the general care. Just keep in mind that these older homes do need TLC and that includes money. The people that know how to care for these homes are not a dime a dozen. Do you research. It is worth all of the work.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2008 at 12:30PM
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older homes were usually better built than today's cookie cutter homes.

No Codes, no inspection, no building science, no engineering doesn't add up to quality in my book.

I've taken apart a lot of homes back to the 1850s. Some were wonderful. A friend grew up in an 1850s solid stone farmhouse with walls two feet thick and structural 8x12s. When her Mom passed away 21 years ago, the home was sold to restorers who stripped the aluminum siding and updated the mechanicals. It's a wonderful anachronism in the middle of a 1970s subdivision.

OTOH, many homes in downtown Toronto ( e.g., South Annex, Don Vale) were built of scrap by struggling working class people and carry a 100-year old accretion of jerry-built additions. Neighbourhoods that tourists go gaga about are often old facades behind which are completely new structures.

As others have mentioned, older homes often have systems that have to be replaced immediately to qualify for insurance. Here, that includes, depending on the insurer, k&t wiring, galvanized steel plumbing, aluminum wiring, electrical services of less than 100 amps, outdated fuel oil tanks and underground fuel oil tanks.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2008 at 9:44AM
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Another vote for getting a well-recommended home inspector who works with old houses to check the place out before putting in an offer -- esp if you don't know old homes. I walked through our house with our inspector and learned so much. He issued us a detailed "book" we then used to methodically attack maintenance issues after we took possession.

Structural engineer might also be a good idea.

Even after I found my wonderful inspector and made arrangements with him I discovered my real estate agent asked that reports be sent to him rather than me! I corrected this but found it annoying since my goal was to find an inspector who was beholden to me, not an agent with other interests.

Twenty years later our modest bungalow continues to get rave reviews on construction from workers and visitors -- but then it was one of the most expensive homes built in our city in 1914. I'm sure construction varied that year around town as much as it does today, but we're quite happy with our home and our investment. No cookie cutters anywhere in the neighborhood, feels like home all around.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 1:05PM
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Our 1916 home was also among the nicest in town when it was built-- by a hardware store owner whose store was about half a mile from the house.

Perhaps because of his care in construction, we have no issues with wiring, plumbing, insulation, or other systems, although much of the original material remains. The house is solid as a rock.

(Our burden is windows-- tons of them, with 16-pane uppers, all needing reglazing asap. We knew this when we bought.)

There will ALWAYS be something to spend your vacation money on if you buy an old house. You will probably ALWAYS have something you'd like to do to your house. For some people, this is exhausting and frustrating.

However, we wouldn't live in a pre-wwII home for anything. There's something about the light from big old windows, the intelligent placement of windows for ventilation, and the tall ceilings and generous woodwork that are balm for our spirits.

Best of luck with your decision!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 3:20PM
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I bought a Victorian Cottage built in 1895 in Alabama. When I first saw it, I knew it would be mine. And pictured it on the cover of Southern Living. lol

Sometimes Love is blind. And I do have a love/hate relationship with the house because of the ever present work that is needed to mantain it.

Would I sell it, wash your mouth out, I'm in love.
Is it safe, Lord I hope so. lol


    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 11:43AM
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Hi Buddy,
I think old house is safe comparison to new house because old houses linter was made on gater in this no use of iron rod and some and some linter are depend on wood log.
some more help check this site

Here is a link that might be useful: Sell Home Fast

    Bookmark   September 8, 2008 at 2:14PM
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"No Codes, no inspection, no building science, no engineering doesn't add up to quality in my book."

That depends on how old and where the house is located.
Some places have had codes for well over 100 years.

The poorly built ones are rarely standing after a long time.

More important is thing like updated electrical and plumbing.
Old plumbing is often still in pretty good shape, but electrical has changed a lot in the last 80 years.

A 1915 house may have one receptacle per wall in each room, no matter what the room size, and be wired with knob & tube wiring (and not even have boxes at outlets).

While you may find a lead water supply line that should be replaced, lead drain/waste/vent lines are often still working as well as the day they were installed.
Drum traps have not been allowed for many years, but they still work (especially for gray water lines).

Older houses have things like rough cut joists that are a full 2 inches thick, making them 33% stronger than the same height 1.5 inch joist.
Studs are a full 2x4 inches, not 1.5 x 3.5 inches. Since the 16 inch spacing has been around a long time, this insignificantly increases the wall stiffness.
Instead of plywood sub-floors where half the layer are not really doing much, you get full one inch thick diagonal planks.
Joist are sometimes over spanned, but it is not as hard a problem to fix as it often appears.

Those 100 years old houses still standing are liable to out last the new ones being built now.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2008 at 10:46PM
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