What to ask/know before buying an Old House?

thisishishouseOctober 27, 2013

What sort of important questions should one ask before purchasing an Old House? (ca. 1850s)

We've been house shopping for a while now. Pretty much exhausted what had been our prime candidates. Recently saw a house well outside our search parameters, an updated 1850s Colonial. Great lot, great location.

Before considering the house, we need to address the fact that we don't know what we don't know.

What are the important things to ask, learn, discover when buying an old house? I'm sure everything and anything can go wrong. But what are the most important things to consider, those that would/should be deal breakers? Where's the line between fixable and tear-down or run-away?

Known: From what I see, it's got some important updates already done. Current owners have been there for 8 years. (from family of area builders/developers) Are moving on to their next project. Whole house is foamed. ~10yr old boiler/furnace, new tanks. New baths & kitchen. New windows from prev owners (maybe 80s/90s era vinyls) Barn converted to living space. 3-car gar & rec room added. Floors look okay. Orig plaster walls appear free of cracks.

Unknowns: wiring & plumbing in the walls, well/water quality/quantity, septic condition, field stone foundation, chimneys, ...

I'll also note that it's priced about 25% below the price range we'd been shopping in newer homes in the area, so we think we'd have an okay cushion to address a few things if needed.

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jcalhoun

I don't have a house that old but I think I would want to know of any lead/galvanized steel pipes, asbestos insulation, foundation, and old wiring. Just like buying any used house, a complete inspection by a certified inspector would be in order.

Some century plus buildings are governed by a historical society who have very strict regulations concerning what you can do to the structures and grounds.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 11:07AM
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lazy_gardens

Go to the local building department and ask for the permits on that house, as far back as you can go.

If there were any galvanized pipes, the updates to the plumbing probably took care of them. You can't attach new fittings onto them because they crumble ... it's easier and cheaper to disconnect them and run fresh pipe.

Wiring? Check out the service panel. It's legal, safe and common to leave "older" wiring in place and run new circuits where needed. As long as it's not knob and tube, and as long as there are proper junction boxes, it's OK. My kitchen has the "old" 1920s wiring for the light, newer (1950s) wiring for a couple of outlets, and "new" 1990s wiring for a couple more circuits and the stove.

And go read your local building codes - some places require a full rewiring/replumbing under certain conditions, others don't.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 11:58AM
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zagut

Watch the movie. "The Money Pit".

Respect the old and do what you need to do to bring the house up to your needs.

And please take care of the old girl. She's lived a long life and deserves respect from us young folks.

Don't expect a McMansion because you'll never get it from her. She's from a different lifestyle.

If you can't respect her age don't buy her. Leave her for someone who will.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 2:29PM
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zagut

Watch the movie. "The Money Pit".

Respect the old and do what you need to do to bring the house up to your needs.

And please take care of the old girl. She's lived a long life and deserves respect from us young folks.

Don't expect a McMansion because you'll never get it from her. She's from a different lifestyle.

If you can't respect her age don't buy her. Leave her for someone who will.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 2:31PM
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jcalhoun

True.

I thought it was a dumb movie the first time then after doing more and more to the house the movie gets better and better, LOL!

I know just about every line from that movie now.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 3:45PM
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lisadlu

If you like the movie "The Money Pit" then also watch the original movie with Cary Grant "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House". Hysterical! :)

    Bookmark   November 7, 2013 at 4:48PM
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jcalhoun

I'll look for it.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2013 at 3:19AM
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dreamgarden

"Go to the local building department and ask for the permits on that house, as far back as you can go."

Good suggestion. You might also want to check and see if there are any liens with the local court.

How close are the neighbors? I'd want to have a chat with them. They might know why the house is selling.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2013 at 9:20AM
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maryinthefalls

Your list of new rooms would scare me. I would want to make sure that the contractor and architect knew and respected old houses. You can get into big trouble applying new materials/techniques to old houses. Watch some HGTV and DIY channel to see some of the creative ways people break old houses in the name of renovation. My advice would be to read up on old houses and hire an old house inspector before committing to anything.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2013 at 1:50PM
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Orange-catz

What do you mean exactly by "outside your search parameters." Are you saying that an old house was never your first choice, but you are considering one now mainly, or only because of its location and the lot? You list all the modern updating but haven't said one positive thing about the original architectural features, is charm, solidness of construction, uniqueness, etc. That may be telling us something, that perhaps you don't have the inherent love of old houses that will allow you to be able to overlook what is annoying or frustrating about them (eg trying to find a storm door to fit your oddball sized doors). Will you be consciously or unconsciously trying to make it into a more modern house, YOUR dream house, instead of love it for what it is?

Sorry if I'm reading too much into y our post but just wanted to say that unless you love what's historic and old about it - you'd probably be happier waiting for a newer house to come along. 1940s/50s on up generally were generally built with more contemporary lifestyles in mind.

On the other hand if the house has already been hopelessly remuddled or drastically altered from its original state - have at it!

    Bookmark   November 8, 2013 at 7:37PM
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