Tips for living in an old house?

alison_27December 28, 2008

My husband and I have found a lovely home with the perfect location and layout for our family. As a bonus, it is over 100 years old but was remodeled in 2001 so it has tons of character but is NOT a fixer (a project we really could not tackle right now, with a toddler and a new baby on the way!)

So...if we do make an offer (which we're strongly considering) what should we expect from living in an older home? How much should we budget for maintenance? What pitfalls should we watch out for? How do we avoid faux pas in carrying out our responsibility of preserving the heritage for another generation? :)

While I'm here, does Cape Cod accurately describe this style? It is said to have been built in the late 1800s. It may have been built in the Pacific Northwest; but the architect who did the remodel has also been known to import structures from Massachusetts for reconstruction and renovation, and I'm not sure if this was such a project.

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Those three small 2nd floor windows and the roof don't look completely Cape Cod to me. But between the shingles and picket fence, it definitely has that Cape feel (pronounced by a Cape Cod native).

    Bookmark   December 28, 2008 at 8:27PM
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I would say it's more of a "foursquare" than a Cape (which often has dormer windows upstairs). It's hard to say what to look out for in future without knowing the state of the roof, foundation, electrics or plumbing, never mind window surrounds, or local water issues, and what exactly was done in 2001 - just cosmetics or ???

    Bookmark   December 28, 2008 at 9:17PM
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My realtor, who coincidentally was the seller's agent the last time the place was sold, says that it was "more of a remodel than a renovation." However, he thinks the roof, siding, and windows were replaced during the remodel.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2008 at 11:50PM
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If it was built in the late 1800s as you say, it definately has had upgrades to the electrical and plumbing at some point in time. You need to ask when those were done. You can find out when the permits were pulled by going down to your city hall. You will also be able to find out if the house has been moved.

You definately need to get the sturcture inspected before buying. This way you will learn if the new roof shingles were added or if it was a tear off, for instance and any other things of importance.

Just because a structure was remodeled does not mean it was improved. A lousy remodel is worse than no remodel.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2008 at 2:01AM
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That is a very pretty old house.

For expenses, the biggest ongoing expense difference is likely heating/cooling. Unless there have been some major insulation upgrades, the heat bill can be startling.

The rest depends on what has been done to the place. Is the electrical relatively up to date? Is the water coming in through old iron pipes that will eventually rust through? Were there major water problems that required the replacement of roof and siding? How are the appliances and HVAC? Any of those could be big dollar tickets.

As for the ongoing, predictable expenses, they aren't fundamentally different than a newer house. If the house is in good condition and has been for 100+ years, it will likely stay that way as long as you are maintaining it well. Of course the key to that statement is "if" the house is in good condition now. You will definitely want to get a home inspection done by an inspector with extensive experience looking at older homes. It may cost a little more but it is well worth it. Building standards have changed so much over the years that you really need someone who knows the difference between "different" and "trouble."

    Bookmark   December 29, 2008 at 10:21AM
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They say to live in a house a year before contemplating any changes - so true! Wish I could undo some of my boo boos.

Keep everything and anything original to the house - store it away, even if you think you don't need it. I gave a way a vintage glass light shade from a ceiling fixture thinking it was useless without the fixture (the original fixture was missing) - only to find that the fixture could've been easily recreated by an electrician. And the glass shade which I gave away thinking it useless - worth over a hundred dollars.

Also, do not bring your preconceived ca 2008 notions to the house. Give it a chance to be what it is. For example some people think they need to blast away all the walls and create the big cavernous space. But most likely you'll come to appreciate the original layout and the esthetics and the thinking behind it -

Are you having it inspected? Even if its not a contingency if this is your first old house you might want to walk thru with someone who is an old house expert (you can talk to them on the phone a bit before making an appt. to see where their expertise lies). They can give you ball park #s re: maintenance, repairs, things to look out for in the future.

Enjoy! She looks like a beauty.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2008 at 11:53AM
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Thanks, guys. :)

Just because a structure was remodeled does not mean it was improved. A lousy remodel is worse than no remodel.

This is definitely a concern! Now that things have been "prettied up" how can I tell what was left undone, or done poorly? However, the architect who did the remodel seems to have some experience with old houses, from what I can find online, so there's that. :)

There will definitely be a thorough home inspection as a contingency. I've started researching local inspectors -- any advice on finding someone with the necessary experience?

    Bookmark   December 29, 2008 at 12:44PM
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Since you were able to locate the architect that was used for the remodel can you contact him and ask him questions?

    Bookmark   December 29, 2008 at 3:51PM
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I've had that thought too. I'll see what I can dig up. :)

    Bookmark   December 29, 2008 at 4:40PM
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I would say it is an eyebrow colonial.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2008 at 4:58PM
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Beautiful house! I agree with eandhl -- definitely eyebrow colonial. Someone suggested 4-square, but that would have two full stories, a hip roof, and usually a front porch.

I recommend getting the best inspector you can find (mine was incompetent and missed several major problems that should have been obvious to someone who knew what he was doing). Consider getting an energy audit (with infrared heat gun and/or blower door test), and ask for copies of utility bills for the past two years. (If the seller doesn't have them, you should be able to get them from the utility companies.)

Also, consider getting a separate electrical inspection. At the very least, count all of the outlets in every room to make sure they're adequate, and use an inexpective electrical tester to see if they're grounded and wired correctly. (I don't think home inspectors, even the good ones, routinely do this -- they probably spotcheck at best.) Also, get familiar with the basic requirements of the National Electrical Code, which specifies things like which walls require outlets and how far apart they should be, where 20-amp circuits are required, and which outlets must be GFCI-protected. My 1870 house had every conceivable electrical problem, and I've had to spend a lot on electrical work, adding more outlets, and wiring my bedrooms and upstairs hall for overhead lights. You can't expect an old house to meet the current electrical code, but the remodeled parts should have been brought up to the standard in effect at that time.

Good luck! It looks like a great house!

    Bookmark   December 31, 2008 at 7:52PM
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Thanks for 'eyebrow colonial' description -- I'd never heard that term before. Definitely what it is, and a lovely house.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2008 at 9:06PM
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My realtor just dug up a photo of the house pre-remodel. I'll try to post it later, they did a ton of work! They changed the windows around and added the part with the dormer window...eyebrow colonial still seems to fit the original though. :)

    Bookmark   January 1, 2009 at 8:57AM
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OK, check it out!

This was taken in early 2001. I think I misunderstood the realtor's remark. I took "remodel not renovation" to mean the work was cosmetic but I think he meant that the work was not intended to restore the original structure but to overhaul it into a whole new concept!

    Bookmark   January 1, 2009 at 9:57AM
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Yes, I'd say that is quite a change. Hopefully the changes were all well done. When looking for an inspector, ask them for old house references. Just because they are a good inspector, doesn't mean that they know enough about old structures to really help you. Ours certainly didn't. I would also recommend that you have a structural engineer look at it. He/she can tell you if changes made to the house, negatively affected the foundation, walls, floors, etc.
Good luck,

    Bookmark   January 2, 2009 at 11:16AM
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Wow!!! Talk about a remodel!!! They did do a ton of work on that one.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2009 at 12:58PM
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Oh my it was adorable. Even with the addition it still looks good. Good luck if you decide to proceed.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2009 at 1:12PM
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We did not stretch to the gills when we bought our house, and it's a darn good thing. Locksmith dropped by yesterday, plumber today (leaking radiator). Whatever you think you can afford, offer less. When we rented, people told us we were "throwing our money away" every month. Wish I knew then what I know now, I could have retorted, "Well, that may be so, but at least I'm not thrwoing it into a bottomless pit."

That said, we're very happy in our bottomless pit and would have it no other way.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2009 at 5:33PM
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I agree with slateberry 200% on each sentence!

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 12:58AM
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Tips?>Enjoy it,I love my 1700 farmhouse do reserch on how to decorate,Its fun learning how people lived etc,we have lots antiques its fun going looking for period furniture and pieces for my house.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 8:22AM
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Thanks, all! We bargained really hard and got what we feel is a really good deal. It should be comfortable with our budget, and we will plan carefully for home maintenance expenses and for well-considered furnishings. ;) Can't wait to close the deal and, in a few months, move in!

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 11:59AM
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Sounds great Alison! You are not buying a house but a way of life, maybe even an obsession. We love the creaking floors, the hissing radiators, and all the old patinated surfaces of our house. We love all the old patterns of wallpaper in the closets (stripped out of main areas by po though), and even behind some radiators, we get a peek of some scrap of an older pattern. We love telling people that our roof is 120 years old and original to the house, and that it probably has another 80 years to go, if not more.

Oh, and we LOOOVE the wavy glass in the windows!

...and best of all, we love endlessly fussing over it and reading up on gw forums about what to do about issue xyz. It's probably as much fun as some would have owning a fiddly vintage car.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 8:12PM
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