Have you decided to buy an old house?
Read this article to learn about the benefits, costs, and challenges of your decision.
There are quite a number of old houses in America. Eye on Housing did a study in 2020 that found that the average house in the U.S. is 37 years old. That's more than the average age of a person in the U.S.
In some states and cities, houses are even older. Typically, houses in the Midwest or Northeast are older, as are houses in historic downtowns.
New construction is more common in the South and West and in the suburbs across the United States. For example, especially new houses in Nevada. Their average age is barely 20 years.
What is an old house?
It's common to think of houses built after 1990 as new, and houses built before 1920 as old, or "antique." In fact, it's hard to accurately determine the age of a structure, and in many cases, an older house may be in much better condition than any new construction. The quality of construction, climate, and the work that is done on the structure can play a key role in the process of "rejuvenating" a house.
The most important factors are:
- Style and quality.Prefabricated homes tend to be built with low-quality materials, and don't have the reliability that solid Colonials or Tudors do. On the other hand, a custom-built house may even be stronger and more reliable than an older style house. In any case, it all depends on the quality and professional skills of the builders.
- Climate and natural conditions. Humidity can greatly accelerate the aging process of a structure. Also, storms or extreme temperatures will negatively affect the longevity of your house. Seismic activity, large amounts of limestone, and high groundwater elevation will all prove to be nuisance factors.
- Renovations. Is it fair to say that a structure is original if only a couple of structural supports and the foundation are left of the old materials? Be that as it may, renovating your house will always help make sure it lasts a long time.
Major problems that may await you when buying an old home and their solutions
Even if you take care of your house, you may have no idea of the problems that may await you. Mold, asbestos, pests, plumbing and electrical problems can all lead to unwanted health and even life threats.
1. Tazardous materials
Asbestos and lead - until recently were used in residential construction. These are two dangerous toxic materials that can cause serious health problems.
- Lead. A neurotoxic mateiral that can be found in interior and exterior paints made before the 1980s. Found in plumbing systems made before the war and sometimes in pipes that were made before the mid-1980s.
- Asbestos. This material has a fibrous structure and can cause some respiratory diseases, as well as causing a serious form of lung cancer. By the late 1980s, absestos was banned in construction, but no one was removing it from old buildings. So, most walls of old buildings still have asbestos insulation.
If you need professional help with any of these problems, use HomeAdvisor to find qualified and trusted contractors in your area.
If you're buying an older house, you should be aware that the walls may well contain lead paint. If you're not satisfied with coexisting with such paint, then look into investing your finances on the services of professionals. HouseLogic provides data based on which cleaning one square foot of lead paint will cost you between $8 and $15.
Also, as we said above, lead may be in your house's plumbing. The safest option would be to replace the entire piping system in your structure, but that would cost you as much as $5,000. It's much more economical to install a water filtration system, which will cost you $1,000 to $3,000, or you can choose the cheapest option - installing a filter on a single faucet, and that will cost between $300 and $1,000.
Possible solutions: asbestos
Long-term exposure to asbestos poses a serious danger to humans, but because it is mostly kept hidden deep within walls, it is unlikely to seriously harm your health. Asbestos removal is recommended if you are going to expand your structure and you need to tear down the walls to do so.
Removing asbestos from an entire structure can cost you a lot, up to $30,000, but if you need to remove it from a single pipe or wall, you may be able to get by for $1,000.
The termite problem is especially prevalent in the south, where they are active most of the year. Termites can damage wooden structures in floors, walls or supports.
The cost of repairing the damage will depend on how long the termites have been affecting the structure. It can be cosmetic repairs, which will cost you a few hundred dollars, or foundation and support structure repairs, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Prevention - It's much cheaper for you to worry about a possible problem ahead of time than to try to get rid of termites when they've already gotten into your home. Try to seal any visible cracks in your foundation that could provide an entrance for termites. Treat wood materials with termite toxic substances, and prevent water from entering the foundation of your house.
If your house is already infested with termites, you should contact a professional who will likely charge you $4 to $18 per linear foot. The average perimeter of your house is about 200 feet, so the comprehensive cost of the service will cost you about $450 to $3,000. Either way, it will all depend on the quality of the foundation and the severity of the infestation.
If you can identify problems before you buy the house, you may be able to negotiate with the owner to cover the cost of pest control services.
Older houses are more susceptible to mold because of possible moisture infiltration into the foundation. While this is often common in basements and bathrooms, the reality is that microbial growth can occur anywhere. Infestation can even occur inside walls, making it problematic to be able to detect mold when you first inspect your house.
A small amount of mold is acceptable and predictable, especially for older structures. But excessive amounts can exacerbate respiratory problems in adults and children, or cause serious infections in immunocompromised people.
Large amounts of mold can also corrode materials and surfaces (especially wood). Uncontrolled mold growth can cause serious problems and make your house uninhabitable.
The solution to the problem will depend on how far the infection has spread.
Prevention. Just as in the cases described above - prevention will cost you much less and easier than getting rid of mold that has already spread. Buy a dehumidifier and put it in your basement. You will only have to spend $100-500 dollars for the dehumidifier itself and $30-100 dollars per year for electricity. A proper indoor ventilation system and open windows in dry weather can also do you a great service.
Low volume of infestation. Small areas infested with mold can be treated with mold spray, brushes and abrasive sponges. If you notice the problem in time, you may still be able to handle it on your own.
Large infestations. Larger infested areas can't be handled as easily. It can cost up to $5,000 or more to completely get rid of mold in a building, provided the mold can be in walls and other hard-to-reach areas. Your insurance may be able to cover the cost of mold remediation. Make sure it's feasible first, before you buy an older house.
An old plumbing problem can cause serious damage to your house. One of the pipes can be damaged and then the cost to rebuild after a flood can run up to several tens of thousands of dollars, and in the long run, such problems can lead to the spread of mold. Make sure your insurance can cover the costs if anything happens.
Before you buy, find out what material the pipes in your house are made of. For example, copper or brass pipes can last you 50 years or more, when steel pipes will last half as long.
You need to be especially careful with half-butylene pipes. A material that was especially common in construction in the '70s and '90s. The chlorine in cleaning products can corrode such pipes, which can lead to serious damage very quickly.
Root damage - In areas with a high prevalence of vegetation, tree roots can be a serious problem as they can penetrate pipes under the foundation of a house. Roots can cut off the water supply inside the house.
Without taking care of your home, this will lead to clogging and a serious deterioration in water quality. Remember that tree roots can spread deep and far underground. The tree that clogged your water supply may be on your neighbor's property.
Possible solutions: Replacing pipes
If you decide to buy a house with polybutylene pipes, try to negotiate with the seller to replace the plumbing system. If he refuses, consider whether you want to put up with the potential damages and risks of buying this house.
If the quality of the pipes is still in acceptable condition, try to determine the age of the plumbing system and start saving up money to replace it as early as possible, as soon as it starts to fall into disrepair.
A house under 2,000 square feet will cause you to spend between $3,000 and $7,000 to completely replace your plumbing system. The cost will depend on the material of the pipes, the size of the system, and the number of floors in your structure.
Possible Solutions: Root damage elimination
Solving a vegetation problem can cost you a lot of money. If you want to change the main drainage pipe, you will also need to excavate the ground, which will make you spend up to $25,000. It will be much cheaper to remove the roots at intervals of a few years. This will cost you a few hundred dollars, depending on the amount of root spread.
5. A problem with the foundation or the structure of the house
Older houses become susceptible to various natural interventions over time. Cracks, rotting, corrosion, and moisture damage can all show up in your house's foundation sooner or later.
Once you have problems with your foundation, you may have unpleasant consequences, such as jammed doors, cracks in the walls, tiles and floors that will only get bigger over time and warped floors.
Solving any serious foundation problem will require consultation with a structural engineer. On average, you will have to spend $500 per qualified worker at HomeAdvisor. If your problem doesn't require serious intervention, such as a small crack in the floor, you'll spend a few hundred dollars. But, if the problem is really extensive, and you need, for example, to install supports under the foundation of the building, then you can spend several tens of thousands of dollars. In earthquake-prone areas, installing foundation anchors is recommended. Each of them will cost you at least $1,500. Not every insurance policy will be able to cover these costs.
The foundation may need serious repair or even replacement. Then the costs skyrocket and will start at $15,000 to $20,000. Like we said, insurance most often does not cover these costs, so before you buy a house, try to negotiate with the owner to include repair costs in the price of the old house or ask him to find a solution for this problem himself.
Also, keep in mind that the cost of minor repairs can also vary, but when you add it all together, the amount can hit your wallet very hard.
Radon is a radioactive gas, found in nature in rocks. You can find radon anywhere, but it is found most often and in large quantities in the Midwest, Northeast, and Intermountain West.
Radon can enter a building through the foundation if it has cracks, which are common in older houses. If the house is not well ventilated, gas can build up in large quantities, which can be harmful to your health. Radon is not toxic if it occurs in low doses, but at high concentrations, it is a major cause of lung cancer for people who do not smoke.
Basically, removing radiation from radon involves piping from the radon build-up to a roof vent. Also, you will need to seal cracks in the foundation to keep yourself safe from possible gas leaks.
The average cost of a radon removal system will cost you about $1,100, but will always depend on the size of the house, the type and quality of the foundation, and the amount of radon itself.
You can buy a radon measurement kit for $10-$15. This is an inexpensive way to check how serious the problem is and if it exists at all.
7. Roof problems
Older houses often suffer from roof problems, which in turn can lead to other unpleasant consequences. Less effective insulation, the appearance of pests, increased humidity. Solving roof problems can be very costly if not discovered in time. And if all the following problems appear because of the aggravation of the situation, the house may become uninhabitable at all. Find out if your insurance will cover the cost of fixing your roof.
Signs of roof problems can vary, but mostly it's rising moisture levels in the attic and pests, crumbling grout, or damage to shingles.
Consider paying a consultant from HomeAdvisor to assess the quality of your roof and date its approximate age. If you can determine its wear and tear yourself, you can also talk to the owner about replacing the roof.
The life span of roofs depending on the material:
- Stone and shingles. Tile roofs can last you anywhere from 50 to 100 years. Stone roofs, on the other hand, can last 100 years or more.
- Metal - Steel roofs will last about 50 years and copper roofs will last over a hundred years.
In any case, regardless of the material, actually how long your roof will last will depend on the quality of the work, climate, its pitch and maintenance over its lifetime.
Roof replacement costs depend mostly on the material, but in general you can expect to pay between $5,000 and $1,000, according to HomeAdvisor.
You don't have to replace the entire roof if only a small segment is damaged. It's much cheaper to repair the area you're not happy with. But don't try to save money if the roof is already much older than its useful life.
8. Problem with the windows
Windows in older houses are often worn out and can't keep enough heat in the house. This can end up affecting your energy bills as the climate control system will try to co-mediate the lost heat. Installing new windows can seriously save you money and your energy bills could be several hundred dollars less per year. The amount of money saved will depend on the climate and the size of the building.
It is possible to solve the problem with heating by temporary methods, such as sealed polyethylene film in winter (the cost of which varies from 10 to 20 dollars), or by airing the house at night in hot weather. If you want to solve the problem once and for all, you should consider caulking the cracks near the window. That way, you'll spend up to $1,000, but you won't have to pay gigantic electric bills and worry about cold weather in the winter.
It's also worth thinking about replacing old windows with new ones. But don't forget that really good windows can be very expensive, and based on HomeAdvisor prices, installing them for an entire house can cost up to ten thousand dollars or more.
9. Problems with electrical systems
Problems with electrical systems always fall into two groups: safety and comfort.
The first, comfort: older houses often don't have enough electrical outlets to meet all of our needs, or they may not be conveniently located.
Second, safety: a key factor in the safety of electrical wiring is the longevity of the wire insulation. New wiring can last at least a hundred years, or even more, but pre-1960s wiring generally lasts up to 70 years. The insulation can be damaged enough to expose the wire itself to damage and then the risk of a fire becomes much more real. But besides fire, there are other potential dangers such as: electric shock, power outages, short circuits, etc.
Circuit breakers and service panels can also wear out over time. Panels will last you up to 70 years and circuit breakers up to 40 years. Damage or wear and tear can also lead to electrical shock, fire, and other hazards.
Note that all of the above problems can seriously affect your home's electrical system because water damage, pests, and unwanted chemicals can damage system components, even though it may not have reached the end of its useful life and may have been well-designed.
Work on electrical systems is clearly not something you should skimp on. If you don't have a background in electrical repair and appliance work, don't even take the job. It is better to pay a qualified specialist.
Installing a new outlet will cost you from 100 to 400 dollars, and the time will take up to one hour. Installing a new panel will cost between $500 and $1500.
10. Problems with mechanical and household appliances
In older buildings, mechanical equipment and appliances are often long past their useful life:
- *Furnace: 10-30 years
- *Water heaters: up to 20 years
- *Air circulation systems: up to 25 years
- *Washing machines and dryers: up to 15 years
- *Refrigerators: up to 25 years
Older equipment is much more prone to breakdowns and can break down at the most inopportune time, putting you and your health at risk. A fire or a heating outage can have dire consequences. Also, old equipment consumes a lot more electricity, which means you should consider replacing it in an economical way.
Make a schedule that you follow to know exactly when and which of your equipment will need to be replaced. Save on things that will last for years. For example, if your refrigerator is 15 years old and you're going to sell your house in 5, you shouldn't replace your refrigerator. Research all of the equipment in your home, and try to replace the most key, and the things that directly affect your safety.
The cost of replacing appliances will depend on the quality and brand of what you are going to replace. A new electric natural gas furnace that will work great in the north (because of the colder climate) - will cost you about $3,000. The average cost of a water heater will be around $2,000, but if you want to install more efficient and higher quality versions, you'll have to give up to $6,000.
Replacing the equipment in your home can be a serious challenge to your budget, but remember that an unexpected breakdown can hurt your finances, and most importantly, your health. A friend of mine recently had an electrical fire because the wiring failed. In the end, the damage was estimated at $20,000. Insurance covered most of it, but it still would have cost a lot less if he had taken care of replacing the old equipment in time.
11. Untimely and useless upgrades
The old houses before you often had a large number of owners living in them and each had a legal right to make changes to the property. The truth is, not everyone exercised that right wisely.
Many old houses remain in the same condition as when they were built. Smart owners try to replace or reconstruct parts of the house that are failing without making any changes to the design. On the other hand, there are owners who are trying to increase the cost of ownership, and then get ready to face a lot of poorly designed, expensive, useless projects that you, as a new owner will still have to fix or bring up to speed. Often people don't have enough money or experience to finish what they start, or at least calculate the cost of their project. An unfinished roof, walls not fully painted - all of these things my wife and I have encountered more than once when choosing a house to buy.
Of course, you can live with some unfinished projects in your house as long as they are safe and don't require any additional spending from your budget. Once you have more personal finances, you can complete the intended project yourself, or hire professionals for your own. The cost of fixes can be completely different, depending on how "creative" the past owners were. Updating an entire kitchen interior may cost you five figures, but painting a room will only take a couple of hundred dollars out of your wallet.
On the other hand, it is possible that the past owner was trying to mask some unsafe and serious problem with his renovation. Keep in mind that a poorly designed update can cause any of the problems mentioned above. For example, a poorly designed basement can be prone to excessive moisture and pests.
Potentially, a past owner's update could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in the future, so think ten times, is it worth it?
12. Unsafe and outdated features
Older houses are indeed charming, but they often have some features that at this point may be considered completely useless or unsafe. Old basements, overly steep stairs, improperly designed fireplaces and chimneys, low ceilings. It may look great from a design standpoint, but when we live in a house like this, we won't feel comfortable or safe using it at all.
More often than not, there will be nothing in the law against your home having some old and impractical design choices (as long as it doesn't infringe on someone else's property rights in any way). In any case, if you choose to fix such problems, you will be more comfortable, safer, and it may also increase the potential sale value of your home in the future.
Sometimes problems are solved quite simply. For example, for a steep staircase, you can simply build a fence. But sometimes impractical and outdated designs (like a damaged fireplace) will cause you to spend an extra few hundred dollars a year on your maintenance.
Now for the pros of owning an old house:
You might not believe it because of the number of potential problems, but if you buy an older home - you'll also have quite a few advantages. Old houses are usually in the historic downtown area, and it's more often than not an upper class neighborhood.
Most of the older houses are located in the historic downtown area, which is rich in amenities and various work options. If you live downtown, it's much more convenient to get anywhere in the city, which will save you time. You can even bike for short distances, which will be good for your health.
In comparison, new buildings are more likely to lose out because their location will mostly be in the suburbs, where land is cheapest.
2. Design solutions that are difficult to copy
Older homes aren't all comfortable, but they do have their own charm specific to their time period. When you resell, you can get more money for some interesting design from the past.
3. An established neighborhood
In neighborhoods where older homes are located - there are often established communities where people keep an eye on the overall landscape of the neighborhood, the vegetation, and try to help each other out. These neighborhoods are more likely to be connected to water and sewer.
New neighborhoods, on the other hand, most often lack a common social life because residents are busy pursuing their careers. Also, new neighborhoods will not look as pretty at first, because you will have to wait for new shrubs and trees to grow.
4. Quality of construction
Many new homes come from construction companies, which often try to save as much as possible on materials and professionalism of workers.
In any case, you will have to consider each case separately, because we can never know all the factors involved in construction until we look and figure it out for ourselves. Figure out what methods the company used in the construction and what materials were used, then you can draw your own conclusions.
5. Opportunities to increase your finances
If you are adventurous and creative enough, you can even implement your creative project in buying an old house. Finish off someone else's poorly designed renovation, do some quality repairs, and you might even end up making some good money when you sell the house.
Of course, a serious renovation and an extensive project can hit your wallet, but if you schedule your upgrades in advance, plan a schedule that you'll follow, there won't be any problems.
Even the nicest old house is likely to have one or more of the problems presented above. You may decide to get rid of them, then be prepared to shell out thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars. That said, when you sell your home, you have the ability to cover all the costs if you've used your finances wisely and effectively in renovating the home.
Of course, new construction also requires timely repairs and timely investments. They can definitely also have some of the problems I mentioned, so every detail needs your attention. Buying a new home can also frustrate you with additional expenses, such as dues to various homeowner communities. Choose the home that feels right and most comfortable for you and your loved ones.
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