5 Things to Know Before You Buy an Older Home

older home for sale
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You’ve fallen in love with a craftsman, Victorian, or mid-century modern home and are ready to make an offer. But before you sign the papers, you need to make sure that you know what you’re getting into. While older properties offer charm in abundance, they also come with certain challenges.

“Higher repair and maintenance expenses should be factored into your budget when calculating the total cost of purchasing an older home,” wrote home inspector William Kibbel on Old House Web. Even a solidly constructed and well-maintained home may need some repairs and upgrades.

Still, if you prefer character over cookie-cutter, older homes are where it’s at. But understanding some of the issues you might encounter before starting your house hunt can prevent disappointment. Here are five things you should know before you buy an older home.

 1. Getting insurance can be tricky

Some insurance companies are reluctant to insure older homes if they haven’t been brought up to modern standards.

“Depending on the age of a home, most insurance company require the parts of the home to be updated,” Brian Boak, an underwriter for Singer Nelson Charlmers, told Insurance Quotes. “Depending on the company, if these are not updated, they may not insure the location due to the additional risk.”

If your home was built before 1950 or so and has one-of-a-kind features, you might need special historic home coverage. This insurance will cover the extra cost of using historically appropriate materials to repair your home if you do need to make a claim.

2. You might not be allowed to renovate

historic district
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To preserve the character of their most charming neighborhoods, many cities have laws on the books about what you can and can’t do to your older home. If the house is an historic district, be prepared to jump through some hoops and lay out extra money before you can make any major changes.

“If you are going to restore the home or add onto it, it’s going to cost you more money than an equivalent home somewhere else in town because the guidelines you’re going to have to follow are more expensive,” John Reynolds, an associate broker with First Team Real Estate in Long Beach, Calif., told Bankrate.

Some changes, such as additions, changes to the exterior paint color, and even new-looking windows may not be allowed at all.

3. Some things may not be safe

Lead paint, asbestos, and faulty wiring can all create safety hazards in older properties. Homes built before 1978 likely contain some lead-based paint. If it’s hidden under new layers of paint, it’s usually not problem, but chipping or flaking paint can be dangerous if you have kids and needs to be repaired.

Old homes may also have asbestos in roofing shingles, in insulation, around steam pipes, in vinyl flooring, and in other areas. The asbestos isn’t a hazard if it’s undisturbed and undamaged, but you’ll need to take special steps to safely remove the material if you make repairs.

Old wiring that poses a fire risk and mold and pest infestations that can make you and your family sick are other problems to watch out for when buying an older home. Termite infestations are a problem in some older homes and it can damage the building’s structural integrity. Whatever the age of a home, make sure you get a full inspection so you can address any problems before you buy.

4. Your energy costs might be through the roof

updating windows
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Depending on the age of an older home, it may already have some energy-efficient features, like thick walls, big windows to circulate air and cool the home, and shaded porches. But older homes can also be drafty, have old, inefficient insulation, or come with aging furnaces and energy-hogging appliances.

All that means that the cost of heating and cooling your home can be quite high. Upgrading the property to save money on energy bills can save you money over the long term, but the upfront costs of those fixes can be steep as well. In some cases, you need to balance your desire to preserve a home’s unique character with a desire for energy efficiency.

5. You may not get the space you want

As American lifestyles have changed, so has the design of our homes. Since 1973, the average size of a new home has ballooned from 1,660 to 2,679 square feet. Houses built in the ‘50s, ‘60s, or ‘70s often lack some amenities or features that today’s home buyers consider essential, from spacious open-plan kitchens or massive master suites. Small bathrooms and closets can be particular sticking points.

“The newer the home, the better the closets are. That’s one thing that has improved big-time is the size of the closets — and the size of the bathrooms,” Bernie Smith, CEO of Masterworks, a home remodeling company in Atlanta, told Bankrate.

You may be able to update the house to get the more contemporary feel that you want, but that can cost a lot of money. If totally up-to-date features are on your wish list, you may need to look at new construction.

Follow Megan on Twitter @MeganE_CS
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