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Tips for buying an older house

If you've watched home improvement shows you've probably noticed how intimidating older homes and fixer-uppers can be. Older homes often need a lot of TLC, but also come with loads of charm and craftsmanship that may not be found in new builds.

There are many pros and cons to buying an older house. If an older home is what speaks to you, make sure you consider several factors before making a decision.

What qualifies as an older home?

It's not just the age of the house that makes it an older home, but the materials inside it as well. One homebuyer might consider a 1980's bungalow with polybutylene pipes older, while another buyer sees older as a 1912 farmhouse full of shiplap. Even realtors and lenders have different ideas on what constitutes an older home.

Pre-1970 homes that have not been updated sometimes use plaster instead of drywall, natural wood instead of pre-manufactured planks and some built prior to 1978 may have lead-based paint. They may also have outlets that aren't ground and clay sewer systems and lack adequate insulation. In any case, older homes are known to provide significant maintenance challenges, in some cases, despite their many charming nooks and crannies.

Will an older home be a money pit?

It depends on the older home and its structure. Although many older homes are well-made, lasting decades or centuries, there may be foundational issues due to settling. Floorboards may separate, ceilings may crack, tree roots may grow into sewers or concrete may fall away over time. Foundational issues can be expensive fixes, along with electrical and plumbing updates.

Since some older homes can be less expensive than modern homes, the cost of repairs or renovations may even out the playing field. You may buy your older home for thousands less than the price of a new construction, but the cost of replacing the pipes could eat into those savings.

An older home is still my dream home

If modern open floor plans aren't your thing, make sure you consider these tips before you buy your older dream home. Older homes may:

  • Be in established, stable neighborhoods
  • Have mature landscaping with tall trees that shade in the summer
  • Retain characteristics tied to the era they were built
  • Have larger lots with lots of character
  • Cost less than new construction

The benefits of an older home

There are many benefits to buying an older home.

  • Aesthetics. Older homes often have unique eclectic charm and beauty. If you like having each room set apart from the other, many older homes don’t have open floor plans. Older homes may have smaller closets, but they often make up for it with lots of nooks and crannies for storage. Ceilings tend to be higher overall, not just in a room or two.
  • Location. Older homes tend to be in established neighborhoods.
  • Lot size and curb appeal. Then there's the trees. Mature trees give an older home character and energy efficiency that you can't get from new construction.

The cons of older homes

Here are the cons that you may have to find a work-around for:

  • Outdated systems. Outdated electric, gas, sewer or plumbing may mean higher utility bills in some older homes. Old features could also be safety hazards. If an older house's wiring isn't up to code, you're going to have to update it.
  • Dated decor. Older homes may mean bright pink bathrooms, several layers of wallpaper, inlaid floors and shag carpeting. Aesthetics aren't as expensive as structural issues but can be annoying to live with until they’re changed out.
  • Separate living spaces. You may have to deal with defined spaces such as closed off kitchens, storm cellars and small bathrooms. Many homebuyers find defined spaces part of an older home's charm, but if you don't, you might have to break down some walls.
  • Potential hazards. Older homes may have asbestos or lead paint issues that need to be remediated.
  • Pests due to age. Bugs may bug you. Older homes may have termites and spiders to contend with due to age and condition of the home.

If the pros outweigh the cons, you’ll want to consider touching base with your local realtor. You should also contact your local lending experts to get the ball rolling should you find the older home of your dreams.

Finding the condition of an older home

It's more important than ever to get a home inspection before signing on the dotted line at closing. You don't want to buy an older home and find out that you can't resell it later due to significant problems. The lender's appraiser will determine the fair market value on your chosen home; however, the home inspection will call out any issues it finds.

What your home inspector should look for

Beyond the regular inspection items such as the foundation, roof, electrical and plumbing, your home inspector may check the home's history, including what building permits have been pulled over the years. A lot of times, older homes are "fixed" by well-meaning homeowners who don't obtain permits for renovations. In this case, there could be hidden problems if obtaining a certificate of occupancy is needed from the municipality or that show up down the road

If you've found an older home, it may be time to check with your lender. Speak with a Home Lending Advisor and learn how you can start the homebuying process.

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