No Problem Too Large (Even If It Feels That Way)
I love innovation and I love to see it in new homes, but there are a lot of things that bother me about new homes. What I really appreciate are the numerous qualities that you can find in older homes. Sadly, some of the styles and features that I enjoy have become “outdated” or “antiquated” so you just don’t see them in newer houses. If you are like me and you look for these styles and features then you are probably entertaining the idea of buying an older home. If homes that are 30 to 40 years old (or older) have what you are looking for, you might want to keep an eye out for some of the pesky “old home problems” that could end up costing you a fortune in repair.
I hope to keep these problems informative and interesting, but you might find the references to water damage repetitive. Severe water damage (like that from a flooded kitchen or a natural disaster) can destroy your home to the point that it is unsalvageable. Surprisingly, in just hours, wooden furniture that has been directly exposed to water can swell and the affected area of your home can be plagued by foul odors. Within days, unchecked water damage can result in fungal growth and severe warping of wood floors.
In extreme cases, the health hazards caused by unchecked water damage can force you out of your house in weeks. So, more than one of the problems I will mention will deal in some way with water damage.
Water leaking in from the roof
If you are looking through and older home (or even your current home) you can look for a few signs of roof damage. If you can inspect the roof itself, look for missing tiles or cracked shingles. If you get into the attic you should look to see if daylight is shining in through any spots that it should not. Also look for signs of moisture. While walking in the house, look at the ceiling for water spots.
Water spots might be caused by leaky plumbing as well so don’t jump to conclusions. In my current house we had a major water spot in the dining room. We were certain that we would have to re-shingle the roof because we often sit on the roof while drinking. Thankfully we were wrong. A pipe in the attic just needed a clamp and the problem was solved.
Older windows can be problematic. If not in good working order, faulty windows can lead to mold, moisture, and dry rot. It can be very costly to fix these problems so fixing the windows is probably the best bet. If you’re lucky, a good, thorough window cleaning will be enough to fix it right up. If you decide to replace the windows, dual pane windows will cost more upfront but the advantages are usually worth the cost. The added insulation of these windows will also help cut down your energy bills.
Unfashionable or Antiquated Features
This is a tough one because it is so subjective. If you are looking to purchase an older home there is a good chance that, like me, you appreciate a lot of the older features that some people find undesirable for one reason or another.
For example: I have often looked at houses with friends or gone to see a friend or family members new house and taken a moment to point out that their kitchen has a wooden pullout cutting board that slides out from a slot under the counter. This is a kitchen feature that I absolutely love but most people roll their eyes or shudder when I point this out and dismiss the feature as “unsanitary” or “unnecessary.” So much of it is personal preference.
Most people can agree on popcorn ceilings. This is, in my humble opinion, one of the most hideous features of older homes.
Cost of removing this eyesore is about $1 to $2 per square foot! I believe this is because of possible asbestos issues. If you really need to save money, or if you place as little value on your health as I do, you can just remove it yourself. I spent a few hours on a step ladder with a spray bottle and spatula from the 99 cent store and scraped all that junk off my ceiling in an evening.
When it comes to walls, both paint and wallpaper choices could be things you would not be happy with. Luckily, of all the things talked about here, these are some of the easiest to fix. My brother paints and hangs wall paper for a construction company. A few months ago, I was fascinated to hear him talking to a contractor about how the popularity of things like wallpaper will come and go every 15 to 20 years. I think if you don’t like the walls, you should change them. If you don’t mind them but they seem a little out of style, maybe wait and see if they come back in vogue.
Fixtures and cabinets are also things that can change without major alteration to the house itself. Particularly in regards to fixtures and cabinets, I think there can be a lot of value in changing out the old for the new especially if you detect cold drafts coming in from behind them. Some new light fixtures and ceiling fans have some excellent benefits like better power consumption and wireless controls. Cabinets too have come a long way in the last 40 years.
Pull out spice racks, pull out trash cans, Lazy Susans, and pull out trays for large base cabinets are just a few of the cool things you could look into adding to your kitchen. If you get a new sink and faucet with your cabinets there are a number of excellent faucets with spray or jet settings that make cleaning dishes easier.
One of the most important things to remember if you do make these changes is that many of the new and modern fixtures or cabinets come in traditional styles so that, if desired, all of your new items will not clash with your older house.
Unless you know a lot about plumbing, it is probably a good idea to get a professional to drop by and take a look at things. Outdated plumbing, or even electrical systems for that matter, can have you crawling through your attic sweating buckets while you clamp leaky pipes or fix wiring. And if something does go wrong, that is the best case scenario.
Modern homes are built with systems called under-floor drainage. Under-floor drainage is a series of perforated pipes under the floor that helps water move out into the ground rather than into the structure of your house. Many older houses have some form of drainage to help with water damage but today the under-floor drainage systems are much better. In a lot of older houses, no form of under-floor drainage is provided at all.
One thing I heavily suggest that people check when looking at older homes is the foundation. In extreme cases, a bad foundation is not repairable. (At least not without spending more money than what the house is worth) A serious foundation problem should be something you can feel as you walk across the large uneven areas. If it’s bad enough to feel you should get ahold of a professional. A structural engineer is probably best.
Other smaller issues with the foundation are more fixable but harder to find. If you notice one area of the house with large drywall cracks or where windows and doors do not want to shut properly or stick when opening, this could be a result of the foundation. There may be tiny hairline cracks in the foundation around the house but that isn’t always a sign of trouble.
While checking the foundation you might also look for the flashing. These are small waterproof barriers used to keep your house and wooden decks from getting water damage.
Probably the most obvious thing to look out for is the various forms of infestations. Termites will eat your house out from under you. I have seen too many stories about termites destroying people’s houses. I wouldn’t mess around with them, if you see termites just pay to exterminate them. Bees, ants and wasps all try to make your home into their home. There are a lot of ways to get rid of ants but I like to go get that toxic chalk that they sell in Chinatown. It’s illegal, but I get much better results from it then other store bought methods. When I was a door-to-door salesman I was always surprised by how many people have wasp nests under their front porch. Until you kill those nests, you run the risk of people getting stung each time they come to your house. There are also so many kinds of rodents that will try to live with you. Traps might work for a while but if it becomes an infestation you should call an exterminator.
Reading all of this at once can be discouraging but I think that there are a lot of good things about buying older houses. You just have to make sure you will be happy in your new home and not broke in your new money pit.