There are many reasons why prospective homeowners are keen to look at older homes, as opposed to newer construction. For one thing, buying into a fixer-upper type of home can mean a truly affordable asking price. All things being equal (i.e. location, lot size, square footage, etc.), an older home could be had for a fraction of the price of a newer structure. Of course, this is largely based on the fact that renovations will have to be done, so there is the additional cost of construction and upgrades to consider. But even with these costs included, many new homeowners can still get a screaming deal on the purchase of an older home. In addition, older structures tend to have a lot of charm, character, and architectural detailing that seem to be lacking in the cookie-cutter tract homes that dominate newer construction. So there are certainly reasons to consider purchasing an older home. But before you jump on the bandwagon you may want to think about some of the hazards that commonly hide in older homes. Here are a few you should have on your radar.
Two of the most major concerns for most savvy homeowners are plumbing and electric, and these often need to be updated. Problems may not be found during the home inspection, but when you start cracking open the walls they can become readily apparent. When you find big problems with plumbing and electric in a home, you can bet there will be big costs attached. And you can’t just let them go. Not only will a building inspector monitoring your renovations require you to get these issues up to code, but a failure to do so could result in myriad problems, not the least of which are the potential for electrical fires, leaks, and even back-up of sewage into your yard. It is for this reason that many homeowners are wary of buying an older property that has never had the plumbing and electrical updated.
Of course, another common issue that can be extremely dangerous revolves around the use of toxic building materials that are now illegal. For example, homes built before the early ’80s commonly feature asbestos. While this substance is now known to be a carcinogen and has therefore been banned on construction sites, it is also a fire retardant, which is why it is prevalent in older homes. Also common in homes built prior to 1978 is the use of lead-based paints. Although this additive makes paint more durable, resistant to moisture, and helps to speed drying time, it is also extremely toxic, especially when ingested. Although adults are unlikely to lick the paint on their walls, children and pets are far more likely to do so, or to eat paint chips that flake off the wall. Even if the walls have been painted with lead-free products, chips can still contain the lead from prior coats. And if your home is found to feature such toxins, you’ll have to call in a team of specialists to remove the offending items, at no small cost.
There are all kinds of other problems you might encounter as well, such as dry rot, cracked foundations, and chimney or ductwork issues that leave you wanting to seal off the whole system of venting and figure out how ductless systems are installed. And most of these problems can not only be expensive to deal with, but they can also be hazardous to your health. Unfortunately, that’s the risk you take when you buy an older home. But if you get a great deal and you have a solid budget in place to cover unknown repairs, you could still end up with a fantastic house that becomes your dream home.