Buying a ‘fixer-upper’ for a house seems like a romantic proposition. Anyone who appreciates a good antique can understand the nostalgic appeal of an ancient home whose walls are filled with history. Older homes have amazing character traits and historical features that most new homes simply do not have. Oh! Those huge wood burning fireplaces, the wood trim and moldings, and those ceilings with rustic wood beams — these are all the amazing features that usually do not come in todays mass produced homes. It would be easy to hastily buy one of these ancient gems before doing a little research. However, a thorough (almost forensic) investigation is needed before buying an older home. Behind the beautiful facade there can be a train wreck of crumbling concrete repairs. How do we buy a home that is overflowing with this historic beauty and character, while not falling into a money pit full of outdated plumbing, wiring and foundation problems? Here are ten things to think about before deciding if an older home is the right fit for your lifestyle.
1. An Older Home Comes With Older Technology and Building Materials The use of older technologies and building materials is not always a bad thing. The custom, hand-crafted qualities of an older home usually mean long-lasting value and a durable structure that one cannot find now-a-days. There is a reason that older homes are still standing — they were built to last. Most of today’s builders do not take the time to dove-tail wooden joints, or hand-scrape large wooden ceiling beams. These are the qualities that make us fall in love with a historic home. Sadly, this nostalgic charm also comes with some issues. Technologically speaking an older home is usually filled with ancient methods of plumbing, wiring, heating, windows, roofing and insulating properties. This means a lot of costly repairs! Refitting a home with new wiring, windows, and plumbing can cost a fortune. Hiring a plethora of contractors, engineers, foundation experts and inspectors is a must before making any life-altering decisions. Yes, it is life-altering if you buy a centurion home. The home will become your new baby (and babies are expensive). All potential costs must be factored into the purchase of an older home. Even if it seems the home is in good standing—it’s still old, and with age comes problems.
2. Older Homes Have Character That’s Hard to Buy Wide-plank wood floors, solid wood craftsman doors, wrap around front porches … the list of reasons to love an elderly home could go on forever. To a certain extent, you can replicate these characteristics into a newly built home. There are some amazing custom builders who can build homes that are full of character, allowing you to forgo all the unseen repairs of an older relic. However, a new home usually comes with a young neighborhood that is still developing. Which means no big century-old oak tree in the front yard, and unpredictable neighborhood developments. A tree-lined street and quaint neighborhood do not happen overnight, hence the appeal of older neighborhoods where everything is already in place and established. This debate of whether to build new and try to add new character versus buying an older, character-laden home is one that has pros and cons on both sides of the fence. Either way, there are costs involved that must be weighed heavily before making any decisions.
3. An Older Home May Require Some Remodeling The current aesthetic that most homeowners want in their home is a large open floor plan with big closets, bathrooms and bedrooms. Unfortunately, this was not the desire centuries ago when older homes were being designed and built. Most older homes have one small bathroom (two if you’re lucky), a couple small bedrooms, and let’s not even discuss the lack of closet space and storage. You may fall in love with the beauty of an older home, only to discover that your family of 5 and two dogs will quickly overfill the space. There will be little room for clothes in the closets, and you will soon be dreaming of a large jack and jill bathroom for the kids. Buying an ancient home will most definitely require some remodeling and expansion. Yet again, this is another cost to consider before buying.
4. How Much Will Your Home Owners Insurance Be? This is something a lot of home buyers forget to look into — the cost of homeowners insurance. Insurance is an expensive must-have, no matter what type of home you buy. However, insuring an ancient home can be even pricier. It masks sense — old homes come with more risks, and insurance companies are not willing to foot the bill for those unseen circumstances. Old wiring can be a dangerous fire hazard, old plumbing can pose major water issues, and crumbling concrete foundations can cause flooding and pricey structural problems. While you are calling all the other experts ( builders, home inspectors etc..) remember to call around and get quotes from insurance companies. It would be horrible to move into your dream home only to discover that your insurance policy is unaffordable or doesn’t cover all the unforeseen hazards that come with home ownership.
5. The Top Two Updates of an Old Home Roof and windows. These are the two updates that must be done first and should be made a priority. Any roof that is older than 10-15 years will need replacement sooner than later. Older roofs begin to leak and crumble, thereby loosing their insulation properties and causing more costly repairs. Older windows are usually single pane with very low insulating properties. Ancient windows equal a drafty home in winter and sweltering home in summer. Before buying your beloved antique home, put these two repairs at the top of your to-do list. Maybe you will get lucky and find an older home whose owners recently replaced the windows and roofing. That would be like buying an antique oil painting whose previous owner already payed the expense of having it professionally cleaned. The value of the antique is increased and the work is already done for you!
6. Mix the Old With the New While on your house hunt for the perfect relic of a home, you may fall in love with the bathrooms old claw foot tub, but then think, “That’s great, but I want a stand-up shower too”. Don’t be turned off of an old home simply because all the modern amenities are not there. Why not mix the old with the new? Why can’t you have that luxuriant claw foot tub AND your modern stand-up shower? One of the biggest remodeling and decorating mistakes people make with older homes is getting stuck in the rut of “everything has to look old or be of that era”. Rules were meant to be broken when it comes to decorating. Just because you have an antique home does not mean it needs to be only filled with antiques. The eclectic mix of old and new has a very appealing and unique aesthetic.
7. You Can Remodel an Older Home to Make it Become Modern As mentioned above, the mix of old and new can be wonderful. Maybe you can take that idea even one step farther by taking an old home and attaching a new, modern home onto it. Why not? Throw all the rules out the window and make an amalgamation of both your dream homes —ultra modern and ultra old. Of course, this type of design would definitely require highly skilled architects and builders who can take your modern dreams and amalgamate them properly with ancient architecture. If you fall in love with an older home, then consider adding a modern addition that meets all your worldly needs. However, read on to discover some obstacles you may have to hurdle if this is your plan….
8. Contact Historical Society if You Plan to Remodel an Older Home Before signing on the dotted line of your ancient dream home, you may want to find out if there are any historical societies or neighborhood restrictions on remodeling. Some older homes and neighborhoods have restrictions in terms of the type and style of remodeling that can be done. Historical societies have a sole purpose of keeping the history of homes in tact, so allowing the owner to remodel the home into a modern mecca is probably off limits. These type of restrictions may severely inhibit your freedom to remodel the home as you please. It is best to ask your realtor to look into any of these matters and find out if there will be certain remodels that are not permitted. It would be awful to discover after you have already purchased the home that you are restricted and forced to keep the home back in the old days.
9. Will Your Appliances Fit into the Older Home? This is one that everyone seems to forget (until the movers attempt to squeeze your fridge through the front door). Older homes were built when household items were smaller than they are today. Long ago, homes were not built to contain commercial grade double ovens or mammoth stainless steel fridges. Therefore, the doorways were built much more narrow and shorter than they are today. Do you have a huge sectional coach? A 60-inch wide television? Again, all of these items will have trouble fitting into the small doorways of your beloved relic. It is best to measure all the doorways and other possible entryways before falling in love with a senior home. New doorways can be built, but again this is another cost to add to your ever-growing list.
10. Embrace the Difficulties of Owning a Old Home You have to love the home just as it is —old. It will consume you (and your wallet) if you try to completely modernize an aged home. Complete modernization can be done, but are you sure you want to? The very reason that you fell in love with the house in the first place is its aged character. Of course, getting rid of drafts via new windows, and leaking roofs are jobs that must be done. However, there are certain quirks that you may want retain. The squeaky floors, the bedroom doors that never seem to stay closed on cold days and then get stuck shut on hot days— all are quaint characteristics of an old home that add a certain charm and lived-in feeling. Remodel what you absolutely have to, but think about keeping some of the original historic appeal.
Buying an older home is not for the faint of heart. Living in and modernizing these homes can take years of unplanned and costly repairs. If you decide to take the plunge and buy one of these aged beauties, then take your time, make many to-do lists, and hire plenty of professionals along the way. It can be an amazing and fun-filled journey, but be sure to read this “Top 10 list” over many times. Do you have what it takes to ride this relic roller coaster? If you feel ready, then go into this experience with a carefully optimistic, yet realistic attitude. Assume that everything will go wrong and need replacement, that way you will be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t.