5 Points of Concern with Old Houses

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Inspection

When you are searching for an old house, you are probably in the mood for great character and serious charm. And when you do find a home that offers that in spades, it can be very easy to forget about the things that make everyday life run smoothly. That's why you should go into any old house purchase negotiation armed with these five questions -- and get the answers from a professional contractor who specializes in old houses.

1. What's the state of the foundation and basement?

Old houses have been sitting in the same spot for a long time, so the foundation has had plenty of time to settle. Depending upon the quality of the initial construction, this could be a problem. Foundations that show serious cracks or obvious signs of shifting could leave you with problems down the line. If your old house has a basement, there is even more opportunity for serious problems -- and the added issue of potential mold infiltration should you encounter a damp basement.

2. How's the roof?

The roof should be in very sturdy condition. You might find a home with an older roof that needs replacement, but the same is true with many homes on the market. What you are really concerned about is roof sagging. If there is any sign that the roof is not level, that could mean that the interior was damaged by water at some point, leading to potential mold issues as well as questionable structural integrity.

3. Is the wiring updated?

The state of the wiring depends on how old the house is and whether it has been renovated at some point. During renovations, electricians are required to take care of any potentially hazardous issues, which might include old knob and tube wiring, or replacement of wiring with cloth insulation. If the house still has old wiring, be aware that eventually, it will have to be upgraded. This can be an expensive venture, so check into two things: 1. Is it safe as it is? 2. If you do need to upgrade, what might that costt?

4. How is the plumbing?

In some old houses, the plumbing works just fine and has for years and years. But that can mean a problem in the future if the same old pipes are being used to carry that water. Pipes might look great on the outside, but the buildup occurs on the inside over time, the result of corrosion, rust and simple everyday wear and tear. To get a better idea of what the plumbing is like, run the shower, flush the toilets, use the sinks, and look closely for any leaks.

5. What are the utility bills like?

Old houses may have high utility bills, thanks to out-of-date systems, insulation problems or issues with drafts coming in through old windows and doors. The only way to know for sure what you're getting is to review the home's past utility bills. Ask the owner to provide these. Pay attention to what kind of heating and cooling is in the home. For instance, central heat can be great, but the furnace might be under-powered or out-of-date. Summertime might mean sweltering temperatures with only a window A/C for company.

Hire a home inspector

All of these questions should be explored by a competent home inspector. Choose one who specializes in old houses and understands the difference between "charming" and "a serious problem." Never make a move to buy a house if you don't go in with a good home inspection first.