Re: Tender Foot Needs Advise on Historic Home Purc

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Christine Grubbs

Re: Tender Foot Needs Advise on Historic Home Purc

Post by Christine Grubbs »

My husband and I are considering embarking into the brave world of homeownership with a Victorian home built around 1900. Our family rolls their eyes and declares "money pit" at the thought of such a purchase. My question is, if the house is level, with a good foundation, new roof, good plumbing and electrical systems, and has a good heating system and new energy efficient windows, what catastrophes do we need to watch for? We really like this house, but no one can give us specifics as to what problems a house this age can have. Is a well-maintained 100 year old house really any more expensive to own than a newer home? Any help/advice/comments are welcome. Thanks! Christine

Ken Holmes

Money Pit? Nah!

Post by Ken Holmes »

Christine, I love old houses enough that I've owned nearly a dozen of them over the years both as personal residences and investments. And I like these houses enough that I run a web site (this site) celebrating their existence! Victorians have a special spot in my heart: My wife and I owned an 1878 Queen Anne Victorian in Maine while our two boys were toddlers. The memories are fond ones!

As for your questions: Yes, I'd have to say that any older house is probably more expensive to own than a new home carrying a similar purchase price. Here are several reasons -- and things to watch out for.

* First, in most communities, at any given price range, you tend to be able to buy a much bigger old house than if you're buying something new. Also you often inherit a bigger yard, too. The size of older houses is wonderful -- but size itself carries increased costs.

* Even with new windows and a new heating system, old houses tend to be expensive to heat and cool. Victorian houses were built when heat was cheap. Over time, you can cut energy use dramatically by caulking around windows and baseboards and adding attic insulation. Usually, though, this work won't have been done by a previous owner.

* Old houses need to be painted regularly, and they're so big that this can be a serious investment. Where I'm from, few Victorian paint jobs last more than six years.

* In many areas, Victorian houses face long-term foundation troubles if you're not careful. The reason is that these houses were usually built with gutters, which often have been removed or roofed because they were a maintenance headache. Without gutters, rain rolls off the roof, hits the ground and then splashes onto the foundation -- which wasn't designed to take that kind of abuse. If your house has gutters, be thankful. If not, be aware of this trouble spot.

* Finally, at the risk of generalizing, everything associated with an old house seems to cost somewhat more because you tend to set your sights a bit higher when you own one of these houses. You opt for better grades of paint, wallpaper, light fixtures, etc., not to mention the fact that when you hire out any work, you tend to look for better (and thus more expensive) craftspeople.

Bottom line? If your house is in good shape, you won't face any catastrophes -- but you should be realistic about budgeting more for utilities, upkeep and long-term maintenance and improvements than you'd have to with a newer home.

Good luck -- and I'll be interested to hear how some of our other visitors answer your question!

Ken Holmes The Old House Web

James Modesett

Re: Money Pit?

Post by James Modesett »

Ask When was the house re-wired. A 1900 house doest;nt come with double insulated wiring. Check the outlets. Are they original? I hope not. These need to be replaced if you plan on getting a loan on the house, as well as the wiring if its not double insulated.Check for termites, wood rot in damp areas, and check to see if the old shingle roof was torn off before the new shingles were put on. There is no more old growth lumber-the stuff old houses were made of. I havent seen quality craftmanship on any new homes like I have seen on old ones. If you can get an old house into original functional condition, I dont see how a new house could be any better, however the neighborhood, yard water drainage,painting, will need to be considered. If you are not handy with repair work, painting etc. you at the mercy of contractors.Good and Bad

Dean Henrichsen

Re: Money Pit?

Post by Dean Henrichsen »

These houses were built by wealthy people who didn't pay income taxes. Energy costs have always been an inflation factor. (But they weren't buying $3000 of computer equipment to type this.) The most important aspect of buying an old house is the mechanical condition of the house. Try to find someone experienced with old houses. (Not just any house inspector.) Interior home decorating has always been a matter of personal taste and historic duplication can be the most costly. If you're going to replicate Biltmore, you better have a Vanderbilt wallet (and vision.) Good luck.

Bob & Adrienne Bo

Re: Money Pit?

Post by Bob & Adrienne Bo »

We're trying to purchase an old home in N.C. circa 1830. Walls are all wood paneling with original wallpaper, surface electrical, 20 yr old plumbing 3 yr old roof, appears structurally sound no sagging floors, no water damage, mostly dirt and cosmetic changes. What else to look for, we've been under it and on top of it. It's really impressive, but really outdated and neglected.

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