10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Buying an Old House

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I wanted to write this post as a community service to old house lovers and those people who are considering buying an old house. I’m going to talk real, and let you know what I wish someone told us before we bought an old house. I think if you’re like us, buying an old house is exciting because we love the character that old houses have, and we are the people to save them. All old homes need maintenance and up keep. Here’s the thing: I’ve chatted with people that don’t have an old house and they have many of the same issues. The items listed below are not specific to only old homes, but things I wish I would have looked out for. Some items are just old house problems.

I wouldn’t change buying our house for the world. But during your first year of home ownership you want to keep the surprises to a minimum and your pocket book in check.

1. Get two inspections

This is the number one thing I wish we would have done. Our inspector caught a lot of important items, but also had a few big misses that added up to some serious dollars the first year we owned the home. I know when you are buying a home, spending another $600 or so on an inspection is not what your idea of well spent money, but trust me, it is very well spent. Inspectors are human beings, and can make mistakes. Also, if your inspection shows anything structural, get an engineer in there before you buy. This can have some serious dollars attached down the road, and it’s better to know up front. We used a traditional inspector, structural engineer and bug inspector.

2. Check for water filtration systems, especially if you are on well water

Yeah, so us city slickers bought a house with well water. It smelled like the most horrible rotten eggs you ever did smell. It was sulfur in the water, and our area had high sulfur. We washed our dishes in it and us. The smell was so strong we could barely stand it. I would never in a million years have guests over, the smell was gag worthy. Sulfer isn’t bad for you, but whoo-hoo, does it stink like all kinds of rotten. So, really good water filtration systems cost several thousands of dollars. You need one if you have well water, period. Ask what the yearly maintenance costs are when selecting a system.

3. Ask how long the house has been empty

We had a lot of issues because the house sat empty. The extreme sulfur smell, the bats in the attic (see item 4) and mold in the basement. I’m not saying these wouldn’t have happened if the house wasn’t empty, but I think it contributed in a big way to some of the issues we encountered. When a house is not used and systems just sit there, like no water circulation and no air circulation, and no human intervention for critters, problems start cropping up.

4. Rodent and bat infestations

HOLY &%$*!!!! We had 200 bats in our attic and they had been calling Stony Ford their home for YEARS. Normally, we think oh, no big deal, just kick them out or kill them. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We talked to so many people who asked us that and if you have bats, you have a big problem. They are an endangered species, so you can’t kill them. And you can only kick them out two times a year when they can relocate and don’t have any young. So, if you’re like us and find out you have 200 bats in the attic in the middle of the summer, you have to live with them, until the end of the summer when they can be kicked out. Then we had to pay for the clean up of the bat poop, which if disturbed, is toxic. Men is white suits climbed into our attic to hepa vac the bat poop. This was missed during the inspections, and I was pretty upset about it. It costs us thousands to remediate. Look for bat poop, it looks like mouse poop, only a bit longer. If you see evidence of it, check carefully.

5. Lead paint

Understand if you buy and old home you will probably be dealing with lead paint. If you have children this could, or couldn’t be a big deal. We have a lot of lead paint and have done a lot of research on remediation. It’s a long haul, and most of the work can be done by hardcore DIYers. You have to check your window casings and door frames carefully for chipping paint, or rubbing paint. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but if you see cracked paint or chipping flaking paint, ask some questions and have your inspector test it. I still buy a house if it had of lead paint, but I would want to know what kind of remediation project I’m getting into.

6. Mold

I get really bad migraines around mold and I knew the basement had mold when we first looked at the house. I was down there for 5 minutes and had a mind blowing headache. Again, the house sitting empty and not having good circulation, this can happen in living quarters or basements and attics. Mold remediation can be very expensive, but technology has come a long way. We didn’t have the option to remove materials since the mold was all over the beams and pipes. We had the mold heat treated so the treatment would get in every nook and cranny, plus a new air exchanger and dehumidifier installed. I don’t mess with my health and this was a must as soon as we moved in. Again, thousands of dollars.

7. Roof leaks and the ‘M’ word

So we had a roof leak and had to have a part of the roof replaced. Get two opinions if you have roof issues. Every person who looks at our roof has a different opinion. Then there is the ‘M’ word. Moisture. If you see signs of moisture, or mold: run. Ask questions, and the inspector should have a handy gadget he can use to test for the M word. Also if you have plaster walls and you see evidence of staining or moisture, ask where the source is located. I didn’t know it at the time but moisture, will make some paint peel, and we have this one area of the house where we’ve had gutter problems and leaking inside. If we had looked closely at the walls, we could have known to ask a lot more questions about the drainage and how much to repair it. The M word can lead to the other M word, mold, which again is expensive to remediate.

8. Storm windows and screens

One area we were really fortunate is our windows. We have all the original windows, and the couple that lived here before us made screens and storm windows. We’re adding weather stripping to those storm windows, and wow, what a great thing. I can’t imagine having a winter with out them. If the house you’re looking at doesn’t have these, get a cost for having them made. It’s expensive but so worth it. Some people asked us why not just get new windows. Cause our windows are beautiful and historic! I’d never take the character out of our house and change the windows! About 90% of our windows have the original wavy glass that’s really old!

9. Overall insulation

So heating a big old house is expensive. When we lived in Manhattan, and you told me the price of a martini was $22, I’d shrug. The rest of America would ask what’s wrong with me! My mind was programmed to look at the world through Manhattan prices. When I found out how much oil costs to heat a house I said WHAT?!?!?!? HOW MUCH?!?! I seriously couldn’t get over how much oil is cause I lived in an apartment and never had to pay an oil bill. Our house has no insulation, like none. After the bats in the attic, all the insulation had to be removed cause it was covered with bat poop. True story. If you have no insulation and live in a colder climate, plan on spending your life savings on it, cause you’ll love yourself later. And so will your oil bill.

10. Condition of walls and floors

This is where I get the ‘idiot’ stamp. Our house ‘looked’ nice when we walked through, a new coat of paint and it was livable, unlike other serious renovation projects we looked at. That’s until we saw the wall paper. Under the paint. Yes, that’s right. Painted over wall paper, sometimes two layers. We started painting a room that should have taken us two days and it took us two months cause we had to remove the wall paper and then skim coat all the walls. Oh yes, it took forever. And the whole house is like this. So it’s not a matter of throwing up a simple coat of paint. Same thing with the floors, they all need refinishing. Look at these things when you walk through the house. We are serious DIYers, but I even feel like I’m in over my head with this one.

If you’re an experienced old home owner, leave additional items in the comments so people will see them later! It’s great to have as a resource.


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  1. Anthony says:

    I really appreciated your List of Things to check. You were more in-depth than so many other web sites.

    Thank you

  2. Junaid says:

    It would have been nice if you uploaded some pictures 🙂

  3. Laurel Bern says:

    Terrific article and told in an engaging way. I guess so many of us love the charm of old homes. So many things cannot be replicated, but these are wonderful points to investigate before getting into something unmanageable! BTW, yes, I found you on OKL. It works. Love your instagram! Gorgeous photography!

  4. Zafar says:

    ‘2 inspections…’ I was thinking of getting 2 inspections for an older house & your article validated my rationale.
    Great article.

  5. Brad Brinson says:

    I was surprised to see another Brinson!
    We are looking at an old house presently.
    Thanks for the tips!

  6. Mary says:

    This was excellent and very informative. I am looking at an old house in Mobile, Al and I am glad I read this.

  7. teresia says:

    Good one.. Really helpful..

  8. SB & SC says:

    Thanks, we’re going to see a property tomorrow and this is useful. Agree, it would’ve been great to see some photos.

  9. Kristen says:

    Thank you, this article was way better than every other article I read on this subject. We’re looking at a 100-year-old home in De Soto, KS, and a 60-year-old home in Olathe, KS, today, and I made a whole checklist based off your post. Sorry about the bat problem. Doesn’t sound fun. We’ll watch out for signs of bats.

  10. Holley says:

    ShoooWeeee! I’m in Georgia and the humidity here is like living in a wet wool sock for about 6 months of the year. I’m going to take look at a 10 bedroom Victorian next week after about 5 days of predicted storms. It appears someone has done a lot of the stripping already and no refinishing. Don’t know if they got in over their heads or if they discovered something awful. I figure after that many days of relentless rain there’s no way to disguise any potential large scale leaks. Thank you for your list it was most helpful.

  11. Mrs. Mac Loud says:

    Very helpful post! Thank you!

  12. Michele says:

    Another critical look out is the electrical. Not only should ALL of the wiring be inspected for integrity (rodents can reek havoc on old wires and new ones), but electrical boxes from the 1920s – or even the 1970s – are not designed to handle modern electrical demands. Blowing a fuse every time you vacuum a rug with a lamp on or the heater running sucks.
    Another thing to look out for are the trees around the house. Large, beautiful, old trees are a delight to look at and their shade is valuable in the summer, but dead branches or invasive roots can cost a small fortune when storm comes along and leaves a hole in your roof or blows a hole in the floor from a lightening strike.

  13. Owen says:

    A couple other things to look at would be the septic system, they are out of sight out of mind but still need maintenance, and if there was anything done to the house in the 1960s and 70s you likely have asbestos.

    • Catherine says:

      You peaked my interest at septic system as I had bought an old home and while the owner pleasantly promised all was well, it was not! Well went dry on the summer and septic eventually backed up onto my newly renovated bedroom and ensuite! Argh!
      I am now looking ay another home that was recently renovated (log) and I simply can’t get a straight answer 🙁
      I’d rather know up front if I have to fix something rather than find out the hard way…

  14. Richard says:

    Why daughter is in the process of buying a 90 year old home in Columbus, Ohio (German Village). We found old knob and tube wiring in the basement and attic, but the inspector said they were not energized. He could not guarantee there was not more behind the walls. Need to have an electrician look at the electrical panel to verify nomex wiring coming out and VERIFY your insurance is ok for coverage. Also, termites inspection.

  15. Sandi Weston says:

    What do you mean by skim coating..We found our plaster walls ..wallpaper.and a few layers of paint too..

    • That’s awesome you found the original plaster! Skim coating is just applying a thin layer of new plaster to repair any cracks or imperfections. We normally have some pretty large cracks and will get the washers (I think they are officially called plaster anchors) and remove any loose plaster and secure cracked plaster. Then we’ll skim coat over that section of the wall. We make sure to apply 3 or 4 very thin coats of plaster and sand in between. This gives a nice smooth finish on the new plaster. Good luck! It’s a pretty easy fix that gives a few more decades to the existing plaster.

  16. Tina says:

    Thanks for the info… We are currently looking at a home in New England built in 1760.
    The first thing we noticed when we looked at the property was woodpeckers… wholes in the front
    columns and in the barn walls. Also, I think we are going to schedule a second viewing after a day and a half of rain that is expected this weekend. Will keep you posted.

  17. Sheri says:

    Awesome list! I’m looking to by a 1920’s house in Northern California so this is very helpful. I would also add Termites to your critter list! They can do quite a bit of damage to the structure so a good inspection and tenting if necessary is critical.

  18. Sara says:

    We’re getting ready to buy a house built in 1870 and it’s sure to be an adventure! We did go with just one inspection but along with that my husband and father-in- law are in the construction industry and also have done several walk through (my husband went through with the inspector and actually found a few things that he missed lol). Well/septic inspection is required (county ordinance), by the local health inspector and we just got that back this past weekend and everything passed with flying colors-we were nervous about that so very relieved!

    Going into it we know we need to do roof and wood siding repairs, and then things like a new furnace/water heater. Those things will keep us busy over the next few months and then the fun stuff comes-like knocking out walls and gutting out bathrooms 🙂

    And I had to laugh about the paint over wallpaper-first thing we noticed when we walked into the bedrooms is that they wallpapered the CEILINGS and then painted them over-seriously who does that?! My father-in-law actually climbed up on a piece of furniture and chipped some away to see what was going on (we neglected to tell the owner we did this lol). We’re probably going to have to rip most of the ceilings out anyways, so not too big of a deal but what were they thinking?! lol.

    • This sounds super exciting! That’s awesome you have family members in the construction industry. So you’ve caught my design nerdiness with the wall paper ceilings. Depending on when they were wall papered, do you suspect that’s the original Victorian wall paper? Or something crazy from the 1960s/70s? There is this guy, Christopher Dresser, who wrote a book called Studies in Design (1875) and he had a lot of wall papered ceilings in his designs. The whole book is an interesting read. Dresser was quite radical for Victorian times, designing modernist items before the Bauhaus. When you take the ceilings down, see if you can get a look at the wall paper. You’ll know if you had a radical Victorian or 60s/70s on your hands. 🙂 Have fun! Curious to know what you find!!!

  19. About a year and a half ago, we purchased a Colonial Revival that was built by the town’s founder’s direct descendent (follow?), in the very early 1900s. Well, at least part of the house and there’s the rub with an old home. The house is connected to Long Island history and the horse society of an earlier age (we had polo grounds…before remainder we of the 50 aces were parceled off in the 1980s), and yet can be a beast to research with any accuracy. My husband recently retired from 30 years in the Navy and having zero connection to New York, we simply fell in love with this old house and dove in with faith. Her bad kitchen. Her peeling wallpaper. Her old servants’ wing. Her three floors. We thought a project would be great ( because five daughters, including a two year old and a puppy weren’t enough). End game? Love, yes, but also a colossal money pit. Do get a second inspection. We regret this point. You WILL grab your aching chest when you start to pay for the oil bill to heat and the electrical bill for all of those lovely box air conditioners. We are in the middle of an enormous kitchen gut. Most of the work is being done by us and even then, the budget will be doubled. It was an act of God that the kitchen walls held up the second floor for all the rot. We took down THREE layers of ceiling, two of walls, and two of floor(or was it three?). Respect the home’s period without turning it into a museum.This isn’t a place for full-on trends. My point is made and I am in utter agreement with you. Susan. These homes can be a dream come true but buyer beware. It’s simply not for the faint of heart. Mad commitment and a crazed tool arsenal is required.
    Susan. Love your reads and your style and your sense of humor. I feel as though these homes require a sense of humor-especially a sense of humor!

    • Gina! Thanks so much for sharing your story! I love hearing about your house and the challenges. Keeps me motivated when we are having a hard time. I’ll just think: well, Gina did this with 5 kids and a puppy, we must power through! 🙂 We take on projects like that and honestly ask our selves what the heck we were thinking when we agreed to do them! And yes, these homes are not for the faint of heart. You have to really love living in a unique home and dealing with the challenges of the home having multiple owners and renovation styles.

      Thanks for reading! And best of luck with your home!

  20. Christina Carroll says:

    Oh my goodness, thank you for the original post, and all the added comments. Very insightful and extremely helpful!! I’m so glad I googled a simple question!! I never thought I’d get a wealth of information.
    After a decade of renting we are looking at purchasing another home. So now comes the huge undertaking and emotional rollercoaster. I’m excited, and nervous. We are looking at our first house, built in 1910, next week and I want to go as prepared as possible. We aren’t moving far (from NH to ME) but being a minimum of a 3 hour ride, I want to have my thoughts organized with pen and paper in hand.
    Thank you again.

    • Congrats on looking at old homes Christina! The comments are the gold here – they discuss so many scenarios. Good luck on finding your perfectly imperfect new-old home. 🙂

  21. Dalyn Jenkins says:

    Inspection on a beautiful house in Sanford around tbe turn of the century. The inspector had me come outside when I had arrived to go over the inspection. He told me the minor things..all the windows were painted shut, there were no smoke detectors, the electrical had been updated… horribly, no plugs were grounded, all wires were exposed (no conduit) things that shouldn’t be hard wired were, and best of all tbe left the old knob and tube wiring….active and in the active had blown in insulation over part of it. Just a tinderbox ready to set fire…. i decided to stay far away.

  22. Lynne Woods says:

    It’s hard not to fall in love with some of these old homes I find on the east coast when I’m searching the realty sites. I’m a city girl from the west, and I know absolutely nuthin’ about wells, septic tanks, knob & tube wiring or really cold weather. I do know about painted over wallpaper though! It’s kind of like childbirth. Once you’re finished, you forget the bad stuff. But seriously, thanks for a great starting point. Not sure if this is just a pipe dream, but it’s good to know what you’re up against.

  23. Jennie says:

    Great list! I disagree about the well water, though–I grew up on well water, and it’s city water I can’t stand!

  24. Pam says:

    I’d have to agree with Jennie about the well water. Not all well water is high sulphur, hard or bad tasting. It can depend on many things like location, what type of geological formation your well is drilled into or even sometimes what type of well you have. So a filtration system isn’t always required. Just get your water tested and bring a cup with you when viewing houses hahaha that’s what I’m doing!

  25. […] have cash on hand, you may need to look at special loans that include repair expenses. Read: 10 Things I Wish I Knew When Buying My Older House. Another option is to secure a separate home improvement loan after you have purchased the […]

  26. […] Do not forget to increase your budget by 14-30% when planning to renovate an older home. Problems come up, and you have to make sure you’ve got extra cash on hand just in case those issues arise. Don’t forget, you’re also going to have to have money to decorate the house as well. No point in restoring a beautiful, grand, historic home and not being able to furnish it! For further reading, try this article about 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Buying an Old House. […]

  27. Brooke says:

    Sewer! My 100 year old house needed the sewer line replaced 5 weeks after I moved in. The home inspector did not run the water non-stop during the inspection. Had he done that, I could have had the line scoped and would have seen it needed to be replaced, saving me $4K. Also, if you want something done and your realtor gives you crap about it – stand your ground or move on to another realtor. Mine didn’t order the sewer line scope I asked for…

    • Liz says:

      This! Our house was built in 1926 but recently renovated. It sat empty for five years before the reno and within a week of moving in we had sewage in our basement.

      Our first plumber was really predatory and told us we had to entirely replace for $12,000. We got a second opinion and had the line flushed for $900. All good now.

      So two things I know now – sewer, second opinion.

    • Cassandra says:

      Yep, I second that, except our disaster was 6 weeks after purchase and over a holiday weekend. We had to replace the entire outgoing plumbing from the taps to the sewer line in the middle of the street (over $14k!). Had we scoped it, we would’ve seen it was the original plumbing (orange burg and ceramic) from when it was built in 1913 and the trees had had a field day with the pipes, and would’ve lowered our asking price. We already knew about the knob & tube wiring – which the previous owner had kept in, but just updated the panel and tied new wire to the old knob & tube versions (yeah), but the plumbing killed us.
      We’re in the process of buying a new old house, only 93 years old this time, and for the inspection, we are doing everything we didn’t do in our first old house purchase.

      • Oh NOOOOO! That’s such a bummer. The inspections for these old beauties are such an important part of moving forward with a purchase. We don’t mind making the repairs, but you want to know what you’re getting into financially. Good luck with the rest of your repairs and fingers crossed no more surprises. 🙂

  28. Jaime says:

    This list is spot on! I only wish I had read it before buying my 120 year old house that has 2 other 120 year old houses on the property ?
    I have a toddler and a 5 month old and just moved in 6 months ago. We are not handy and in over our heads. I hope it’s worth it one day.

    • Zach says:

      How has this been working out for you? My wife is due with our first in two months and she also graduates nursing school at about the same time, and we just went to look at an old 1890s colonial today! It was beautiful, and she thought so too, but she’s thinking it will be just a little bit too much right now. We weren’t going to start looking for a home for another year, but I wanted to go look at this one haha.

  29. Taylor P. says:

    Love this list- such a great idea!
    I will add this- ask your realtor if the house you’re considering is in the local “historic district”- we thought this was just a quaint distinction when we bought our house. but it turned out there is a robust list of town regulations on renovating any part of the house visible from the street. We are required to present all plans from our contractors to the historic district committee for approval, which requires application fees and reservations on the monthly agendas plus in-person attendance from homeowner and contractor.
    There are stiff penalties for those who ignore these rules. Caveat emptor!

  30. […] a variety of reasons, I’m hoping to find a house that’s not more than 50 years old and well built and in a safe area. And most importantly, I want a house that does NOT have an […]

  31. […] get old and just like humans they begin to show signs of age. The problem is that this can lead to expensive, troubling problems for the owners. For instance, […]

  32. Thanks for explaining some of the details involved with buying an old home, I’m sure people would find very useful information from this blog.

  33. vanessa says:

    I am living this right now, my dream of buying a vintage home in the historic area of my town came true. But its a nightmare our inspector didn’t find anything to bad, the owners agreed to fix everything he found. Well we should have also done a water line inspection and a mold inspection. After moving in and gutting a bathroom that had been remodeled in the 80’s. Our contractor found a bunch of stuff and now the AC went out and its summer. I am not sure if It will ever stop. So my recommendations are 2 inspections, Have a contractor also walk the house you will not believe what they find that the inspector did not even notice, Septic inspection, mold inspection, and roof.

    • We hear you. We are about 3 1/2 years in and it does get better. Just take it one step at a time and remember everything you do is making it more and more your home. And look at the great crazy stories you’ll have as well 😉

  34. Cecelia says:

    Yes, Susan, your wrote so vividly. It’s like I was right there with you. Thank you. One definitely needs a second opinion, especially when it comes to the roof. Trained eyes are able to see what a regular home-owner cannot. It, therefore, cannot be over-emphasized the importance of a second opinion. I would like to add another point about viewing. Weird as it may sound, it’s also good to get a night view of the property, like just after dusk or just after a shower of rain. You are more likely to see baths, rats and other pesky creatures that you may not want to become a part of your family and whether the trees or vegetation affects the amount of moonlight/street lights/outdoor lights that the grounds get. Rainfall will not only show leaks and dampness but how much will come in through window and door crevices, how much comes in on porches and balconies and how much stays on walkways to or around the house.

  35. Amy Richeson says:

    Love the article and all the comments. We bought our civil war era home in Tennessee almost 9 years ago. The inspection went great, he only found one minor thing which was fixed. So thinking it was a dream come true, we made an offer and bought it! Oh how happy we were…for two weeks until the septic tank lines collapsed and flooded every drain in the house with putrid sludge. After almost 1,500 bucks in repairs it was fixed. In a few more months we received a water bill that was over $1,000. Only to discover that the previous owners had attached a garden hose to the 60 ft of main water line under the house, and burried it 3 feet, $2,000 repair. Over the next 6 months we thought everything was fine, until one particularly rainy day, the roof started to leak badly. After calling a professional roofing company, we found out that there were 3 layers of shingles that had to be removed. Oh, and all the boards were rotted and needed to be replaced! All that was replaced for the bargain price of $13,500. The next year both 50 gallon water heaters failed, one destroyed flooring and trim. Replaced them with a tankless, replaced flooring, treated for mold, another $6,000. Long story short , a laundry list of other things failed. Kitchen appliances, washing machine, septic tank collapsed, septic field line failed, kitchen and bath plumbing, live electric wires arching under home, crawl space insulation, floor joists slipped, and if I keep thinking I could probably name a few more! It probably sounds like I hate my old southern home, but I actually love it. We have invested around $60,000 to completely renovate, but leave as much of its original character as possible. There is something that realtor don’t mention, these old homes, are truly an addiction. You will lose countless hours of sleep just thinking of what you can do next. So, all in all, are they worth the financial burden, many tears and loss of sleep and insanity? Absolutely yes, there is nothing more gratifying than inviting someone in your old charmer and seeing the look on their face…Lesson learned though, do not get caught up in an old homes glory. Approach with logic, a plan, respected inspectors and contractors, and of course, a brand new check book, you’re going to need it! My old charmer is for sale now, ready to tackle another one!

    • Amy – thanks so much for your comment! We sat on the couch and read it play buy play! And we feel your pain – as soon as you think things are going good. Whoomp. Another crazy thing happens. So glad you are ready to tackle your next new house. We wouldn’t trade with for anything either. 🙂

  36. Amy Richeson says:

    I am happy to find some like minded people when it comes to older homes. I am 30, my husband is 32, and everyone in our families(and a few friends) , think that we are crazy for doing this. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

  37. Christina Kohler says:

    Don’t forget to find out about the electrical and if it has been updated, ever!

  38. Ellie says:

    After three years of living in a construction zone, my husband and I are reaching the final stage of the gut renovation of our 1750’s New England colonial. In hindsight, choosing an antique fixer-upper as first-time buyers was pretty crazy! For the first two years, I regretted the decision, but as things come together more and more, I feel so glad we chose a place with character rather than something new that would have been relatively easy. When we were getting started, we received advice from a friend who has been down this road: “It will take twice as long as you think, and cost twice as much.” He wasn’t exaggerating.
    My biggest recommendation is to budget for updating everything that is contained in the walls all at once, if at all possible: the electrical, HVAC, rerouting plumbing if necessary for kitchen/bathroom remodels, running propane/natural gas lines if desired, and adding insulation if inadequate. You’ll have the most options in how to run systems efficiently and head off potential problems if you can see things comprehensively. Having a soundly functional base will save a lot of money in the long run and increase your quality of life and resale value.
    Also: specific to 18th century post and beam houses– don’t count on finding studded construction when you open the walls!! Any original walls in this type of house were made by nailing large, thick hardwood planks to the frame. Count on having to build at least a few shallow studded walls on the inside of the rooms to accommodate modern plumbing, electrical, and insulation.

  39. Julie says:

    You completely made me do a 180 on the thought of buying an old house…and my Dad was a rough and finish carpenter, so I know more than the average person on a lot of house issues.

    It’s not worth it –

  40. Foolio says:

    I purchased a Victorian once and it pretty much was a money pit. I learned a lot but paid a high price for it. 1. a good inspector is worth gold and silver. Don’t take anyone’s word for anything. 2. I had bats as well, bats love Victorians as well as we do. To this day I am not sure I ever got rid of them. I filled a super soaker with ammonia and chased them around at night. 3. Asbestos, it is likely all over that house and besides the health risk it is a pain to deal with and if an inspector sees it you are supposed to have hazmat removal which is costly. 4. Electrical, ask when and where electrical work was done. If they don’t know demand\sneak open the light switches and take a peak. It is very possible they are using romex or no conduit etc. 5. Plumbing 6. Foundation.7.roof. Overall I would say the biggest question is building material. If the thing is stone, and level after 100 years I am not too worried. Wood is either dry rotted or wet rotted but it is almost assured it is some kind of rotted.

  41. Chris says:

    Thanks for all the input. I am selling my house in southern California and moving to a northern state with all the seasons and definitely colder.

    Any additional items we should check for is extremely helpful. We have no experience with weather proofing a house for winter.

    Wonderful and useful information!

  42. Linda says:

    Who exactly does inspections? Are they contractors, or other folks? How does one locate a contractor?

  43. Erica says:

    I just came across your website while doing some research on inspection tips. I’m in the process of buying a 140 year old shotgun home in New Orleans – my first. The hardwood floors, clawfoot tubs, large windows… The 1st potential buyers for the property pulled out due to lack of available funds, but my agent got their inspection reports. She asked if I wanted to skip doing another inspection since it had only been a few weeks. I emphatically said no – it’s worth the expense. Glad my instincts were in line with the advice here! I know that older homes come with a lot of potential challenges, but I can’t imagine living in New Orleans in anything but a house with as much history as this charming city!

  44. Leslie Lelaind says:

    I’m in the process of buying a small…(900 Sqf home), the church is selling it for a blessing $1,500 as long as it’s moved…
    I’m scared, I’m also a single mother on limited income but I have land.
    Your story and the stories if your reader have me excited and looking like a deer in headlights at once, basically I’m a ball of emotions.
    But what a deal right!
    One key thing stuck out to me, and that was…(inspection, inspection, inspection!!!) I don’t have deep pockets by far, so DYI’ing is my only option, I may find a college student or two looking for extra credit, but that can be hit and miss since I live so far from the city…
    Pray for me, I don’t know what I’m doing!
    Can I read books, takes specific classes at a hardware store or follow advice from some websites?
    Thank you❤

    • Wow!, Way to go. I like your sprit. My best advice is find a company that can move the house and see what the cost entail. Including hooking up the plumbing and electrical, which will come with an inspection. Since you’re DIYing, possibly have a House moving party with your church, like an old fashioned barn raising. It’s all about community. Keep us posted!!!

  45. Abbey says:

    Wow! You are very detailed William. Thank you for this write. Very informative and very experiential. I am a newbie in real estate and I am considering a house built in 1973. I drove past the house, it looks nice on the outside. But will pay attention to all these things you mentioned. What do you think I should pay attention to for a house built in 1973? Thank you again, your experience and the comments of other make me think even deeper about this.

  46. Matt says:

    We just bought a house this month that was built in 1981. I have to say, we have the same issue with the wallpaper. My wife told me last friday that she was going to the store to get wall paper stripper, and she’d take off the wall paper, so we’d be able to paint Saturday. I tried to tell her it wasn’t that easy. It’s been nearly a week, and we’re still removing the adhesive. It’s a very time consuming process, and a lot of people don’t think about having to skim coat, sand, and texture after removing the stuff. The only other thing I’d add would be plumbing. I went to replace the kitchen faucet and I had to use a wrench just to turn the shutoff valve. The water in West Texas is very hard, and the valves had a bunch of corrosion. What began with a simple swap out, turned into having to call a plumber because of the sweat on copper connections. Be aware of this! Nice article!

  47. Julia says:

    I second the posts about electrical – one thing we discovered in our 1918 home was that it was built with knob and tube lighting and no outlets. The outlets were added in the 1970s at which point the knob and tube was hidden (only one inspector – it was raining that day so he couldn’t access the attic) until we went to insulate the attic. That was an expensive housewarming discovery. The other thing, and this is probably obvious to most people, is not to underestimate the difficulty of finding non-standard doors. Also in the 70’s most of the beautiful two-panel doors with wonderful oil-rubbed bronze spindle knobs were ripped out and replaced with flat panel doors and bright brass knobs. It’s been challenging to find period replacements since our doors are often too short for new ones and salvage ones often have lead paint. Good luck!

  48. Shannon Johnson says:

    One thing we are running into now is having a 150 +/- tree in the yard. It’s beautiful and charming. And dead…yep, dead. You can’t tell because, fun fact, oak trees will still leaf out when the trunk is rotten. So last week we had a tree limb the size of a full grown tree drop onto 2 of our vehicles and total them. Thank God no one was hurt and it missed the house, but this beautiful full canopy tree is now a ticking time bomb that is going to cost thousands to have removed. Unbeknownst to us, tree companies only cost a couple hundred dollars to inspect a tree and it would have been money well spent because we’ve been here 2 years now and it could have been really tragic had it fallen when we were in the cars.

  49. Erin says:

    We live in an Edwardian semi-detached house in London built in 1904 with oodles of character, but are definitely beginning to realize the downsides that come with a period property. Beyond what has been mentioned already, absolutely nothing is square in our house. We’ve had some renos done and the trapezoidal nature of some of the rooms, uneven floors, walls, etc., have caused various headaches (especially for bathrooms, built-ins, etc.). I also chose a lot of highly geometric patterns for floors and carpets that really highlight the wonky shape of rooms. If you like patterned walls and floors, this is definitely something to consider – unless you want to boldly highlight such quirks.

    • Oh no! Our house is really cooked too. Off by 6 inches in some places. I highlight it, it’s how a house ages. But it kinda bugs my husband! Everything we touch, we know will be custom as far as mill work or making structural adjustments. It’s a process, but these homes have so much character. 🙂

  50. Kelly Gender says:

    Another thing to keep in mind is finding out how deep your well was dug. A long time ago, a lot of them were hand dug and therefore are insufficient being close to the surface, letting in many contaminants into your water. We got quoted $14,000 for a new well to be dug…horrible day that was. Also physically digging around the house to check the foundation! The sellers of our home covered up rotting wood foundation. Another horrible day that was and another over $10k job to fix! Great tips. I still love the charm that older homes possess but they can be a money pit!

  51. Margaret says:

    So glad I found your website!!
    We are looking to purchase an 1850 brick Inn ( old stagecoach stop) in Pennsylvania. It has lots of bedrooms(6) 3 floors with the bottom floor being a bar and restaurant! Our dream!!! of course it needs lots of work and has not operated as a restaurant for 4 years. I am NERVOUS!!!! We are of course getting an Inspection and having the local building Dept. Coming to look. Thanks for the wealth of information!

  52. Teresa G says:

    Ah yes. Painted wallpaper. Skim coat is seriously my worst nightmare. About to look at an old house tonight so doing some research! Thanks!

  53. Harry C says:

    I am in the process of buying a farmhouse built in 1860. I am somewhat lucky in that all of the major upkeep had been done by a loving owner for the past 60 years. It is absolutely gorgeous. It has an original tin roof however, that I know needs replacing eventually, so I made an offer accordingly. I had an expert inspection done. (Great idea getting 2 inspections. ). Even though the home appears excellent, here’s what the inspector found. I hope it helps someone. Water damage on one chimney, no GFCI outlets installed in areas with running water, at least one deck was not lag screwed to the house frame, the coach house is leaning to the right with mortar damage to the footing base, the electrical service drop was loose on the house, the central AC units were near the end of their service life, stone had been removed from an interior foundation wall to allow for running well water pipe, the posts holding up the house floor joists are wood(in good shape but some of them are tree trunks and should be replaced down the road with cement lally columns), a few mis-repaired leaks under sinks (repaired with electrical tape), and some serious moss growing on several roof sections on the main house and garage. So nothing on the list is expensive except for the AC units if and when they fail, and the roof I already knew about. The house itself leans toward it’s center. All doors close, and there are no cracks in interior walls, so it’s not a tremendous issue, but I do expect some interesting carpentry dilemma’s down the road. Absolutely do get water and radon tests done, as well as an insect inspection. Good luck to all old home buyers and owners.

  54. Angie says:

    Good list! Only addition is to the windows: In our 1914 home, we bought on its centennial anniversary and renovated since….. Windows were original to the home when we bought it but former owners for decades painted it shut due to the cold climate we live in (Winnipeg, also known as Winterpeg). As a result, they were not functional and we had to replace. It was a constant battle whether to replace original wood windows or PVC windows to mimic original and we went the latter route as due to the climate, PVC held up better and also more affordable. There is nothing that beats the look of old original windows and had that history been respected (form and function), we wouldn’t have had to replace them.
    Overall with historic homes, many routes can be taken for restoration. However, the one that feels right to the owner should be as they are the home dwellers. We all make mistakes but learn from them too.

  55. Chelsea says:

    So happy to read everyone’s comments! Really fantastic advice! I’m currently researching a stone house built in 1820 and just want to make sure I don’t make too many first time home buyer/first time old home buyer mistakes. Thinking maybe one or two regular inspections and then an inspection by a professional mason. Any tips unique to old stone homes or experiences people have had with old stone homes would be a blessing!
    The interior has been updated already (newer drywall and paint, ceiling, appliances) but original hardwoods. Hasn’t been occupied in 5 years, so what I’m understanding from the comments is that means no air circulation and it may have made a great home for critters.

  56. Diane Matousek says:

    Thanks for your very informative article – I’m about to embark on a journey to consider this old home on the north fork of Long Island. I will report back !

  57. Ellen T. says:

    I found your article very interesting and spot on. We purchased a home built in 1906 and found that even though we thought we had a good idea of what was wrong, we found that it was much more expensive to restore than we thought. Although we had no bats in the attic, we did have a raccoon that “vacationed”. It didn’t seem to have lived there for a long period. No latrine was evident. We hadn’t thoroughly considered the fact that it had been empty for three years. We made the mistake of thinking that the sewer pipe was pvc but it was terra cotta and had been crushed. We should have definitely sent a camera down it.
    Another area where we encountered a problem was the roof. A company gave us an estimate and it is a very involved roof in an area where it is difficult to find companies who will handle it. After the roofing had been removed, they started putting down new plywood decking on top of the original board decking, saying that the gaps were too wide anf this needed to be done to properly nail the new shingles and was common with historic homes. This sheathing was not part of the original estimate and was a lot more expensive. They should have known this beforehand since they had been all over the house before giving an estimate. This may be of some use to anyone who is planning to have a roof replaced on a historic home to check to make sure the contractor has informed them that it may be necessary to add expensive sheathing.

  58. Arron Groomes says:

    *LONG STORY SHORT, PLAN TO UPGRADE STRUCTUAL ITEMS, DEMO PARTS OF THE HOUSE TO ASSESS AND REPAIR, HIRE 2 STRUCTUAL ENGINEERS TO ASSESS THE BUILDING ONCE WALLS/JOISTS ARE EXPOSED.* I purchased an 1890 row home in Pittsburgh PA to renovate. I have experience in renovating homes but not pre-1920 brick homes. Needless to say, anything built before 1950 & 1920 had a different method of construction. Often times row homes have joists spanning width wise and there is no support for the front and back wall of the buildings – they’re standing up by their own free will & attached at the corners of the side walls. They need connected to the joists that run parallel – one way or another – masonry ties, anchor plates, lateral restraint bars, etc. to prevent it from moving in the future (matter of time and gravity). Best off taking up subflooring in all rooms and adding blocking between the joists on the left, right, and center lines to keep the house from twisting and pulling as it moves. Oh yes, old brick houses are living organisms, they breathe and move constantly. Brick is pourous and needs to be able to dry out from the inside and outer walls, plaster is pourous as well and helps expel water from the brick, just add a dehumidifier if you have very rainy weather often. When brick gets colder and is wet it expands 4% due to the water inside of it freezing. When this happens, the mortar will crack and actually reheal it’s own cracks due to the lime and sand contents of it. Old plaster does the same thing, it reheals it’s own cracks believe it or not. Mid 1900s plaster shows all cracks because they incorporated other materials to it for “modern” construction. Back to brick & mortar, in 1920 they started using portland based cement as an ingrediant for faster setting times and strength. The rule of bricks is that the mortar is sacrificial and must be weaker than the brick so that when it gets wet and freezes, the mortar cracks and reheals itself vs the brick cracking and allowing deterioration of the brick/building/wall over time with more moisture. Most all masons will not know this and end up using the wrong mortar to repoint the exterior walls and causes much damage on the interior walls that are usually hidden by plaster and current walls. Only once you demo the wall layers to expose the brick will you see the damage caused and be able to repair it. In my opinion, the only way to properly do an old home renovation is to open up the floors/walls/ceilings to expose the joists and brick walls, then restack or repoint any damaged brick walls + add blocking to the joists in the 3 lines (L, R, C) + adding firing strips to the joists in order to make the floor perfectly level again + adding support framing to the roof since most of them weren’t built with any standards (because they usually didn’t have many standards at all). While you have the joists exposed, you can assess any moisture damage and either replace or sister the joists for added strength. There are usually wooden header beams in the walls too that can have termite damage or moisture problems and will need replaced. I purchased a 1000 sqft home that sits 13 ft wide and 30 ft deep, renovation budget is $80,000 for typical home in this area. I had to add $20,000 to the budget in order to account for unknowns such as structural items & the sewer that is safe to say will need some work since it’s likely 90+ years old since plumbing wasn’t popular in this era upon construction.

  59. Jami says:

    Great article and insightful comments. My husband and I also bought a 1920s house as our first home. A couple of additional things we wish we’d known: when purchasing, consider that it may be better to ask for a cost deduction than for certain pickups to be rectified by the seller. Looking back, there are a lot a pickups that we would have just preferred to do ourselves, because the hired contractors did a botch job and we ended up undoing their work. Also, most people know to look out for lead paint in old houses, but don’t forget asbestos. These old houses have been through decades and many have seen various remodels and interior fashions. DIY often involves peeling back the layers. There could be asbestos material hidden in the stack up— like flooring, ceiling tiles, etc. If you stumble upon any suspect materials, consider sending samples to a lab for testing. They can send you a report of the contents. We’ve uncovered a couple of worrisome materials and had tests twice already. Luckily, they’ve both come back negative for asbestos.

  60. Shammy Peterson says:

    It made sense to me when you said that you must consider getting two inspections since spending for the fee is going to be well spent. As you said, there could still be missed on the initial inspection. This was also something that we failed to do when we bought one of our houses a few years ago. We want to move in there since it is nearer my husband’s workplace. However, we recently learned that there is a buried oil tank in the area. We’ll make sure to hire a professional that can have it removed before our scheduled move-in.

  61. Shay Edney says:

    What a wealth of information! I’m an old-soul Millennial buying a not-so old home, 1977, that has sadly had questionable carpentry in Georgia. Seller fixed foundation issues, but previous owner(s)? removed a presumable load-bearing wall on the first floor, resulting in a sagging second floor. Sounds absolutely terrifying, but I’m genuinely praying we can fix the house. It’s quirky and the land is beautiful, so we’re motivated to make it right out of admiration. My family thinks I’m way in over my head, and nuts (cannot confirm nor deny), however the fantasy of saving it from a tear down decades from now or “the wrong hands” sounds so fulfilling. We had an excellent inspector, and are having multiple carpenters and an electrician walk through before our due diligence period ends to make sure we are realistic and aware. I’m a bit cynical therefore I’m gearing myself for the hard road ahead, but there really is something about the road less traveled on.
    Hoping we are able to save this beauty and restore her glory. Appreciate everyone’s input!!!

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