You've finally saved up enough money to put a down payment on your first house. Congratulations!
The one you have your eye on is 50 years old, which might seem like it's getting up there in age for a house, but the seller assures you it's in great shape so you are still thinking about buying it.
Here are some things to consider before making the purchase.
Old Electrical Systems Can Spell Trouble
Many older homes have outdated wiring which can pose a serious fire hazard if it isn't done correctly.
In some cases, there may not even be a circuit breaker—just an outlet in the basement or garage with a power cord running directly to it.
The seller may try to tell you that repairs or renovations were made, but unless you can verify the details of those repairs, it's best to assume that the electrical system in the house is not up to code.
As older designs can be a fire hazard, you will want to ensure the wiring is up to date.
This is perhaps the most common issue with older homes. The "home inspector" may ask to see where the water meter is and, provided you can find it, he or she will likely tell you that you need to have a professional come in and inspect the plumbing system.
Many old homes will also use lead material for their piping, which is absolutely unsafe for drinking water.
Surprisingly, it's also not uncommon to see sewer systems that drain into the storm drains or cesspools that sit far too close to bodies of water serving as a source of drinking water.
Both lead and improperly designed piping can be dangerous for your health.
Is The Roof And Insulation Strong Enough?
While the roof might look solid from the outside, it may not be as well put together on the inside. Even the smallest of holes or leaks in roof membrane can wreak havoc on the structural integrity of the roof. It's worth spending some time in the attic to inspect the inside of the roof, the condition of the insulation and how well the entire structure is holding up.
Insect and Pests
We tend to think of termites and rodents when we hear the phrase "insects and pests," but in older houses they can be problems with beams or joists that have simply worn out. As they age, wood often becomes more brittle, particularly if it's untreated. Small cracks in beams or joists can eventually expand to the point that they won't support the weight of a home or its contents. For this reason, you will want to avoid homes with so-called "soft" wood.
Mold and Mildew Damage
The longer a home sits empty, the greater risk of damage from mold and mildew. While a thorough cleaning may restore a home's aesthetic value, it can do little to protect your health or prevent further damage if humidity is not kept in check.
For these reasons, you will want to take a close look at the conditions under which any home you're thinking about buying was left for a long period of time. Any increase in humidity, as well as signs of water damage can be signs that you will need to spend money on repairs if you want to save the house from mold and mildew damage down the line.
A home that is not properly insulated can be expensive to heat and cool year-round. While older houses are indeed built with solid walls that provide excellent insulation, many have weaker windows, roofs and doors. They may also rely on inefficient furnaces for heating or cooling systems that are equally inefficient. A quick look at utility bills for any house you're thinking about buying can tell you a lot about the home's energy efficiency.
Unsafe Floor Joists And Beams
If you're looking at an older house, always be sure to inspect any beams or joists that run through the basement and attic. Cross-checking these areas with your own weight will give you an idea of the overall structural integrity of the house. If any joists or beams feel weak under your weight, avoid buying the house unless it can be determined that they can easily support your weight (and an addition's worth of people who may live in the home).
Unreliable Piping Or Fixtures
One unfortunate fact about plumbing is that things that work well for a while may suddenly stop working properly. Even if the plumbing is in good condition when you view the house, it's best to conduct at least one test run of all faucets, toilets and showerheads before making your purchase. Keep an eye out for water leaks or unusual sounds coming from any pipes that are hidden behind drywall, the foundation or another area not easily inspected.
Sunlight And Ventilation
A common cause of structural damage to older homes is a lack of sunlight and airflow due to overgrown trees and shrubs. Even if a house appears to have been well taken care of from the outside, it's best to keep an eye out for signs of water damage or cracks in the foundation that may be caused by roots growing underneath the home.
While checking out an older house, take a look at how much natural sunlight comes into each room of the home. This is often a good indicator of whether or not there are any shadows that can cause uneven heating during colder months. It's also important to note whether or not the heating and cooling systems of the house were located in a sunny area.
It's important to keep all this information in mind when shopping for an older home, as it may help you avoid hidden problems that could ultimately cost more than you bargained for.
A home inspection will give you peace of mind about the safety and general condition of your new house. It will help eliminate surprises like hidden structural damage or costly appliances that break down soon after you move in.
With knowledge comes power, so make sure to read up on how to properly inspect a home (and what things to look out for) before you go shopping. You'll save yourself a lot of time and money by knowing what repairs, if any, need to be done just as soon as you sign on the dotted line.
Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash