The Pros and Cons of Older Homes

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One of the most important decisions that prospective homeowners need to make is whether to buy new or pre-owned. Just like used cars, older homes can represent a better value for homebuyers when small repair needs and outdated designs help drive down overall cost. Older homes may also have unique benefits, including superior build quality and distinctive style.

The question is, what can you do to ensure that an old home still represents a good value?

Inspection

Our experts unanimously agreed that a thorough inspection is a necessity when considering an older home purchase. When getting an inspection, look for a qualified inspector, preferably one who has experience with the specific type of home you are interested in.

Expert Kris Bickell says,

“Just make sure that you are prepared for all the possible work that needs to be done. Get the house inspected and pay whatever it takes to get a highly trained inspector. Think of it as ‘peace of mind’ insurance!”

Remember that older home inspections should include an examination of the foundation, roof, sewer lines, electrical equipment and plumbing. Furthermore, you should ask the inspector to check for any outdated hazardous materials including asbestos in insulation and lead in old paint.

When a prospective home has recent renovations, make sure to request the names of all companies involved with the work and then check the reputations of those companies. Also, ask about any transferable warranties for services provided or products installed.

Design

The detail-rich architecture of an older home is a blessing and a curse when planning for design. Some homeowners may find that they are wedged into a specific design style, just because a home is a craftsman or Victorian.

Consider your ideal interior design when looking at possible homes and imagine how that home fits your preferences. Even though many older homes are design specific, some are just as neutral as new homes. Your choice of an older home should either provide a blank slate, capable of being manipulated into several design styles, or it should match the design you have in mind.

Upgrades

Use the results of your thorough inspection to estimate the costs of necessary repairs. Compare these costs with the value of the home and you’ll have a much clearer idea of whether that home is right for you, your family and your budget.

You may also want to consider the cost of replacing systems and appliances which are not necessarily broken, but are functioning at very low efficiencies. Most new homes are built to strict energy efficiency standards, saving you money on utilities bills, especially on heating, cooling and electricity. Our experts also point out you can retrofit older homes to today’s highest energy efficiency standards, but the cost is usually quite high.

Expert Peter Mosca advises,

“Buyers of older homes should keep an eye on the features they cannot readily see: electrical, heating, plumbing, and roofing. If newer, more advanced systems have not been installed, then the costs to buy the home will rise, and rise accordingly because these four items are typically the most extensive items to repair on a home.”

Other Considerations

It’s easy to remember home inspections and major repair considerations when looking at homes, but you’ll also want to consider the little things. For example, many older homes were built with smaller doorways, staircases and hallways that make it extremely difficult to navigate when moving in oversized modern furniture (couches, tables, beds, etc.). Older homes are also prone to having limited storage space. You’ll want to consider creative solutions to any storage problems that your potential home may have.

Finally, while the rich detail found in the inlays, molding and general architecture of an older home may attract you, think about the cost of repairing and maintaining those details. Many ornate design features are one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted pieces that would require expensive specialists to repair or reproduce.

Bonuses

If you’re on the fence about older homes, you may want to think about some of the overlooked benefits. For instance, older homes were often built on larger lots and thus come with more space and privacy when compared with dense, new home developments. Within those larger yards are bigger mature trees that can add landscaping character and cool shade in the summer. But, don’t forget that mature trees require more maintenance, including trimming and leaf removal in the fall. If large trees are close to the house, they can also cause damage from falling limbs.

If your home is granted status as a historic property, you may qualify for rebates and discounts on purchases made to help restore that home. However, in some cases you are limited to only changing those things that help restore a home’s authenticity.