Buying a 50 year old house? Here’s a checklist

While you may have been considering some of the newer homes on the market, there are also a bunch of reasons why a family chooses to consider buying a 50 year old home, or one that is even older than that.

However, when you’re buying such an old home, there are also a bunch of things you’ll need to be looking out for that could otherwise turn out to be an unfortunate surprise at a later point, why we have made this checklist for you.

We’re not going to lie. We sell lead testing kits for contractors, or mainly for contractors given the fact that we usually sell them in bulk, and that is what helps us sustain our business.

However, we’ve also been publishing a bunch of helpful articles lately that include ones meant for homeowners, whereas there are others that are more so intended for contractors.

We do not want to discourage you from buying an old home when the right one comes on the market, even though it may mean that it has a bunch of lead paint in it, which can be safe if the paint is still in good condition, but we also want you to know that it is quite possible that the home has issues with its indoor air quality, why you might want to have it checked out before you choose to send off an offer.

Problems with old houses, and what to look for

There’s no denying that older homes tend to have more problems than newer ones do, which is a result of a bunch of wear on the house as well as the fact that various technologies have definitely been improving over the last couple of centuries, and especially over the last couple of decades.

You don’t have to go further back than 1977 to get to the year when the inclusion of lead in residential paint was banned, why buying a 50 year old home means that it is something that you may very well want to take into consideration.

A home inspection is done to assess and find potential issues, so that you have a better understanding of the various things that you might have to deal with when you’re buying one of these older beauties.

  1. The first thing to mention here is the foundation.

The foundation is an important part of the house that will get exposed to a bit of everything over the course of a home’s lifespan. It is also one of the things that can be extremely costly to have to prepare.

There are also various levels of foundation issues, some of which are more cosmetic than anything, with others posing very significant risks to the people living in the house.

Smaller settlement cracks aren’t uncommon in older homes, whereas damaged support footings is a much larger issue, and one that will set you back a lot of money if it’s something you will have to address.

There just might be a reason why that house ended up on the market at that low price you’re seeing, and foundation issues is surely not something to overlook.

Doors that won’t latch, uneven floors, problems opening windows and wall cracks are the things that you have to look out for. The same way we’d recommend you get a pro to do it when you need lead testing, we also encourage you to make sure that it is a reputable inspector who can assess the costs involved in remedying the foundation issues that the home may be so unfortunate to suffer from.

2. A roof that is in bad shape

Roofs will definitely have an expected amount of time that you can expect for them to last, with some types of materials significantly outlasting others, and a deteriorating roof is surely a common thing that you may find with an older home.

Weather, maintenance, material and installation quality are all factors that will affect how long you can expect to keep having a function roof for, and your home inspector should be able to give you a pretty good understanding of when that time is coming up for you.

A poorly maintained roof is the fastest way for you to have to replace those expensive slabs prematurely. If the type of roof that was originally installed required painting every couple of years, and that wasn’t a thing that was done, you will also see the roof deteriorating at a much faster pace.

Before you put a new roof on and old home, you might just want to look into whether you should be getting an option that you think looks the best, or whether there might be another option that will still get the job done, while doing it in a way that gives you a lot less maintenance in the long run. The choice is up to you.

For these old homes, you will want to look for bowing gutters, roof leaks and missing shingles being the most obvious signs.

3. Dangerous building materials

Dangerous building materials is, of course, one of the things that we think is the most important for you to be looking out for – because we help contractors get the necessary supplies for testing for lead, however, asbestos is another big thing that was previously used when building homes.

If the home was built before 1978, there’s a good chance that it has lead in parts of it, and you’ll be required to test when you want to do updating of it.

While it is not a safety issue to live in a home where lead paint is in good condition, it’s important to know that it is becoming more and more rare to actually find homes where that is the case since it has now been more than 40 years since the material was banned in residential paint. It also leaks into the soil outside if it was used in the exterior paint and it starts deteriorating.

While there’s a time and a place to buy these homes, a lot of buyers may make contingent offers to have a proper assessment of the extent of the problem and subsequently reduce their offer if they find there are a lot of things that need to be addressed. A lead paint clause is a common clause when buying a home this old.

Checking the air quality

While deteriorating lead paint is just one of the things that may affect the air quality in an older home, radon and carbon monoxide are two other things.

A professional can come and help mitigate the situation if large amounts of radon are found, and it’s a good idea to continuously monitor the air quality, should you choose to buy the home. You can also expect that radon mitigation will cost you somewhere between $900-1,000 when you’re buying an old home like this, which is a reasonable thing to include in your negotiation with the seller.

Issues with the electrical wiring of the house

While diamonds may last forever, your electrical system won’t necessarily, and there comes a time and a place when it will need to be replaced.

Rather than having to move in and address it as you’re living in the home, it is very common for people to replace the electrical system prior to moving in. The electrical system is not something that you can replace yourself, as you risk very serious consequences if you’re not entirely sure what it is that you’re doing. Hiring licensed contractors is the way to do, which also ensures that everything is done by the book, including being done in a legal way. Most buyers will ask for reductions in price when issues are found with the way that the electrical system was installed back in the day.

Additionally, updating the electrical system not only helps add functionality if you were hoping to have more outlets installed than was common when the house was built, but it is also important in mitigating potential fires since exposed wire is a fire hazard.

A more modern lifestyle includes having ready access to electricity, and the amount of outlets in old homes may simply not be able to provide for the needs of that stubborn teenager that you will have living with you.

If the wiring was installed before 1960, you should be able to expect that it can last about 70 years, although this is not professional advice as you will need to have an assessment done before you move in. This is really not where you will want to save money by hiring someone who doesn’t have the right skills, and you should know that most states require for electricians to be licensed by the state. Important information to be equipped with as you’re considering buying that old home for your family.

While the wiring may have a lifespan of about 70 years when they were installed in these old homes, circuit breakers and service panels also have a certain lifespan before they need replacing – 60 years and 30 years is what you can usually expect to get out of each of them before something needs to be done about it.

Plumbing issues

While lead in the paint was the most common place where you would find the heavy metal, there was also a period in time at which point it was common for the plumbing to be made out of lead.

In fact, it was common for cups to be made out of lead a long time ago. There are definitely things that can be done in order to minimize the potential risk of lead pipes, such as letting the water run a little bit before you pour yourself a glass of water, older pipes are more likely to contain this material. As these pipes age, fragments of lead enter the water, why you might be tempted to let the water run before pouring, but why you could also very well have to replace part of the piping.

The home inspector should also be inspecting the piping which helps make sure that there aren’t roots that are causing issues, having overgrown the pipes thereby leading to leaks and low water pressure. You may also end up experiencing slow water drainage if there are various clogs that need to be dealt with.

Energy efficiency issues

If you are among the people that are focused on driving down your energy demands and lowering your carbon emissions, it will probably not be from the fact that you’re considering moving into an old home.

They’re notorious from suffering from energy efficiency issues, given the fact that they were made when the standard of insulation wasn’t as high as it is today, and you’ll also be more likely to experience single pane windows when you’re moving into an old home.

If you’re living in a part of the country that requires either heating or cooling year round, you might just want to make sure that you have budgeted for the implications associated with moving into an old home that might just seem practically impossible to keep at the right temperature given its poor insulation. However, the finishes of an old home is also what drives a lot of people to choosing to live in them, and there surely are ways of making them more energy efficient, too.

If you’re feeling a draft in the home, despite the fact that the windows are closed, that’s a good indication that there really is limited insulation. Condensation on the glass, especially between the different layers, is another thing to look out for.

You can have a professional go around the house with a tool that measures the temperature of the home’s exterior which is an indication of the quality of the insulation that remains in the home, which can also help give you an idea of the cost you will be incurring when you’re heating or cooling the space.

Needing to replace mechanical equipment

The AC unit in any house will only be able to survive for a certain amount of time before you have to replace it, as is the case with the furnace and the water heater.

Make sure to check, or have the home inspector check, on the condition of the various mechanical equipment in the house. If they’ve been replaced as per the recommendation of pros, that is a good sign that you may also otherwise be buying a home from people that have put pride into keeping it maintained.

If those units will need to be replaced soon, your budget needs to account for it.

Are there any outdated features you want to address?

While this may less so be about the invisible condition of the home that you’re buying, it’s important to know that there may be a certain price associated with bringing the various features up to the standard that you’re hoping to have it at.

This can include various things like removing that 50s look that the kitchen has from when it was originally installed. However, it can also be a matter of finishing up the basement and making it a more usable space than what it currently is.

Additional concerns

While there may be some of the things on this list that are deal breakers for you, and would want you to consider looking in a different direction, there’s no denying that you can potentially scoop up an old home and turn it into quite the good investment. That is, of course, assuming that you are doing all your due diligence and you are ensuring that you know what type of project it is that you are getting yourself into. The last thing you want is that you spend a lot of time trying to find the home that seemingly has a lot of the features that you and your family want in the place where you might be spending a significant amount of years, just to find out that it has all sorts of problems that you weren’t expecting. The biggest issue that people underestimate is the issue with the foundation. The repair work involved with stabilizing a house can be entirely crippling and can suddenly turn a house into a bad investment rather than a good one.

Although there may be minor things that arise that you weren’t necessarily expecting, when you start dealing with some of the major things being issues, that is usually due to the fact the necessary homework wasn’t done properly. Even if you consider yourself quite the handyman, and you might be able to replace the floor and do quite a bit more of the work than your average Joe would be capable of doing, there are just some of the things that are too much for one person to handle. On the other hand, there are also some of the projects that may simply require specialized equipment that may run you in the thousands of dollars that may be prohibitively expensive for you to get in order to do the remedy work yourself.

While you may not be forced to get an XRF machine in order to do a lead test, you won’t personally be able to remedy a situation where the foundation of the come is entirely ruined because it was never done properly in the first place. You may also be able to work with paint stripper and bring back the home’s old appeal, but that doesn’t mean you’re ready for a bigger repair job.

At the very least, before you put in an offer on one of these old beauties, you will want to make sure that you actually know what you are getting yourself into. Our recommendation is also always that you make an offer that is contingent on a range of things. This should come as no surprise to the seller who is naturally recognizing that they aren’t selling a house that was built yesterday. If the real estate agent or the seller are pushing you to submit an offer that doesn’t have contingencies, we would recommend you to pass on it rather than trying to force it to work.

No contingency, no deal

If you start looking around online, you can easily find out what the average cost is for a specific problem that a house is dealing with. For instance, if you start looking around online, you will see that there are various websites that report that foundation repair will cost you around $4,000 to have fixed. What these websites won’t tell you is how they actually came to that number. The average cost associated with a project doesn’t take into account that you may be standing in front of a house that has a lot more severe problems than what would typically be expected for a project where the average repair cost applies.

There are situations where you may have to spend $100,000 in order to deal with issues in the foundation, and all of a sudden your budget looks significantly different. When you are buying an old home, it’s important that you aren’t barely able to afford it. Rather it is important that your budget and calculations take any situation into account and that you won’t be surprised if some of the repair work ends up being twice as expensive as you had imagined.

Our recommendation is therefore that you put in various contingencies in an offer, including the cost to repair the flaws that the home has. If the house has some plumbing issues that need to be dealt with, your offer should include that you can get a legally binding offer from a plumber for the cost of the work that needs to be done, and that the offer cannot exceed a certain amount of money.

The norm

While there are definitely certain things that are the norm when you buy the house, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to structure an offer that is slightly different from the way in which these things are usually done. It might be that the seller thinks your ideas are a little bit too creative, but it is better that you buy the house that is right for you, on the terms that work for you, rather than you being pushed into a situation that could end up negatively impacting your financial future.

The norm is usually that there is a certain amount that your offer may be reduced by depending on the findings of a home inspector. When you are dealing with one of these older homes, it would still be better that you either get the seller to fix it, or that you have a legally binding offer from a contractor to do the work, and that your offer on the house is conditional on that.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Login/Register access is temporary disabled