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5 Things You Need to Know When Buying an Old House

Older homes make up a significant portion of America’s housing inventory. Despite the surplus of old homes, prospective home buyers frequently overlook older property for newly constructed apartments and houses. Read on for a breakdown of the advantages and drawbacks to purchasing an older property.
Older homes make up a significant portion of America’s housing inventory. Despite the surplus of old homes, prospective home buyers frequently overlook older property for newly constructed apartments and houses. Read on for a breakdown of the advantages and drawbacks to purchasing an older property.

America’s housing inventory is packed with older properties. According to a report from Eye on Housing, 38% of U.S. houses were built before 1970. In fact, homes built after 2010 only make up 3% of the current U.S. housing inventory. So just what does it mean to be classified as an older home? Well, answers vary by state, but the term usually means that the home was built before 1920. To get a broader picture of what buying an old house entails, we’ve broken down seven key considerations when purchasing an older property.

Advantages to Buying an Old House

Superior Construction

While newer, mass-produced houses rely on prefabricated wooden framing, older homes are usually supported by old-growth hardwood beam structures. Not only does old-growth wood have a significantly higher tensile strength, but it is also more resistant to internal rot and termite damage. What’s more, older homes often have sturdier, better insulated, and more soundproof plaster and lath walls.

More Charm and Character

Because of their long-lasting design, many older homes have preserved the amenities and features of previous construction and design eras. Unsurprisingly, these features amplify the antique character and historic appeal of older homes. If you’re searching for a charming property, here’s three features to look out for when buying an older home:

  • Tall, old-growth trees in the backyard. A towering tree will not only reflect the age of a property, it will also improve home value and enhance curb appeal.
  • Victorian interior designs, particularly sunken living rooms and stained glass window patterns.
  • Authentic decorative aspects, such as crown molding ceiling trim, hand-printed wallpaper, or herringbone-patterned hardwood flooring.

Established in More Convenient Location

Home location is widely regarded as one of the most important purchase parameters for property buyers. After years of outward urban expansion, older homes are typically located close to a city’s downtown employment and entertainment hub. This means shorter commutes, better access to public transport, eligibility for top-rated school districts, and proximity to restaurants, cultural attractions, and shopping centers. In addition, older areas of a city have a higher number of lifelong residents, meaning less disruption from short-term renters and greater protection against unexpected zoning regulations.

Equity Building Opportunities

Homes that need a lot of work are usually a red flag to buyers. However, enterprising buyers can actually benefit from an old home’s unruly yards, obsolete attachments, or poorly designed rooms. In fact, if you are prepared to invest in some creative repairs and renovations, updating an older home can be a fantastic opportunity to increase market value and build more equity in the property.

Drawbacks to Buying an Old House

Structural Damage

Unfortunately, properties that are exposed to long-term environmental effects have a higher likelihood of sustaining structural damage. We’ve listed two of the most common structural problems that affect older house:

  • If the home has a wooden foundation or frame, long-term water and termite damage can compromise the structural integrity and render the property temporarily unsafe for habitation.
  • Over a long period of time, soil degradation and earth movement around a home can suddenly place major stress on structural foundations.

Hazardous Materials

If you’re thinking of purchasing an older home, it’s a good idea to have the property thoroughly inspected for hazardous materials. Elevated levels of radon, mold infestation and asbestos insulating board are relatively common disclosures for older homes. If the home was built before 1978, you should also have it closely inspected for lead-based paint.

Remember, detecting hazardous materials does not have to be a deal breaker on a home purchase. As long as any hazardous materials are disclosed or discovered in a home inspection, the buyer’s agent will be able to negotiate a sale price reduction with the seller.

Outdated HVAC, Electrical and Plumbing Systems

As houses get older, more and more interior problems are bound to surface. We’ve listed three particularly inconveniencing issues that plague older homes:

  • Antiquated heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning ductwork are often embedded throughout older properties and they can be both time-consuming and expensive to remove and replace.
  • If the electrical system is malfunctioning or not up to code, buyers may need to contact an electrician for full house rewiring.
  • If you notice low water pressure, leaks, or galvanized pipes, it’s likely that the home’s aging plumbing system requires replacement and repairs.

Ready to Buy? Reach out and Connect with an Experienced Real Estate Agent!

If you’re still unsure about buying an older or historic house, it might be time to partner with an experienced, local buyer’s agent. A good agent will provide you with buying assistance and personalized guidance throughout the entire purchase process. For particularly complex property purchases, such as an older home, having a real estate expert on hand will help you distinguish between problematic or undervalued homes. By purchasing through a Clever Partner Agent, buyers may also be eligible to receive $1,000 of the sale back via the Clever Home Buyer Rebate.


Jamie Ayers

Jamie is the Director of Content at Clever Real Estate, the free online service that connects you with top real estate agents and helps you save thousands on commission. In the past, Jamie has managed columns for clients in a variety of leading business publications, including Forbes, Inc., CEO World, Entrepreneur, and more. At Clever, Jamie's primary goal is to provide home sellers, buyers, and investors with the information they need to successfully navigate the ins and outs of the real estate industry.

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