Buying an old house can be daunting. Modern structures simply don’t have the same charm that older homes exude. However, there are a few things you should know before embarking on the journey of renovating an old house. The following 12 things will help to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into before you take the leap.
1. Expect the Unexpected
When buying an old house, expect the unexpected is the golden rule. Undoubtedly, there will be surprises in store for you, so prepare yourself now. This is true when it comes to the house overall as well as any individual projects you undertake along the way. The older the home, the more likely you are to encounter situations you never considered before they were staring you in the face. Accept this and learn to roll with the punches.
2. Difference Between Remodeling and Restoring
You most definitely need to understand the difference between remodeling a house and restoring a house. When you remodel, you are trying to create a new version of an already existing house. When you are restoring a house, you are attempting to return it to a specific date or time period. These two terms are not interchangeable and it is important that you know the difference if you are buying an old house.
3. Historic Houses Come with Restrictions
If the home you are considering buying is old enough to be considered a historic house, you should know that you may have restrictions on what you can do with your new home. This is especially true if your home is on the National Registry of Historic Places or if you received funding from a historical society. Check on these restrictions before buying an old house so that you aren’t caught off guard later down the road.
4. Understand Maintenance Cycles
Performing home maintenance projects on a schedule is the key to keeping any home in good shape, but when you are buying an old house this is even more important. Some tasks need to be completed yearly while others, like replacing the roof, happen much less frequently. Knowing what should be done when will help you schedule projects before you are facing a disaster, making maintenance of an older home much more affordable. If you wait until one problem creates another, things can snowball quickly. So, be proactive.
5. Water is the Enemy
No matter how old the house, water is not your friend. And when it comes to an old house, water is your enemy. Period. Keep an eye out for any sign of leaks when you are making a decision on buying an old house. Look for discolorations on ceilings and concrete that may signal leaks. Water damage can become structural damage very quickly and these repairs can cost big bucks. If you decide to buy a house despite evidence of leaks, make fixing them one of your first priorities.
6. Priorities Matter
When you begin working on your home, do the most important things first. As mentioned earlier, any leaks need to be repaired as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the house. After fixing leaks, focus on the roof, windows, and masonry. These are the areas most prone to letting in water. After all of that is sound, start on the messy projects first so that cleanup is easier. In other words, you don’t want to put up wallpaper while the roof is caving in and it makes sense to paint the ceiling before laying down new carpet. Prioritize your to-do list accordingly.
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7. Beware of Health Hazards
When buying an old house you need to be aware of health hazards that wouldn’t be an issue with a newer home. Lead pipes, lead paint, asbestos, and mold are all things potential homebuyers need to keep in mind when on the hunt for their dream house. Older homes are more likely to have these hidden dangers because regulations were not in place at the time of their construction. A hundred years ago, no one knew that lead causes brain damage so there were no restrictions on its use. The same is true for asbestos. So, these are definitely things you want to keep in mind when you think about buying an old house.
8. Banks will Finance Repairs
Every homebuyer considering an older home needs to know that banks will finance repairs or renovations in mortgage loans. Home improvement projects that may otherwise be unaffordable may be included in your monthly mortgage payment. With this in mind, it is clearly worth your time to put some thought into what renovations you want to complete before you walk into the bank and ask for a loan. The more prepared you are, the more likely it is that you will get the loan you are asking for, so do your homework.
9. Grants and Tax Credits
If you are buying a historic house, there may also be grants available to help fund renovations. Start by checking with your local historical society to see if the property you are interested in qualifies. But remember, grants for historic houses may come with restrictions regarding what changes you can make. There are also tax credits available for homeowners who have renovated historic homes, so be sure to check for those when you file your taxes at the end of the year.
10. Repairing is Better than Replacing
When fixing up an old house, repairing is almost always better than replacing. Not only is this often the cheaper way to go, it also helps you to keep the look of your house as authentic as possible. As already discussed, this is especially important if the house you are working on can be classified as historic.
11. Planning is Vital
If you are buying an old house, nothing at all is more important than planning. From applying for a bank loan to prioritizing your to-do list, planning is the one thing that will allow you to keep your sanity. Start by deciding what needs to be done to the house you are purchasing. Then figure out how and when you will tackle each project. Will you do the work yourself or will you hire professionals? Which project will you do first? Don’t forget to estimate how much the work will cost to complete.
Always do your research — and not just on how to do the various projects you intend to take on. Look around for any pictures that may exist of your house and read up on the time period in which it was built. Although you can’t plan for everything and unforeseen circumstances will certainly arise along the way, the more detailed your plan, the easier the entire process will be. Use a binder to organize your planning efforts and bring this with you to the bank when you apply for your home loan.
12. Keep Your Sense of Humor, You’ll Need It
If you decide that buying an old house is right for you, then make sure you keep your sense of humor because sooner or later, you’re going to need it. Older homes have a unique charm all their own but they also come where their fair share of quirks and surprises. Embrace it and go with the flow. You need to be flexible and laugh at these bumps in the road. The end result will be worth it.
Here’s an interview with a woman who restored the Victorian below with careful planning, but no prior experience.