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for those of you In The Know... Thoughts on purchasing an older… - Portrait of a Young Man as The Artist — LiveJournal
for those of you In The Know...
Thoughts on purchasing an older house? A few on the list are 50 years old or older. Google is vaguely useful for my queries, saying things like.. "older houses are more expensive." or "watch the foundation!" or "building standards have changed in 50 years." etc.

Key on my concern list:
Electrical load bearing - 50 amps vs. modern 100 amp
Roof replacement.
Structural resilience.
Plumbing material.
Window seals.

How do you assess some of this without ripping out floors and walls? :/

Current Mood: curious curious

19 comments or Leave a comment
tandu From: tandu Date: September 24th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Roof is easy to assess. If it's falling apart, you'll need to replace it. If not, it'll be 5-10 years before you need to replace. Drive around and look at roofs to see which ones are good, which are not.

Elect system can be fairly to determine and/or upgrade. Look in the basement at the fusebox/breakers. Check the loads. Also, check the wiring in an unfinished basement, it's usually indicative of the wiring of the rest of the house.

Insulation is impossible to determine. Ask for the last 3-4 years utility bills.

For the rest, get an inspector, and tell him you want him to be very, very thorough. $200 is a good investment. Always make an offer contingent on the inspection.
abmann From: abmann Date: September 24th, 2009 03:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh yeah: no inspection, no offer. If the cost of repairs exceeds 5% of the house, I want that factored into the purchase price. I just want an idea of these things up front.

Utility bills on the place we're viewing again aren't terrible but they aren't good.
We already know that half the windows should be replaced - likely the whole frame with them.
tandu From: tandu Date: September 24th, 2009 03:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you get the windows replaced, get the Amish to do it. My neighbor a few years ago did that, and they did a great job, modern double hung energy efficient windows, CLEAN WORK SITE, efficient, friendly.

Plus, you help support the Amish way of life. It may not be for you, but damn just having them around makes life more interesting.
nathan_lounge From: nathan_lounge Date: September 24th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I second support for the Amish. Living in central PA for a few years, they did almost everything in and around places I've lived and worked. Always very nice, always very efficient, always very reasonably priced.
nidea From: nidea Date: September 24th, 2009 03:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
>Insulation is impossible to determine. Ask for the last 3-4 years utility bills.
This! Also ditto on the offer contingent on inspection.

Also you can ask straight-out, when was the roof last replaced? How old is the furnace? etc.

If you tour during the winter, you can put your hand on the window area to see how cold it feels.

We saw a beauty on Jenifer St. that's from the 1920's or so. Great original wood columns, etc, but under the new paint on the walls is very cracked plaster; they didn't do any sort of job trying to smooth that over. Also the kitchen is newly updated, but they did it in a really neutral/boring way, probably just to try to sell faster.
nathan_lounge From: nathan_lounge Date: September 24th, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you're serious about a particular old house, then it's worth a few hundred dollars to hire a contractor you trust to survey the property and give you an estimate of your repair timeline.

Additionally, you should consider looking into bidding lower and folding in money into your loan to schedule immediate renovations. Especially now, with all of Hope's Green tax breaks, you can get a lot of money kicked back come end of year making doing things like installing brand new windows now, practically free.

All most all of that stuff can be accessed by the trained eye without invasive structural alterations. This is especially true if it has an unfinished basement allowing visual access to wiring and plumbing. It is generally the case that whatever is in the basement is in the whole house. Depending on your county laws, you can also pull the lifetime contracting service receipts that should any alterations made to the house. A lot of municipalities in the last couple decades started requiring their licensed contractors to file paperwork on changes made.

Finally, don't forget about bugs. Especially termites, ants, and small rodents that might cause structural damage. While a good contractor might not know a solution to termites, they should be able to spot termite damage on a walk through.
abmann From: abmann Date: September 24th, 2009 03:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hope's Green?

Apparently termites are nigh unheard of in this area. I was surprised to learn that. :)
lerite From: lerite Date: September 24th, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Carpenter ants, on the other hand, are common.

Hope = Obama, and Nathan capitalizes oddly.
nathan_lounge From: nathan_lounge Date: September 24th, 2009 04:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
nathan_lounge From: nathan_lounge Date: September 24th, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Obama's kickbacks for renovations to reduce energy use/costs. Zee got it in one.

I'm pretty surprised about the termites. That's good for you.

Also, don't forget to lick the walls. If it's a chocolate house, it'll have some severe structural problems, but man will it be a delicious place to live.
back_track From: back_track Date: September 24th, 2009 03:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would hire an independent contractor to assess all of these things for you.
abmann From: abmann Date: September 24th, 2009 03:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
We will, I just want to learn as much as possible up front before putting in an offer.
nathan_lounge From: nathan_lounge Date: September 24th, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's worth having it looked at before putting in an offer, especially if you end up wanting to renegotiate your loan structure with the bank on account of repairs.
zesty_pinto From: zesty_pinto Date: September 24th, 2009 03:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would imagine on the architecture of the housing among other things. I mean, if it's really nice brickwork, I can see it having good lasting power, but I also seeing it being a superbitch installing new things.

I can tell you from my experience in the Museum of Natural History that one of the big annoyances of older buildings is that the wiring will tend to be in more awkward locations since the building was not designed to originally carry certain things currently available today (cable lines, air ducts, etc.). Techie work in the older parts of the building often became a bit of a treasure hunt looking for circuit boxes that were in places ranging from obscure closets to roofs of different departments. I doubt you'll reach that same extreme, but there's a good chance that things will be a bit unconventional in your renovation schemes.

It can be worthwhile, but it's going to be a commitment unless you find one with a blueprint structure that seems abnormally ideal.

Edited at 2009-09-24 03:38 pm (UTC)
nyxx_j From: nyxx_j Date: September 24th, 2009 04:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Electrical load bearing - 50 amps vs. modern 100 amp - Most sellers seem to be upgrading the electrical before putting it on the market. Keep an eye out for fuses instead of breakers, but be aware that sometimes an old fuse box is left on the wall and not active - just make sure a breaker box is present as well. Apparently insurance companies don't want to deal with fuses so it is a needed upgrade that the seller should take care of.

Foundation - If the basement isn't finished it is much easier to assess the foundation. Keep an eye out for water damage, cracks, walls that are buckling in. Also, take a look at the outside of the foundation for cracks. Watch out for grading or cement work that slopes towards the house, which can cause or indicate water issues.

Roof replacement - The city assessor page can help determine when a new roof was put on, although if it says the roof was put on in 1950 that's obviously incorrect so you should ask the seller's agent. Depending on the footprint of your house though, roof replacement may not be that expensive.

Structural resilience - If you can take a peek into the attic, that helps. You can see if there is any water damage on the rafters. Cracks in walls can be from settling, but if it looks recent or recurring there may be foundation issues. Ceiling cracks can be from a roof that needs extra support (ie some 2x4s) between the rafters.

Plumbing material - If it has a basement it is much easier to see if it has copper piping or not.

Furnace - Most furnaces have a sticker on them with service dates.

Insulation - Like mentioned above, checking out utility cost history can help, but you can also look in the attic to see if insulation has been added and sometimes you can see indications on the siding if they have blown additional insulation into the walls.

Window seals - Obviously a cloudy window is an indication of a broken seal, but depending on the kind of window it may or may not be indicative of heat loss.
From: thegelf Date: September 24th, 2009 05:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Pretty much what everyone else has said. :)

I grew up in a house that's about 60 years old, and it sprang most of its surprises on us in the 90's. It was put up in the post WWII building boom, and while the house itself was fine, the plumbing under the house wasn't. Parents have had to dig up the front lawn three times (twice for broken sewer pipes, once for a broken water service), and jackhammer open the basement once (also for broken sewer pipes). Thing is, every other house on the block had the same problems. So if it's part of a cookie cutter development neighborhood, see if you can ask around about what issues the neighbors have had with their houses.
labelle77 From: labelle77 Date: September 24th, 2009 09:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
What everyone else has said, AND (and I say this as a person who has worked in the construction/architecture industry):

The construction quality of homes older than 50 years is generally of an astoundingly higher quality than those built from the present to around 25 years ago. So while a newer house may not need any work done right now, eventually they will, and lots of it, and they will cost you more money because of the lower quality of intial construction overall. If it got to be 50 yrs old without being an utter mess, it's because it's sturdy as all get-out, and will continue to be with proper maintenance.
From: ex_hellocth126 Date: September 24th, 2009 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I grew up in a house built before the Civil War, and it had its ups and downs. Heating system rattled like death, but otherwise it was nice.
moocowrich From: moocowrich Date: September 25th, 2009 02:46 am (UTC) (Link)
Window seals > clubbed seals
19 comments or Leave a comment