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Issues To Consider When Buying An Older Home

Issues to Consider When Buying an Older Home

The allure of buying an older home can be very strong and the thought of living in a stylish piece of history can be very appealing. Unfortunately, it can also bring with it a lot of issues that you may not be prepared for. What seems like a great deal at first may ultimately cost way more than you bargained for.

The following points will give you an idea of what issues to watch out for when buying an older home. Avoid getting caught up in the potential of the house before you look carefully at these likely problem areas.

While inspecting any home is important, it becomes even more paramount to check these common problems found in older homes.


Asbestos makes an incredibly useful flame retardant, which is part of why it was so commonly used in older buildings. Unfortunately, when airborne, the barbed fibers can be inhaled and lodge in the lining of the lungs, eventually leading to a deadly form of cancer. The EPA finally banned the use of asbestos in building materials, but not until 1989.

Many older homes have had the asbestos removed and replaced with something safer, but some have not. You obviously want to know if the home you are interested in still has asbestos. If it does, you will need to consider the costs of removal, which can be pricey.

While a good home inspector can point out what looks to be asbestos, you cannot tell for sure unless it is tested. Much of the asbestos found in homes was on wrapping found on pipes in the basement and used as insulation.

There is, however, another area where asbestos can be quite common in older homes and that is the flooring. What you may think looks like dull linoleum could, in fact, harbor asbestos. It is typically only a problem though if these tiles are cracked, flaking or otherwise damaged. If they remain intact, there shouldn’t be an issue with them.

Lead paint

While lead paint is #2 here in my list, it is the #1 problem you should be addressing when buying an older home. If you have a child under the age of six living in the home, it is mandatory that the lead is removed. In fact, it is a federal law!

When lead is consumed by people, it can cause significant health problems, particularly in growing children. Homes built before 1978 could have lead paint, which is why property owners are required to disclose the possible existence of lead paint to renters or buyers. You can paint over the old paint, but the dangerous lead paint will still be there underneath.

Lead paint is something you should take very seriously when buying an old house. Do your research and due diligence when it comes to the lead paint law.

Problems found with the foundation & sills.

The foundation on older homes can be cracked, leaning, sunken or otherwise damaged and in need of repair. Everything else in the house sits on the foundation, which is why foundation issues must be addressed for safety and to keep the home livable. Of course, all foundation problems are not equal. A few settlement cracks may be normal and safe, but you need an inspector to tell you one way or the other. Foundation repair can be expensive, something to keep in mind when you consider the price of the home.

One of the issues that is even more prevalent in older homes is damage to the sill plate. Over an extended period of time the sills in a home can become susceptible to water, insects and other external elements. The entire building rests on the sill plate which in turn sits on the foundation. With older homes having sill plate problems is not uncommon at all.

Checking the sills carefully is something that should be done by a qualified inspector. The sills can be fixed if they are damaged but often it requires jacking up the home which can cause damage to walls, such as cracking, if not done very carefully.

Electrical problems

The electrical systems in old homes were not designed to keep up with modern usage - we use a lot of electricity, far more than people did fifty or more years ago.

Look around the home at the electrical outlets. Do they have three holes, or only two? If they only have two, you are not going to be able to use any devices that require grounding in the outlet – like your computer or your nice new flat screen television. While cheap adapters exist, they are not safe for long-term use, which means you will need to have an electrician fix the problem eventually.

Another common problem to look for when it comes to an older home is knob and tube wiring. As a home buyer what you need to understand is that knob and tube systems lack the capacity to handle the level of power usage in today’s modern homes. One of the big problems with knob & tube wiring is that homeowners often abused the system by replacing blown fuses with fuses rated for higher currents. By doing so the wiring was subject to higher levels of current that risked heat damage or fire.

The bigger problem, however, with knob and tube wiring can be the ability to get homeowners insurance and financing. Some insurance companies will not issue policies and some lenders will not give a mortgage to a borrower purchasing a home with knob and tube wiring. If you are looking at purchasing a home where knob and tube wiring exists, speak with your lender and insurance company up front.

Roofing issues

Like everything else on the home, the roof may have seen better days. You may look up and see missing shingles and moss, or patches of new shingles placed over the old. Or, you may see what looks like a roof in good repair, but the inspector may discover issues that are not visible to you from the ground.

Keep in mind, previous owners may have chosen to save money by adding new shingles over the old across the entire roof, which will look uniform, but is not the right way to replace the roof. Done more than once, it can cause damage to the home.

Energy efficiency

Older homes were not built with energy efficiency in mind. Many do not have any insulation, or the insulation that they do have is old and ineffective. The windows are often single-pane. To get the most out of any heating or air conditioning, you are going to need to update both the insulation and the windows in an older home.

If you are going to be purchasing an older home, I would highly recommend becoming familiar with the best energy upgrades for an old house. One of the first things you should do is get a home energy audit. These evaluations are relatively inexpensive and often times free. A professional doing an energy audit on an older home can save you quite a bit of money!

Insects and pests

An old home usually has unwanted guests that stick around long after the old owner has moved on. Insects, rats, mice – older homes are ideal homes for pests that you probably don’t want to live with. Some of them can be inconvenient, while others can be health hazards.

If termites are an issue, you may find that certain areas of the home are in worse repair than you initially realized. An inspector can tell you more about the particular home you are looking at, but don’t be surprised if he or she finds quite a few pest problems.

Insects are more common in older homes with older wood that may have water damage. Termites are something you should take extreme care with when purchasing an older home or any home for that matter.

Final thoughts

If you are considering older homes, make sure to ask your Realtor if he or she has experience with them. You are making a big purchase, one you want to be happy with. Work with an agent you feel like you can depend on to guide you effectively and look out for your interests.

One of the bigger stumbling blocks in buying an older home will be the home inspection and subsequent negotiations for any needed repairs. You are going to need someone in your corner who is a skilled negotiator. If your agent truly doesn’t understand the issues it is awfully hard to do that.

At the bare minimum, your real estate agent should attend the home inspection to hear the problems. Many agents skip the home inspection which is a huge mistake.

Should you have any questions, please email me at or give me a call @ 626.524.4158

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