Buyer Beware: Tips on Buying an Older Home

If you are planning to buy a home was built in the ’80’s or 90’s, here are a few things to check out before you make the deal. A home inspector will uncover most flaws, defects, and other problems, but here are a few additional things to keep in mind. Go in with your eyes open, take notes, do your homework on upgrade costs, and maybe even negotiate a deal with the seller.

1. Age and condition of various home systems: The problem is that everything might be in good working order when you have your home inspection. The hot water heater, furnace, air conditioning, and the plumbing are all items that you want to take a close look at before signing on the dotted line. Many of these systems have a life expectancy of 15-20 years or even less. In our case, a year into living in our home, the hot water heater went out ($1000 to make emergency repairs and install a new heater) and the furnace and AC are both on their last legs. The techs have just suggested that we run them until they die – the replacement cost will be several thousand dollars. Many houses built in the 80’s and 90’s have polybutylene pipes, which are prone to leaks and ruptures and were the cause of many lawsuits when they caused major damage in homes. Check out this site for more details: www.polybutylene.com Replacing our pipes cost $5000, well worth it for the peace of mind the repair brought.

2. Age and energy efficiency of appliances: Most appliances have a life expectancy of 10-15 years. So if I do the math, many of my appliances will be going out any day now! Keep this in mind as you look over homes from the 80’s and 90’s. How many of the appliances are included in the sale and are they the original appliances? Can you negotiate a lower price if they are original and on the verge of going out? Another big factor to consider is that new appliances are far more energy-efficient than appliances from even just a decade ago. New low-flow toilets use far less water than decade-old toilets as well. We had a new toilet installed at a cost of $300 that uses less water, has a stronger flush, and rarely clogs unlike our older, leakier, clog-prone toilets.

4. Condition of trim, window sashes, caulking: Window replacement is a huge expense that most owners of older homes seem to incur eventually. Check your potential home carefully, especially if your home inspector just gives the windows and trim a once-over without probing further. Poke the window trim, sashes, sills, moldings – anything made of wood – to see if there is any “mushy” wood, which indicates moisture damage and wood rot. Unfortunately, many sellers slap a new coat of paint over water-stained walls and rotting wood. Serious problems are covered up and only after some heavy rains do you realize that you have serious wood rot issues and leaks. Be especially careful of a house with wrapped trim. A house with all of the trim covered in vinyl or aluminum is a minor or major disaster waiting to happen. Unless the caulking has been maintained meticulously over the years, you are very likely to have water damage under the wrap. Lift it up a bit and poke around before you buy! Better yet, choose a house where you can see what needs to be done, not one that is possibly hiding something.

5. Trees and overhang: Trees that looked nice (and little) years ago are now monstrosities (pretty ones!) that overhang the roof, causing roof damage whenever a branch pierces the shingles and filling the gutters with debris on a daily basis. Mature trees are wonderful, but sometimes trees are planted too close to the house. The original planter did not take into consideration the eventual size of the tree and its proximity to the house. Removal of trees very close to homes can cost $1000 and up.

Bright notes!

1.There are new tax credits that will ease the cost of replacing appliances and home systems. Check out www.energystar.gov for detailed information on energy conservation and tax credits.

2. Mature neighborhoods have a cohesion among neighbors and an established look that can’t be replicated in a new neighborhood. Mature plantings, neighborhood traditions, and long-time friendships are some of the many bonuses of buying in an established neighborhood.

So don’t shy away from buying a house built in the 80’s pr 90’s or even earlier. Just go in with your eyes open, consider what I have mentioned above, and plan for the costs that will arise in the coming years.

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