What You Should Know Before Buying an Old Home

Living in an old home is like reading an old book. When you walk through an old home you can’t help but notice that there is history right within the walls. Small differences, like low height of the doorknobs, take you back in time to when we were a different society with different needs and expectations.

Just like old books, however, old homes sometimes require extra care to keep in good condition. Don’t get me wrong–when people boast that their old home has “strong bones” they could certainly be right. But there are some things you might have to cope with living in an old home that aren’t a huge concern in a new one.

If you’re thinking about purchasing an old home, read this list of things you should be aware of before you buy. It isn’t meant to deter, just to inform so that you’re ready for the challenges you’ll face when that day comes. And, if you truly love the experience of living in an old house, the work will be well worth it.

Old doesn’t mean decrepit

Let’s go back to our book analogy from earlier. If you have a book from the late 1800s that has been stored in a dry place, hasn’t been thrown around much, and always had conscientious owners who respected it enough to repair the binding when needed, your book will be in great shape. The same is true for old homes.

Oftentimes, it only takes a quick glance around the home and a peek at the foundation to see if the home has been taken care of. Just because a house was built in the 1800s doesn’t mean it hasn’t been renovated periodically and maintained properly.

Warning signs

If you are thinking of buying an old home, here are some things you should look out for before you sign the dotted line. Don’t forget to have the home inspected by a professional as well, since they will give you a much more detailed analysis of the problems a home might have.

  • Ancient HVAC. Aside from being prone to malfunctioning, old heating and ventilation systems could also prove to be dangerous and inefficient. Be sure to have a professional inspect the entire system.
  • Pests big and small. Over the years homes begin to develop vulnerabilities to ants, termites and other pests. Similarly, don’t be surprised if you find mice, bats, or other furry creatures around if the home has been empty for a while.
  • Hazardous materials. The builders of yore were excellent craftsmen, but they were using (unbeknownst to them) dangerous materials like lead and asbestos. If you have small children, even more of a reason to make sure the home is free of hazardous materials. Part of this check should also be for mold growth.
  • Inefficiencies. Old windows and poor insulation walls also tend to be issues with some old homes. Find out what the monthly utility bills cost to see how much work you’ll need to do to bring them up to date.
  • Foundation issues. Eventually, nature prevails. Foundation cracks and deterioration are common problems in old homes, especially in climates like the Northeast with freezing temperatures and lots of snow, rain, and wind.

Three Scary Things That Could Take Your House

It may be the last thing that you want to hear. But, keeping up with your mortgage payments may not be enough to keep you in your house. Homeowners living in major cities have been faced with these three scary things that could push  you out of your house.

Why you could lose your home even if you’ve been making mortgage payments

At the top of the list of scary things that could force you out of your home are property taxes. Penalties for making late property tax payments vary from state to state. Depending on where you live, you could be hit with interest on property taxes that you owe.

The interest may accrue monthly. This offers good incentive to catch up in your property tax payments as soon as possible. Fall behind on paying property taxes for a year or longer and local government could send someone from the sheriff’s office to your house to serve you papers.

A lien might be placed on your house. If you don’t resolve the issue in time, you could watch your house get sold. Even if the local government doesn’t sell your house after you fall to far behind in your property tax payments, your name could be published in a list of delinquent property tax payers.

More scary things that could take your house

Should you decide to sell your house and move out of an area that has high property tax rates, the fact that you’re on the delinquent list could scare away potential buyers. You also might decide not to put your house on the market, choosing instead to argue with local government officials about the injury that rising property taxes could cause to thousands, perhaps millions of people.

Rising interest rates and failing personal health could cause you to lose your home. Let your health fail and you may not be able to generate enough income to pay homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance or interest rates.

You might only have enough money to cover the principal on your mortgage. Similar to property taxes, rising interest rates could force you to spend $100 or more extra money to keep your house. To keep up with these costs, you could start falling behind in your mortgage.

Paying your mortgage may not keep you safe

Falling behind in your monthly mortgage payments isn’t the only thing that could cost you to lose your home. Rising property taxes, interest rates and health challenges could also see you get forced out of your house.

Buying a house in a jurisdiction that sharply increases the amount of property tax that you owe could also cost you a house. Changes in interest rates and your personal health could also significantly impact your ability to stay in your house. The only way out of the tight spot might be to sell your house, bring in a renter or start building a savings that you can fall back on should one of the three scary things that could take your house occur.