5 Things to Look for When Buying an Older Home

I had a thought in the shower the other morning.

While I usually don’t do any great thinking in the shower (that’s what the hours between 3:30 to 5:30 are for amiright), I caught myself thinking Why didn’t we check for this during the house inspection?  

I was washing my hair. I had just lathered my head with an shampoo. Suddenly the water stopped. I don’t mean it slowed to a trickle, I mean it completely stopped. As in, there I was, in the shower, covered in shampoo and there wasn’t a drop of water coming out of the faucet.

This happens regularly in our house and there’s really nothing to do but wait it out and point a few choice fingers at the shower nozzle. That morning, my husband was using a different shower at the same time. This also happens when you turn on the washer, dishwasher or any sink in the house at the same time. Honestly, sometimes I think the plumbing issue would have been a deal-breaker for me had we known about the issue before purchasing the house.

I started thinking about what other surprises we found when we moved in and came up with this short list for anyone in the process of looking for an older home. Our house was built in the 1970’s, and while it’s in great shape (mostly), it was inevitable that as an older home it would have some quirks. It’s possible if you find these issues before closing you can negotiate with the sellers for a reduced price or to fix the issues.

So, here we go. All the things I wish we would have looked for.

5 things to look for when buying an older home- great tips and tricks when house hunting!

  1. Run the water in every room. Run the water in multiple rooms at the same time. Play with the temperature and see how long it takes for the water to go from cold to hot. Check the maximum hot water temperature- is it lukewarm or oh-my-god-is-this-legal temperature? Don’t let the realtor trick you into thinking low water pressure or hot water issues are “just due to no one living here for a while” or “the pipes being winterized”. Go outside and run all the hose faucets. A few months into owning the house John went out front and turned on a faucet that had some duct tape on it only to find that the reason it was duct taped was because when you turn it on the water leaks through the walls in the downstairs guest room. Have a plumber come in and take a look if you feel like something isn’t right.
  2. Look in all the cabinets. I was MIGHTY surprised when I started moving our food into the kitchen and opened a lower cabinet only to be smacked in the face by the smell of mouse urine. When we eventually pulled up the counter we found that while the mice had long vacated, they left their little hoard of food and poop other evidence of their time as occupants. I have tried every trick in the book to de-stink that cabinet and it has not worked. Since new cabinets were not in our budget, I just try to avoid that one as much as possible. When touring older homes, look in all the drawers and cabinets for any odd smells or anything that looks strange.
  3. Inspect all wood first hand (as much as possible). Don’t assume when you do a home inspection that the inspector will catch everything. We have two balconies that John specifically asked the inspector to check for rot. We think when it was checked the inspector only looked at one beam, which happened to not be rotted. We were very surprised to find after moving in that the balconies were almost 90% deteriorated and an immediate safety hazard. John took a quick look and was able to reach up into the beams and could basically pull down clumps of rotted wood with his hands. That was a very unexpected expense that we could have easily negotiated with the sellers to fix.
  4.  Have the heater inspected. This is a slightly different issue than #1, but still related. While the water pressure in general is pretty low, it gets worse every 3 months or so when the calcium builds up in the pipes. When this happens, we suddenly don’t get hot water in any rooms. John has to de-scale the pipes using CLR which was quite a maintenance surprise that we wish we knew about.
  5. Ask to run the air conditioners. I’m assuming if you are buying an older home it won’t have central air. Our house has wall units and we learned when we moved in that when you turn the air conditioners on high, the lights flicker on and off. We also learned you can’t run the air conditioners and certain outlets at the same time. If the sellers don’t want you to run the air conditioners, ask specifically if they know of any electrical issues with these scenarios.

There you have it! I hope that this post may help someone out there avoid the in-the-shower-covered-in-soap-and-no-running-water-in-sight situation that has become common in our house.

Trust me, it’s REALLY funny at 6am when there are no clean towels.