The 13 Telltale Signs of a Well-Preserved Old Home
Not all vintage homes are money pits—in fact, those that are well maintained may have higher-quality materials than newer homes on the market. Here's how to know whether the property you're looking at is both an oldie and a goodie.
While you should watch out for potential red flags when looking for a new home, it’s just as important to know how to spot signs of a well-preserved property. Houses that are more than 50 years old sometimes have reputations as fixer-uppers, money pits, and poor choices for prospective home buyers. However, an older house that has been well maintained can be a great option for buyers.
Some home buyers reflexively refuse to consider an old house. This inclination can keep old home prices lower than newer ones; buyers who are not put off by an older home can end up saving some serious dough. When your real estate agent books an older house showing, take some time to look for these signs of a well-preserved home.
1. Crown Molding and Baseboards
Checking out the crown molding, ceiling medallions, baseboards, and trim are easy initial ways to figure out whether an old home has been well kept in its lifetime. Cracked, broken, missing, or haphazardly replaced materials are often a sign that the current owner hasn’t put much effort into caring for the home.
However, if you find the original crown molding, baseboards, and trim in good condition, take it as an indication that the home has not been neglected over the years.
2. Original Doors
Another factor that typically indicates that an old home has been well maintained is if it still has the original doors installed. How can you tell if they’re original or cheap replacements? There’s a noticeable difference between the heavy wooden doors of yesteryear and the lightweight doors commonly installed today. Similarly, a clean, functional vintage doorknob is a sign that the home has been diligently maintained.
3. Hardwood Flooring in Good Condition
Maintaining original hardwood flooring over several decades is not easy, especially if kids or pets have lived in the house. When the original hardwood is in pristine condition, it’s evidence that the home has been well cared for.
Just keep in mind that a new floor isn’t necessarily a sign for concern. What you need to watch out for is an old, poorly maintained floor, or a new floor that looks like it was installed by an inexperienced DIYer to save on renovation costs.
4. No Signs of Leaks or Water Damage
Everyone who is house hunting should be on the lookout for signs of water damage. Old or existing leaks from plumbing or drain lines point to home systems that have been neglected, while water damage and stains on the ceiling or around the base of the walls could indicate that rain and meltwater leak through the roof or walls.
Finding an old home with no leaks or water damage typically means that any problems that occurred in the past were handled quickly and effectively, which is indicative of a high level of care.
5. Solid Foundation
Even newer homes can run into problems with the foundation. These issues include cracks or damaged support footings, which can lead to bigger complications without repairs. Cracks in the foundation can lead to pest infestations, leaks, and ongoing water damage, and negatively affect the entire home’s structural support. A solid foundation that doesn’t show any signs of cracks or stress is an excellent indicator of a well-maintained old home.
6. Clean HVAC Filters
There are many simple maintenance tasks that are often overlooked by homeowners. One of these is replacing HVAC filters. When considering an old home for purchase, check the HVAC filter to get a clear picture of how the current owner has been keeping up with regular house maintenance. A clean filter indicates at least a basic level of care, while a dirty HVAC filter is a sign that the main home systems may be neglected.
7. Good Water Pressure
Test the faucets in the kitchen, laundry room, and bathrooms to see if there’s good water pressure throughout the entire home. Often, old plumbing lines and fixtures can reduce water flow due to mineral buildup inside of pipes and fittings. This problem is especially prevalent in older homes with hard water.
Diligent homeowners who want to address hard water will commonly install a water softener, and may go as far as replacing the old plumbing lines to improve water pressure.
8. Updated Electrical System
Look for an old house with new wiring and an updated breaker box. Most signs that a home has been properly maintained relate to the preservation of original features, like doors, windows, or crown molding. When it comes to the wiring, though, the opposite is true. Old electrical systems typically can’t keep up with modern electricity usage, so outdated technology can increase the risk of electrical shorts and home fires.
9. Plaster Walls
Plaster walls aren’t a common option for new homes because drywall is faster and less expensive to install, but plaster is actually a superior material. It’s more water-resistant, fire-resistant, and stronger than drywall, and it’s also a better insulator for heat and sound. So if you find a home with plaster walls that are in good condition, the home has most likely been well looked after.
10. Solid Wood Staircase
Well-maintained solid wood staircases are not easy to find because the old stairs are often removed from older homes and replaced with newer, cost-effective materials. However, hardwood stairs are durable and typically last longer than new stairs. They can even be sanded and refinished to restore the original appearance after years of use.
11. Energy-Efficient Wooden Windows
Energy-efficiency is a problem for many old homes, and it’s often blamed on loose-fitting wooden windows and doors. The gaps allow heat to exit the home in the winter or enter the home in the summer, but not every old home has this problem.
If you find a well-maintained old house with original wooden windows that are installed properly with copper or metal weather stripping, the windows should have a snug, energy-efficient fit when closed.
12. New Roofing
Much like new wiring, it’s a good sign when an old house has a new roof. If the home features an original roof from decades ago, you can expect to find leaks and mold growth in the attic, as the average roof should be re-shingled at least once every 10 to 20 years. Even metal shingles only last up to 45 years, so if the existing owner has properly maintained their house, it should have a new roof within about 5 to 10 years of age.
Before entering the home and after exiting, take time to inspect the yard. Overgrown grass, bushes, shrubs, and trees are warning signs that indicate little attention has been paid to yard maintenance.
Some overgrowth can be acceptable, especially during the spring when grass, flowers, and weeds grow quickly, but overall, a home that is well-maintained usually has a yard that is kept neatly trimmed and landscaped.