12 Specialists You Need If You’re Buying an Old House
Before purchasing an old home, enlist the help of niche professionals who can help you navigate potential repairs and renovations to lower the chance of unpleasant surprises after the sale.
Prepare Yourself for Updates and Renovations
There will always be a market for old houses. They have charm and history that new builds cannot match, but they might need some fixing up.
Even heritage homes have to meet modern building standards. According to the National Association of Home Builders, building codes affect the construction, configuration, and cost of upgrades to existing homes. If you know a building isn’t up to code during the due diligence period, you can put a contingency clause in the purchasing agreement that the seller must fix the requested issues or you can walk away from the deal.
As a buyer, you don’t have to be an expert on old homes, but it helps to have certain professionals take a look at a building to identify what needs attention now and or might in the future. These specialists have expertise that may go above and beyond the professionals who are usually involved in the purchase of a newer home.
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1. The Right Real Estate Agent
Partner with a real estate agent who has experience with older houses, particularly with homes the same age as the one you’re considering. They’ll be able to point out typical issues that come up in homes of that vintage and offer insight on how other clients have addressed them. If possible, have the agent come along for any inspections of the property. Your real estate agent is the one who does the negotiating on your behalf, and your purchase deal may change following your home inspection.
2. Specialized Home Inspector
Just like a real estate agent, you want a home inspector who has plenty of experience in historic homes and a home inspection checklist for aging buildings. The older a house is, the more building standards have changed since construction. General home inspections usually take up to 3 hours, which may uncover a lot of problem areas. Old houses may have a long list of things that need to be fixed, so it’s advisable to select a home inspector with specialized knowledge who can help navigate problems that tend to come up in older homes and propose solutions.
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An electrical inspection is an important step when buying an old house. You may notice on your walk-through that there are only one or two outlets per room—which is not nearly enough anymore.
Old electrical systems often fall short of today’s standards, and improper wiring can regularly trip the circuit breaker or be a potential fire hazard. Old houses for sale may have insufficient electrical capacity to support modern appliances and technology or use wiring materials no longer to code. Electricians can check the adequacy of wire insulation and safety, the need for ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection, and any upgrades required to meet code as well as your day-to-day needs.
4. Structural Engineer
Over time, older buildings can shift as a result of foundational issues. Potential buyers should not ignore cracks in the foundation or leaning walls during the buying process. A residential structural engineer can assess the building’s safety and stability, and advise you on specific structural renovations and costs you might incur bringing an old house up to code.
The average roof can last up to 30 years, so an old house has likely gone through multiple roof replacements. Roof replacements are a great investment for a home, but if the roof on a house is past its prime, there can be a lot of damage from unreliable old shingles—which can lead to a very expensive repair bill.
A roof inspection can determine if there is any structural damage that causes sagging, moisture getting into the attic space, cracked caulking in the roof’s flashing, and excessive water damage from long-term leaks.
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6. Asbestos Inspector
Homes built prior to 1980 pose a risk of asbestos in all areas of the home. Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was used in the past in construction materials and insulation. Though it was effective at making materials durable, it was also determined to be dangerous. Exposure to asbestos was found to increase the risk of developing lung disease, so the material’s use declined greatly after 1980. An asbestos abatement professional will test for the presence of asbestos and safely remove it from the home.
7. Insurance Agent
Not only do the structural replacement costs and renovations need to be considered for old houses, but the property has to be insured too. Certain issues, including knob and tube electrical wiring, old fuel tanks, wood-burning stoves, or galvanized steel plumbing may come with very high insurance premium rates—that is, if a company is willing to insure you at all. Talk to an insurance professional regarding the findings in your home inspection to get an idea of your coverage options.
8. Home Energy Professional
Historic homes and older houses were built with different techniques and materials than modern buildings that weren’t as effective for maintaining a home’s temperature. Many lack insulation and ventilation, have gaps in the building’s envelope, and plenty of other little things that add up to a lot of energy waste. A home energy professional can do an audit of a home’s energy efficiency and offer solutions that maintain the character and idiosyncrasies of an older house.
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9. HVAC Professionals
Following a home energy audit, you may want to consult an HVAC professional to find suitable up-to-date ways to heat and cool an old house. Many old homes lack air conditioning ducts and have relied on radiator heating systems for warmth. An HVAC professional can assess the current systems for temperature regulation and outline upgrades you can make that align with the style and charm of the home. Options exist that will help you maintain the historic character of the home while bringing the comfort level to current standards.
Homes built between 1900 and 1990 may have plumbing issues that aren’t revealed in a general home inspection. Over time, pipes corrode, rust, and decay, and they need to be replaced before any water damage occurs. Certain pipe materials can last up to 100 years, but an antiquated plumbing system could need an entire overhaul. For safety, homes that use lead pipes need to have the pipes replaced immediately. A plumber can take a look and give an estimate on replacement costs or system upgrades.
11. Chimney Sweep
For homes with a working chimney or wood burning stove, a certified chimney sweep can take a look both inside and out for potential safety hazards. These professionals know the standards for chimney height, drywall exposure, and separation of the hearth from the wall, among others. A certified chimney sweep will let you know if you are allowed to use your chimney or if you should consider it a decorative feature.
Though a wood-burning fireplace or stove may have been part of the original build, the EPA outlines jurisdictions that put legal limitations on wood smoke. Double-check the regulations in your area to make sure you can use these fixtures as intended.
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12. Pest Control
Considering the construction differences between old and new homes, it’s not surprising that older homes may have more gaps, cracks, and points of entry for insects, rodents, and other creatures. If this is the case, bats, termites, mice, raccoons, or other pests may be hiding in and under an old house. Pest control experts can locate these creatures and offer an estimate to get rid of them for you.