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Buying an Older Home? Check for These 5 Things First

By Katherine Torres | Contributing Writer

The character, charm, and unique personality of older homes are undeniable—and just a few of the reasons why many home buyers can’t imagine moving into a new build. Older homes are also often constructed in prime locations with lower price tags than modern high rises. Purchasing an older home can be a great investment, especially for first-time homebuyers—if you know what potential problems to look out for before signing on the dotted line.

During the buying process, make sure you watch out for these five potential problem areas in older homes.

5 Things to Check When Buying an Older Home

1. Old or substandard electrical and plumbing Rewiring and updating plumbing are both expensive and extensive projects, which is why many older homes still have their original knob-and-tube wiring and cast-iron pipes. Both pose safety risks, as an old electrical system can cause a fire, and corroded pipes can result in leaks and weak water flow.

Purchase tip Evaluate the age of the wiring and pipes and ask when they were last updated. If the home still has the original systems, get a quote to see how much they would cost to replace. If the sellers have updated the electrical and plumbing, make sure the new wiring and pipes are up to code to ensure they’re running safely, efficiently, and legally.

2. Radon Radon is a carcinogen created by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, water, and rock. When this happens in nature, it dissipates and poses no threat. But if radon gets trapped within a home, it becomes dangerous for humans. Many pre-1970s homes weren’t built with this in mind, so they can be more susceptible to radon buildup.

Purchase tip It’s important to conduct a radon test before purchasing an older home. Luckily, radon tests are simple and inexpensive. Use an Accu-Star certified radon test to verify the level of radon in the home. If it has high radon levels, there are several EPA-approved methods to reduce it.

3. Hazardous materials Older homes are more likely to contain hazardous materials, including lead and asbestos. Lead was commonly used in exterior and interior paint up until 1978 and within plumbing systems built before the mid-1980s. This lead can leak into the environment and the water system, causing significant health issues. Asbestos was also used in gas fireplaces, insulation, roofing, and wallboard patching compounds up until the 1970s, when officials became aware of the health risks.

Purchase tip If you’re considering a home built before 1978, you should be aware that the home likely contains these hazardous materials. Before purchasing, you may want to investigate lead paint removal services and costs for eliminating popcorn ceilings and other materials that potentially contain asbestos.

4. Foundation or structural concerns Over time, even the most solidly built homes can form cracks and unevenness in the foundation slab. This can cause corrosion, dry rot, moisture damage, and other risks. When inspecting an older home, check for doors and windows that jam easily, visible wall cracks, cracked tile, and uneven floors, as these are common signs of foundation problems.

Purchase tip Foundation repairs can escalate to over $10,000, depending on the extent of the structural issues—and homeowners insurance won’t cover these costs. If a home has foundation concerns but you still want to move forward with the purchase, consider negotiating the repair costs into the purchase price, or account for the extra repair costs in your budget.

5. Dysfunctional smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors In many states, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are required on every level of a home. But even if a home features both, they may be outdated or not working properly. As smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors usually aren’t a priority when house hunting, it’s easy to forget to make sure they are present and test to see if they are working properly.

Purchase tip Check the alarms and detectors throughout the home and consider upgrading to a newer and smarter option that connects with your phone via an app so you can monitor the security of your home from any location. Place a carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home, and a smoke alarm in every room for optimal safety.

Home inspection tips

Don’t agree to buy a home—especially an older one—until you’ve completed a professional home inspection, a standard contingency within a selling agreement. This contingency should allow you to get out of the contract or negotiate repairs should there be a significant or dangerous issue discovered in the home. Beyond a standard home inspection, you may consider other specialized inspections, such as a termite inspector or roof evaluation.

If the inspector reveals significant concerns or necessary repairs, you may renegotiate the purchase price, request the seller make the repairs, or dissolve the contract. Remember, a home inspection is designed to protect you and ensure you understand any potential safety risks of a home before you buy. Have you purchased an older home? What are your tips for first-time home buyers? Comment with your tips or share this post with anyone you know on the market for a new (old) home.

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