Buying an Older Home

Have you ever thought about buying an older home? One of my favorite things to do is tootle around the Historic District of Sanford on my golf cart. Every time I turn a corner, I see a Victorian I haven’t seen before or imagine myself sitting on the lovely porch of a Craftsman. It’s especially delightful to watch the progress of one of these homes from a broken-down wreck into the jewel it once was. My own home was built in 1952. It’s 72 years old…yikes! That definitely qualifies as an old home. I included a picture of my Mamie Eisenhower pink bathroom. I think it would be a crime against history to take away all that lovely pink, especially the tub, sink, and toilet.

The best reasons for buying an older home…

One of the best reasons to own an older home is they usually come with lovely neighborhoods that include heritage trees. One corner of my lot has a giant live oak which is most likely over 100 years old. Often these neighborhoods are very walkable and close to restaurants, entertainment, and outdoor activities. When you buy an older home, you usually buy in an established neighborhood that comes with a lifestyle. Older homes are generally built with quality materials and workmanship. Here in Florida, many older homes were built with cypress wood which is naturally pest resistant.

And of course, the biggest reason someone wants to live in an older home is character: high ceilings, sliding pocket doors, stained glass windows, original oak floors, and quirky hardware. I love showing older homes because I love the unique features, character, and history. But, I’m always careful to talk about the reality of an older home. Here’s a list of things I’ve learned from purchasing and owning an older home as well as helping others purchase them.

Get a Thorough Inspection

And maybe even two inspections because inspectors are human and they do miss things. And absolutely don’t skip the pest inspection. Even if a home was built with cypress, it can still get termites (just ask my daughter!). If the home sits on a raised foundation (like mine is), make sure the inspector goes underneath and takes pictures. If the inspector flags foundation issues, pay the extra money to get a structural engineer to inspect as well or a foundation company. You really need to know what you’re getting into BEFORE you purchase.

Count the Costs

Be ready to put pencil to paper and total up what needs work. This will require some legwork, phone calls, and talking to people in the neighborhood who have worked on their houses. Neighborhood folks are usually happy to share their stories and resources as well as what they had to spend. There are often contractors and other workmen who specialize in older homes. Perhaps ask them to come to the inspection. And by all means, consider paying more for a home that has been rehabbed already, especially the biggies like plumbing, electric, roofing, etc.

Find Out if the Home is in a Historic District

Homes in historic districts have rules, and you should get all the information you can about those rules ahead of time. The rules generally only pertain to the exterior of the home and are designed to protect the integrity of the original style, but they do limit what can be done. For example, the historic district in Sanford requires that old windows be rehabbed instead of replaced.

Get an Insurance Quote Right Away

Insurance for an older home can be pricey, especially in Florida. Get a quote as soon as possible to see if you can live with the expense.

Expect to Put in Time

Older homes always require more maintenance even if all the big ticket items have been done. Foundations can shift over time, wood siding needs painting regularly, the lovely giant oak needs to be trimmed…the list is endless. For people who consider owning an older home a delightful hobby, I say go for it! If you don’t like home maintenance generally, you may want to think twice.

For those dreaming about buying an older home or who own one, here are a couple of places to find inspiration. You can find more advice on buying an older home here. I find ideas, how-tos, and services at Old House Journal Magazine and of course This Old House. I also love YouTube for step-by-step DIY tutorials.

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