Buying an older home?10 considerations before signing on the dotted line

You’re relocating and have a few days to find your dream house – or at least a house you can call home. New homes sparkle, but older homes have character. Plus, you’ve been watching DIY shows on TV that have convinced you to give one a try.

Before you sign on the dotted line, there are some things everyone should consider when buying an older home.

Lead paint: If the home was built before 1978, the year lead paint was banned, it should be tested by a certified lead inspector. Lead dust is released when you sand or scrape old paint. According to, the amount of lead dust the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers unsafe for children is equivalent to a small packet of artificial sweetener sprinkled over one-third of a football field! It can also hurt adults, although children and pregnant women are at most risk.

Lead is costly to remove; according to the EPA, the average cost of removing lead paint from a home is around $10,000. Because lead removal demands a strict protocol and special clothes, it must be left to professionals.

Old heating systems: Even if an old heating system works, it is probably not efficient, especially if the home is heated with oil. The oil tank should be in the house, not underground, since most states require that contractors obtain a special environmental permit before removing buried heating oil tanks. In addition, soil samples must be taken around the tank to assess contamination. If you plan on living in the home for many years, a new heating system will eventually pay for itself and Federal and state energy credits might be available. If there is a fireplace, you should also check for cracks in the chimney flue.

Inefficient windows: Cracks, gaps and rotting wood in window frames combined with single-pane glass leak air conditioning during the summer and heat during cold-weather months. If you are buying a restoration home, preservation usually usurps energy-efficiency and the original windows may be in place. To remove them in favor of new trim and windows is costly, and will definitely change the character of the home. Specialists can restore older windows and ensure they’re as tight and efficient as possible.

Foundation: It is important to check the home’s foundation for cracks and structural damage. If there is a basement, the foundation should be checked for water marks, a sure sign that the foundation leaks. Years ago, foundations were made of cement and cinder blocks, which cracks and leaks over the years. Water damage leads to mold, termites and rot.

Radon: Radon enters the home through cracks in the foundation, and is a naturally occurring gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Don’t assume the home is radon-free: The EPA estimates that one in 15 homes in the United States contain radon. Be sure to test any home for radon. If radon is discovered, it need not be a deal-breaker as it can be mitigated to a safe level.

Lack of storage: Bedrooms without closets or with small, shallow ones. Crawl-space basements. Few kitchen cabinets. Lack of storage space in older homes is often an issue that even the handiest do-it-yourselfer might find problematic. Larger homes tend to offer more options for reconfiguration and expanded storage.

Asbestos: Once asbestos was used to insulate furnaces, boilers, the water pipes leading to radiators and as a component in vinyl flooring. An inspector can spot asbestos and alert you to where it is located. Removal is costly, but generally the rule with asbestos is to leave it alone if it is in good shape.

Lack of insulation: A building inspector can alert you to how much insulation the home contains and offer suggestions if it needs to be increased.

Awkward kitchens and old bathrooms: Kitchens and bathrooms were utilitarian spaces in older homes, not the focus they are today. Kitchens might be awkwardly configured, , cabinets sparse and countertops in poor shape. Bathrooms were often small, featuring a single sink and bathtub/shower combination. Kitchen and bathroom makeovers are the most expensive remodeling projects to tackle, although they bring the most return on investment. Again, larger houses tend to offer more possibilities; for example, several smaller rooms might be combined into a large, open kitchen or a master suite.

Wiring: In older homes, it is not uncommon to have electrical boxes of 60 or 100 amps. Today’s standard is 200 amps. In addition, wiring was not usually grounded, easily spotted because the outlets have two prongs not three.

In many cases, the issues you find in older homes are worth tackling. But it’s worth talking with one or more contractors to determine whether your vision for the house is achievable, and if so, how much it’s estimated to cost. Always allow an extra budget cushion to cover unexpected expenses; once contractors start work, you can almost be certain they will find other issues that must be addressed. Also be sure you have the patience to see the renovation through, especially having just undertaken a relocation.

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