What to Look for When Buying an Older Home

Happy couple with keys to their new home

New home prices are through the roof these days, and older home prices aren’t much lower. But buying an older home can sometimes net you a good deal, provided you’re willing to put in a little elbow grease or pay more for renovations. If you’re in the market to move and have considered purchasing an older home, it’s absolutely necessary to pay attention to key details.

In addition to the normal considerations of homebuying—location, HOA fees and the typical responsibilities that come with homeownership—buying an older home involves looking carefully for details that could impact your home’s safety or insurability.

SelectQuote works with insurance companies across the nation to find affordable home insurance for our customers, so let’s look at some key issues to watch out for as you go through the process of shopping for your older home.

5 Things to Check When Purchasing an Older Home

Older homes were subject to different building codes (or no codes at all), which means some parts of the home may be outdated at best and absolutely unsafe at worst. Before you make your final decision, watch out for the following five details (or ask a knowledgeable friend or home inspector to check for them).

1. Old Electrical and Plumbing

Outdated, unsafe electrical wiring and plumbing can pose a massive risk to your home’s safety and security. Electrical and plumbing replacements are some of the most expensive costs for home ownership, leading to many old homes still having original knob-and-tube wiring or cast-iron pipes. Bad wiring can lead to an increased risk of fire, while old corroded pipes can cause weak water flow and even flooding.

House-hunting tip: Ask about the last time wiring and pipes were updated. If the home still has the original systems, source quotes for replacement—not repair. 

What to ask for: Even if the plumbing and electrical have been replaced, get expert confirmation that the new wiring and pipes are up to code. If they haven’t been replaced, deduct the quote from the home price or ask the seller to fix them before you close on the home.

2. Foundation and Structural Concerns

Structural issues can occur over time as the ground beneath and around the house settles. Old homes can be particularly at risk because the longer a house has been around, the more likely the ground has shifted significantly underneath it. Uneven foundation slabs or cracks in the basement can cause corrosion, dry rot, moisture damage and even collapse.

House-hunting tip: As you inspect an older home, test doors and windows for ease of opening and closing. Do any doors stick? Not close all the way? That’s a sign of potential foundation issues. Look for visible wall cracks, cracked tile and uneven floors. 

What to ask for: Foundation repairs aren’t cheap and home insurance usually doesn’t cover them, so you’ll want to negotiate the repair costs into the home price or account for these additional charges in your budget.

3. Hazardous Materials

One of the biggest issues with purchasing an older home is the presence of hazardous materials. Many building materials commonly used prior to the 1970s are now known carcinogens or pose other health risks. For example, lead was a common paint additive in both interior and exterior paints prior to 1978, and it was used in pipes and plumbing built before the 1980s. As lead leaks into the environment or water system, it can cause major health issues. Likewise, asbestos was a common ingredient in insulation, roofing, and wallboard compounds until the 1970s.

House-hunting tip: If you’re thinking about buying a home built prior to 1978, invest in checking for both lead and asbestos. 

What to ask for: You’ll want to either pay to have these issues remedied or ask the owner to cover the repairs, but you absolutely shouldn’t leave them around the house.

4. Radon and Other Hazardous Gasses

Radon testing is important for determining the presence of this harmful gas in your home. Radon is a carcinogen that forms through the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, water, or rocks. In nature, it’s relatively harmless and dissipates easily. If it gets trapped in homes, however, it can cause health issues. Older homes are susceptible because most homes built prior to 1970 didn’t take radon into account.

House-hunting tip: Radon testing is a key component of most home inspections, and if you’re buying an older home it should be a priority. 

What to ask for: After verifying radon in the home, you can have a mitigation system installed to monitor and eliminate it. Negotiate the cost of this with the seller if possible.

5. Faulty Smoke or Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Modern building codes require smoke detectors to be placed in every bedroom in a home, as well as other spaces like the basement or kitchen. Check the age and function of all smoke detectors and replace them if necessary. Don’t forget about carbon monoxide detectors, which help reduce the risk of serious illness or death encountered if carbon monoxide accumulates in your home.

House-hunting tip: Many older homes did not install as many smoke detectors as we typically do now. As you tour houses, make sure there is a smoke detector in every bedroom and in all main areas of the house. There should be at least one smoke detector on every level of the house, including the basement.

Keep an eye out for carbon monoxide detectors, as many older homes will not have these installed at all. There should be one carbon monoxide detector on every level of the house.

What to ask for: Make sure your inspector checks all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as part of the home inspection process. In some cases, upgrading these devices to smart options can help you monitor the safety of your home from wherever you need to.

Secure the Right Home Insurance for Your Older Home

Buying an older home can be a rewarding experience, but it comes with its own unique challenges. The right home insurance policy can help safeguard you in the event of any unforeseen issues that may crop up as a result of the home’s age.

SelectQuote can help you shop for home insurance for your house, whether it’s brand new or 100 years old. We’ll take care of getting all the insurance paperwork squared away during the buying process so you can focus on more important things like packing up and managing any renovations for your new-to-you home.

If you have questions about how to best insure your older home, call us today.

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