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Bija Satterlee's Blog

By Bija Satterlee | Agent in Lexington, MA

Buying an Older Home in Arlington MA

As a full time buyers agent in the Arlington / Lexington MA area, I am so familiar and comfortable  with the types of homes we have here that it surprises me when some buyers exclaim how "old" the houses are here. Typically I hear this from people who have moved here from another city or country.

Arlington's history goes back over 350 years, and some houses over 100 years old are still standing and serving their owners. In the early 1900's various neighborhoods sprung up, from the multi-family homes in East Arlington and Arlington Heights, colonial revival homes in the very uniform Kelwyn Manor (between Spy Pond and Lake Street) to the Victorians and Colonials in Jason Heights and the farm houses and colonial homes near Mt Gilboa.

If you are considering buying one if our older models, (some 100+ years old!) there are three important things to consider:
1) Age alone does not determine condition
Explore how time (and previous owners) have treated your subject property. Two houses built side by side 75 years ago may present completely differently today. One may be in tear-down condition, while the other could be structurally sound, fully updated and highly efficient. I have seen houses just 20 years old that were made so poorly and with such inexpensive materials that they now have more maintenance requirements than well built classic capes and colonials built in the 1920' and '30's.

2) Basements Tell Stories
When you observe the condition of a home, pay particular attention to the basement. Appearances can be deceiving, but even a novice can tell if there are unpleasant odors, or if it feels damp and unhealthy to spend time there.  If you are not familiar with the structural, electrical and plumbing workings of a house, an unfinished basement can look like a wild puzzle, since different owners over the decades may have changed or replaced original materials, and modified or abandoned previous systems such as knob and tube wiring , plumbing, etc.   I believe the health of a house (and it's occupants) is affected by the basement. Unless you are a home inspector, it is hard to know whether you've got a gem or a disaster on your hands.

Finished Basements
If a basement is finished, you cannot see the condition of the foundation, so even though it may look nice (or even ugly!) the walls hide what an inspector would be looking for: moisture, settling, insect damage, water penetration, crumbling foundation and more. Semi-finished basements offer partial viewing of the "patient" but only an unfinished basement allows you to truly keep an eye on things. Should a leak develop behind a wall, it could be years before the scope of the problem comes to light. And it's not a pretty sight when it does!  Even though an inspector cannot see behind walls, they can test for moisture on the walls, which could be masking unpleasant surprises on the other side.

Which leads me to point # 3:

3) Inspection Inspection Inspection!
Thankfully it is considered routine for home buyers in the Arlington, Lexington and surrounding towns to have a home inspection as part of the buying process. As a buyers agent, in order to protect my buyers, I write a contingency into your Offer allowing you to back out of the deal if you are not satisfied with the results of your home inspection. This gives you an opportunity to learn about any defects, and about home maintenance, before going too far into the transaction.

Licensed home inspectors = peace of mind
When you buy a used car you take it to a mechanic for a checkup, and to be sure youre not buying a lemon! Normally you dont expect it to look and operate as if new. Likewise, a 50 year old house will not thrill you like a new construction home might. For a few hundred dollars, get peace of mind by learning the nuts and bolts of your new home. The inspection will reveal any deficiencies, and you will get a report outlining these areas. You may try to negotiate some issues with the sellers. If you move forward with your purchase and become the proud owner of one of our fine older homes in Arlington Ma, you may make upgrades of your own, whether structural (reinforcing beams, rebuilding a porch etc), or cosmetic (re-tiling kitchen and  baths and replacing fixtures). You might want to refer to this NAR report, which identifies which types of home improvements are likely to give you a return on your money.

Buying a home in Arlington MA can be a wonderful experience, and whether by choice or due to your price point, you find yourself buying an "older home", hopefully you will enjoy the charm and history it represents. Settled floors, gently worn wood and stairways,  wallpaper in closets, crayons drawings in the attic, an old workbench in the garage... these are the whispers of history, and part of the charm of living in or around Arlington MA. You can take a piece of history and make it yours. Take the plunge, it is an adventure -but look around and you'll see you are not alone: the neighbors are doing it too.

If you have lived in an older home, you probably have a story or two about why you loved or hated it. I appreciate your comments so please feel free to share your stories!

Find an ASHI Home Inspector
Arlington Historical Commission
NAR home projects that pay off 
This Old House

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