In your situation, and BEFORE writing a contract, you can ask to bring in a contractor/inspector who can identify issues to be aware of. This is not a true home inspection but rather due diligence on your part. Doing this home evaluation first accomplishes several things: (1) it arms you with info about the house that can shape your offer and set an upper limit on the price you are willing to pay; (2) it highlights items that may not be inspection issues (low water flow, cracked walls, etc.) that are more qualitative factors you would have to address as the new owner; (3) it can be a make-or-break decision point for you if you have another house in mind.
Items you 'll want to assess are the big ticket items: roofs, walls, machinery, carpentry work done professionally or otherwise; consider how the yard is graded and it's ability to move water away from the house. SMELL the basement - a great indicator if whether there has been/is a seepage problem. Ask about the sewer hook up and lines. (A really expensive project.) Tuckpointing, gutters...the list can get really long. I've found that if you can find a good contractor who also does home inspections, he may be your best firend. Let him know what your concerns are and ask him how he/she would evaluate an older home.
Old houses can be wonderful homes. I live in a house built before 1880. But I suggest "Caveat Emptor" be your guiding principle with homes in lesser shape.
Have a blessed day!
I strongly suggest that if the home appears to be in good condition on the surface, then write a contract. Make sure the contract allows for you to have a home inspection. The home inspection company will be your cost and it will allow you to let the home inspector find any problems. If they find something, then the contract allows for you to go back and re-negotiate with the home owner. If you can't come to a conclusion, you get your earnest money back and the contract becomes null and void.