What are some of the things to look out for in older properties?

Asked by newinvestor, 91106 Wed Mar 24, 2010

I tend to shy away from buildings that are built before 1950 because I just assume, by default, that these buildings have structural problems. Yet I have seen properties built in the 1920s that looked great and properties built in 1970s that looked horrible. What are some of the common problems in older buildings? I don't want to wait until I have to spend several hundred dollars on inspection to find out.

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Curt Schultz,…, , Pasadena, CA
Wed Mar 24, 2010
This is the type of question that is close to my heart. I love houses, all buildings with good design and I love the older homes. The nature of building homes is much different now than before 1950. Now we have an assembly line mentality where we must keep labor costs down. Labor is the love portion in the process of building structures, most new homes have lost the personality part. It’s, let’s slam it together and quickly get to the next one.
Before the end of WWII, homes were built by a Master Builder; he knew every part of the home, when constructing the foundation he was also thinking about the finish. Now, subcontractors pour a foundation and never return, how do they know how to improve their skills if they never see the completed home? The Master Builders knew and appreciated the homes they built, and built them with pride and lots of labor, as the major costs of buildings then was materials. The labor, which is so much of a home’s cost today, is what makes those older homes keep their value. You can’t build a new 1924 Craftsman today! And you can’t replicate the labor and finish of those old homes today either.
In addition to being a REALTOR, I am also a licensed Architect. I perform structural engineering, and yes the new homes have much better structural components that older homes do, including lateral resistive systems for earthquakes not used in older homes. However, that same home built in 1924 can say it has survived more than 80 years of life and earthquakes, a newer home cannot say that. A home which has survived that long must have been built well.
By the way, lateral resistive systems were not required in residential construction in California until the 1990’s. So a home built in 1980 will have the same basic structural system as the 1924 home, but with inferior materials. That is not to say there were no improvements during that time, just not that much in structural systems. Homes before 1978 used lead paint and asbestos use was not banned until 1989.
Buy the pre-1950 home, have a professional review it’s condition and make sure you repair and update as needed.

Curt V. Schultz, REALTOR-Architect, Pasadena, Ca.
1 vote
Sarkis Aleks…, Agent, Pasadena, CA
Fri Nov 16, 2012
The age of an older building doesn't always mean the property is in need of repairs if the property has been well maintained and cared for. But you're right to be concerned because certain components and systems of an older property may be at the end of their usefulness and will need replacement. The things to be concerned about are electrical, plumbing (especially the sewer system), foundation, roof and (not to be overlooked) the chimney.

Having said that, I can't overstate the importance of a physical inspection and specific re-inspection of components that the general inspector calls out. A few years ago my buyers wisely took my advise to spend the money for an inspection on a brand new home that they thought would be a waste of money. They were the very first buyers purchasing directly from the builder. The inspector found 19 things to report - some of them rather significant in nature. We were glad to catch these defects early and had them corrected by the seller prior to closing escrow. Part of our demand was to have the builder offer an additional warranty of a second year on top of the one year warranty required by law for new construction by a builder. The alternative would've been to discover these issues here and there and try to get satisfaction from the builder after they'd purchased. And you'd hope to do so within the warranty period.
1 vote
Debra (Debbi…, Agent, Livingston, NJ
Wed Mar 24, 2010
Nothing can take the place of having a professional home inspector inspect the home. You can do your due dilligence, and walk around with a flashlight and a list in hand............but in the end, things that might look troublesome to you, might not be, and you might miss items that are a problem.

Once the inspection is completed...and.....problems identified...... the seller might make repairs or give you credits for items that truly are problematic.
I understand you don't want to lay out money and wind up not buying the home...but it is really the only way you willl know for sure what you are dealing with.

For example, I just had an inspection on a charming older tudor today.........the pipes in the basement are covered with asbestos.....is that a problem? Not accoridng to the inspector, as the asbesots is well encapsulated, even with plastic piping at the bends.........the inspector noted that is is safe to leave it undisturbed in its present state. That is open for discussion by the buyer.

Federal Pacific electric boxes - no longer used - are often seen (in my area anyway) in older homes........they are considered dangerous, and most inspectors and electricians recommend they be removed and the electric updated. Most of those sellers were happily living in their homes, not aware of the potential danger of having that brand of electric box.

As you can see - there is a lot to look for when inspecting a home..............that's why you really need to rely on a professional.
As was mentioned....some of those older homes are build more soundly than the newer ones....................so......find a home, and fall in love with it..............have your offer accepted by the sellers..........and then make sure it is structurally sound via an inspection.

Best wishes............
1 vote
Anthony Perez, Agent, Northridge, CA
Wed Mar 24, 2010
Like people every home is unique and different, pros and cons for both, myself I would rather have an older home and fix it to my own taste, though some may not have insulation in the walls or attics it does not cost a lot to apply, the wood is much better (density) and when you flush a toilet upstairs it does not sound as if its running inside the ceiling and walls and about to hit you in the head.

Older homes have proved themselves through two major earthquakes, I would not be too sure about the new homes, I see a lot of major stucco cracking in these homes and they have not been through a good shaking.

The best thing I can tell you as a retired 20 year general and engineering contractor and now a certified home inspector is have the home inspected prior to investing/buying, make sure the inspector uses infrared imaging, you can have a latent defect on a brand new home worse than a 55 year old home. That's just the way it is.

TonyP @ http://www.CAcertified.com
Web Reference:  http://www.CAcertified.com
1 vote
Dan Chase, Home Buyer, Texas City, TX
Wed Mar 24, 2010
You have to look everywhere. You could have problems anywhere between (and including) the roof and cellar floor. That is no different form a house built in 1995.

Look at the roof, are shingles dark, missing or curled? Needs work.
Got cracks in the foundation? COuld be trouble depending on how big. If the foundation does not look square run away.

Is the roofline straight? Dips men foundation troubles or rotten sills or other wood.
Old windows? replacements needed for energy savings.
Crawl underneath, is the wood solid and colored right? Mold, dryrot and more could be problems.
1 vote
Jane Grant, Agent, Aguanga, CA
Wed Mar 24, 2010
New Investor: Roof certifications are often necessary for older buildings that have not had the roof inspected or replaced. Also, many older buildings can have mold or moisture issues and an experienced home inspector that has a mold certification can check for this also.
Web Reference:  http://www.soreal.biz
1 vote
Monique and…, Agent, Beverly Hills, CA
Wed Mar 24, 2010
Hello New Investor,

The issues that come up on older properties are: Foundation, Sewer, Electrical and Termite. Also old Chimney's can be an issue. Usually you can get a sense when your looking at properties what the warning signs are but an inspection from a general inspector and also specialist for Foundation, Sewer and Chimney are also a good idea on older homes.


Monique Carrabbba
The Carrabba Group
Keller Williams Hollywood Hills
(323) 899-2900
1 vote
Kawain Payne, Agent, Seal Beach, CA
Wed Jun 6, 2012
New Investor,

Newer does not ALWAYS mean better!!!

I have sold homes built in the 1940's that are solid as a rock! I have seen homes built in the 80's and even more recent with cracked concrete slabs, and walls that ababy could punch a hole in.

Newer homes of course are easy on the eye, but remember most of the building material being used today is produced outside the U.S and may not be of the best quality. Also some contractors may not hire workers with thehighest skill leveles in an effort to keep cost down.

Homes built years back were build using quality materials and skilled workers, in fact they were bulit by true craftsmen.

My advice to you is make sure you have any property you are thinking of buying inspected by a lic professional.

And keep in mind: sometimes when it comes to Real Property, newer is not always better.

Best of Luck to you!

Kawain Payne, Realtor
0 votes
Tim Page, , 99037
Thu May 31, 2012
Electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling are the biggies for these older homes. I once appraised a home when the electrical offers knob and tube and they were not able to get a bid in my area because it was just too much time, too risky, too difficult.

Non-conforming heating systems such as baseboard heating, oil heating, steam heat, wood heat can be an issue for these older homes too if they have not been updated.
Web Reference:  http://increasehomevalue.org
0 votes
Harry Khayal…, Agent, Pasadena, CA
Wed Mar 24, 2010
Good question.
Some of the things you should look out for are structural damage, outdated plumbing, electrical, etc. You are right some of these older properties look better then the newer ones. Get the inspection!!!!!
Century 21 Golden Realty
626 390 2544
0 votes
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