Is a 50 year old house TOO OLD to buy? What are the potential traps? This one is termite cleared and is ready to move-in. Location is Fremont and

Asked by Pooja, Alameda County, CA Mon Oct 26, 2009

priced to buy for us.

Help the community by answering this question:

+ web reference
Web reference:


The Medford…, Agent, Fremont, CA
Tue Oct 27, 2009

In an age of gargantuan McMansions and cookie-cutter housing tracts, I prefer older homes. For a start, they typically have more character. The home I live in was built in 1968 and is a great tree-lined well established neighborhood.

Here are some of the things I appreciate about older homes:

(1) Better locations than newer homes.

The nice areas get built up first. That means that the choice neighborhoods in most communities are older homes. They are closer to downtown areas, can be accessed with less of a commute and are not normally near railroad tracks, BART or a freeway. Newer homes are built in areas called “in-fill.” These are the less desirable areas because of their approximation to transportation, commercial areas and so on. I know of one in-fill neighborhood that is a classic example of the problems associated with in-fill developments – BART is on the left side, Union Pacific railway tracks are on the right side, you can throw a rock at a cement plant located across the street and the front of the development is fronted on a busy street frequented by large trucks.

(2) Larger lots, wider streets.

Current developers try to get as many homes into a development as a city will allow. That means homes are closer together, lots are smaller, and in many cases, streets are so narrow you cannot park on them. Not so with older homes. Expect larger lots, wider streets, and you can anticipate that you won’t be able to hear your neighbor when they sneeze in their kitchen next door.

(3) Established neighborhoods.

I used to live in a home built in the ‘20s. It was on an oak-lined street with branches that crossed in the middle of the street and covered the road with a beautiful canopy of green. It was wonderful. You’ll have a hard time finding a tree taller than 10 feet in many newer subdivisions. Established neighborhoods also have a more diverse mix of neighbors. You’ll have new families who’ve only been there a while, yet a few doors down you may have a couple that bought their home new back in the 50’s or 60’s, raised their family in the home and still live there to this day. They maintain a sense of connection with the history of the neighborhood and provide a cultural richness you will not find in newer neighborhoods with predominantly younger families.

(4) Hardwood floors.

Although I understand the need for products like Pergo laminated floors, I really don’t like them. I prefer the real thing. Older homes usually have real hardwood floors – many of which have materials that are currently very costly, such as quarter sawn white oak. With a bit or work, many of these floors provide a timeless elegance that is very costly to reproduce in an older home. We love the hardwood floors in our home.

Here are a few things to look for:

(1) Well maintained homes.

Make sure the home has been maintained well throughout the years. Older homes with good bones and in good condition will probably outlast many of the homes built much later. Property Inspections will tell you what types of items will need to be improved going forward. There will always be things that need attention.

(2) Decent neighborhoods

Make sure the neighborhood shows pride of ownership. If the homes up and down the street are in good condition, lawns are green and homes are well painted, that it a good sign that the neighborhood is well maintained.

(3) Upgrades

Many older homes have new roofs, windows, kitchen and bath remodels and so on. Properly maintained and upgraded, older homes will serve your family very well and will also serve the next generation as well.

2 votes
Mike Hart, Other Pro, Albuquerque, NM
Thu Oct 29, 2009
The age of the home is not the problem, but to answer your question, here is a list of some of the "potential traps":

Condition: Have a good home inspection performed to check the condition of all systems including the roof, heating, air condtitioning, plumbing, gas plumbing, water heater, electrical, structure, etc.

Asbestos: Used a lot in older homes as it was a sort of miracle material, lightweight, insulating, easily manipulated. It is in flooring, wall plaster (king's coat), pipe insulation, heating and water heater vent pipes, and most home inspectors will point it out for you.

Galvanized steel water pipes; Corrode from the inside, and if they haven't been upgraded to copper or pex pipes, will cause restricted flow and leaks.

Old cast iron drain pipes: when buried, will corrode from the outside, and video scoping the inside of the sewer lateral line will not detect this. If the sewer lateral line has not been replaced with PVC or ABS pipes, the replacement of such will be expensive. If you have clay pipes buried, they need to be upgraded due to the age of the pipes also.

Electric wiring: Knob & Tube wiring used in the 1930's and 40's is considered dangerous and should be upgraded if present. Most insurance companies will not insure this type of wiring.
Aluminum wiring used in the 1960's and 70's is know to cause fires when connections fail or are improperly connected. UL listed connectors can be installed at every connection to minimize the risk, but connections are often overlooked by electricians, and it is expensive to do this retrofit correctly. It may be better to re-wire the house with copper wiring.

Electric outlets: May have old style "2-prong" outlets, or worse, 2-prongs may have been replaced with 3-prong outlets but without connecting ground wire. The 3rd prong is for grounding which is needed for safe operation of any appliance which has a 3-prong plug, and the grounded outlet is needed for surge protectors to properly protect electronics and computers. If the ground wires are present at the outlets, upgrading the outlets is not too expensive, but if the ground wire needs to be run to every outlet, it gets very expensive.

These are problems associated with older houses only. New houses have their problems also, such as Chinese drywall, and polybutylene water pipes. This is a partial list, but represents some of the more expensive concerns, health concerns and safety concerns.

A thorough home inspector will point these problems out to you, and let you know if the house has been upgraded in each of these areas. Be careful that you choose a home inspector working on your behalf who will report these problems honestly. If the inspector relys on agents' referals, or gets paid at closing, they have an interest in the deal going through without hitches, and might overlook some concerns.

Check out these websites for more information about choosing a home inspector:
1 vote
Steven Ornel…, Agent, Fremont, CA
Tue Oct 27, 2009
Pooja, I agree with the basic message of what has been shared below: it's not the age of a home; it’s the condition and qualitative aspects that matter!

As a buyer it's very easy to over-analyze the numbers. Focusing on just the quantitative measure of finding a house discounts the qualitative aspects of a home, and that's a huge mistake because while price is important in buying a home we all know location, amenities, look and feel play a large role in determining market value as well.

Best, Steve
0 votes
Meena Gujral, Agent, Pleasanton, CA
Tue Oct 27, 2009
Hi Pooja,

Buying a 50 year home that is ready to move in and has termite clearance is great. Keep in mind it is very common to find homes that old in the Alameda, San Mateo and other neighboring Counties. These homes are in established neighborhoods and have a lot of character and a good size lot.

Does the house have other inspections? Do you know the condition of the roof? How about the plumbing? Does it have copper pipes? Make sure you get all inspections and walk around with the inspector, ask a lot of questions.

Make sure you have an agent represent you. Go through all the disclosures and ask for a clarification if you are not sure of something. I hope this helps.

Meena Gujral
Help-U-Sell Achievers Realty
40083 Mission Blvd
Fremont, Ca. 94539
0 votes
John Juarez, Agent, Fremont, CA
Tue Oct 27, 2009

Why would a 50 year old house be too old? Age is not the determining factor. Condition is an important factor. So is location…always location. You say the house has been termite cleared. What other inspections have been done? How did they come out?
0 votes
Search Advice
Ask our community a question

Email me when…

Learn more