Buyer Beware: My Lesson on Purchasing an Older Home
My husband and I recently went to look at a 1908 Victorian home for sale. My husband is a home investor. He buys homes in disrepair, fixes them up, and then sells them for a profit. In other words, he’s a flipper. I’m not usually allowed to look at the homes he is considering purchasing. I lack the necessary creative insight that allows flippers to see what could be. I only see what is there, and most of the time it’s pretty ugly.
He also refuses to take me because I can easily spend over an hour inspecting every area of the home. He only invited me to prove that within ten minutes he could make a decision on whether to buy the property or not.
As we pull up to the house, I’m immediately charmed by this adorable Victorian on a corner lot lined with massive oak trees. The little front porch is inviting. I imagine sitting on a front porch swing looking down the quiet road. My husband warns me to not get too excited. I ignore him. It is not very often that he purchases homes that already have wonderful curb appeal.
Walking to the front door, Bryan explains that his initial inspection is only to look at a few main areas: I try to keep myself calm as I look up to see a beautiful stained glass window on the upper level. We begin with the first item on the list.
#1 The Roof
Replacing a roof is expensive. Older homes often need roof repairs or complete replacement. Even with HUD and foreclosed homes, the money you save may go directly to buying a new roof. If the roof is over ten years old, it may require work. We are in luck today! The roof was replaced three years ago. I am silently cheering inside as Bryan unlocks the front door. I’m prepared for the smell to hit me. An important lesson I’ve learned is that a property can look great on the internet, but the internet does not convey smell. No foul odor here, it just smells a little medicinal…not the medicinal smell of cooking meth...more Ben-Gayish.
#2 The Electrical System
As I am gasping over hardwood floors and original hardware on the doors, my husband is explaining that three prong outlets can indicate updated electrical components. Two prong outlets are a no-no. It’s something about knob and tube wiring and ground fault circuit interrupters. I wish I heard the rest, but I’m marveling at the six inch wood baseboards. He declares the electric system has been updated. I breathe a sigh of relief. I am now mentally measuring rooms to see if my furniture will fit in the cozy rooms.
#3 The Heating System
The kitchen is small and in desperate need of updating, but it has potential. While I am checking out the knobs on the cabinets and drawers, Bryan finds the heating system. It is an ugly, green monster of a relic, an old forced air furnace. Not the worst thing he could find, but it does need to be replaced...and it’s going to be costly. Older homes often have outdated heating systems. It can be anything from old boilers to radiant heaters. I start making the argument that a new furnace is a small price to pay to own such a unique and special home. I think he rolled his eyes at me. Strike one.
#4 The Plumbing System
The upper level has only one bathroom, and it is in good shape. The pedestal sink grabs my attention. Again, Bryan explains that plumbing in older homes can be an issue. He looks for obvious signs of water damage, but says an inspection needs to be done to know for sure what is going on under the house. Some older sewer lines were built with clay pipes and tree roots can wreak havoc on those old pipes. I am wondering how much a claw-foot bath tub would cost.
We make our way down to the basement. I love the rickety old stair case and how it wraps around and around. The basement certainly does not match the quaint charm of the upper level. It needs work, but nothing we couldn’t roll up our sleeves and accomplish together...as a family. I envision a family working hard together and room by room making this home dream worthy. It doesn’t really matter that in my dream, it is not my family. It is Ty Pennington and me working alone together. Besides needing carpet and paint, I think the basement has huge potential. That’s when Bryan starts walking back and forth across the family room. It’s not level. He peels back the carpet to reveal a crack running across the entire length of the room. My heart stops beating. I ask if this is a deal breaker or if it can be fixed. Older homes are at risk for shifting. Cracks in floors and walls can indicate foundation problems. Bryan calls it “concerning.” Strike Two.
I’ll admit it, the crack was a huge blow, but I vowed to find the positive aspects of the basement. I point out the several bedrooms and the additional bathroom. The problem is the bathroom is simply a toilet and a shower on a concrete floor with a massive drain. I point out the gorgeous aged cabinets and how much storage space they provide. I am grasping at straws here. I open the cabinets to find several stacked packages of Depends Adult Undergarments. The owners must have left them behind when they moved. That’s when I see the note:
Please use these undergarments to mop up the water when the basement floods. They are very absorbent and work much better than towels. Please use weekly.
Strike three. And with that note my dream died.
I may not have gotten the home of my dreams, but I did walk away with some valuable information. One lesson I learned was to not get attached to a property until a home inspection is completed. The biggest lesson I learned was that when looking at older homes it is best to bring your own Depends Adult Undergarments. You can use them to wipe up your own tears when your dream falls through the huge crack running through the basement floor.
By: Jill Aldridge
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