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Character yes, termites no: weighing a vintage home purchase


There’s no doubt about it: Vintage homes built by old-time craftsmen often offer charm, detail and general quirkiness that newer homes just can’t match.

In a National Association of Realtors report this year, nearly one-fifth of the 84 percent of home buyers who opted for pre-owned houses said they preferred older homes for their “charm and character.” And vintage in general is in right now; a recent Google report points to a trend among home buyers to search online for vintage and antique furnishings.

That’s all great as long as buyers of older homes can see past their aesthetic beauty to realistically assess any necessary upgrades.

“While being the proud owner of a literally one-of-a-kind home is alluring, you may run into unexpected complications when purchasing vintage houses,” cautions Deena Weinberg on Realtor.com. “Older properties may have serious structural problems you wouldn’t encounter in a new house, as well as hidden problems which will only surface later.”

Plenty of buyers are willing to spring for updates to historic homes to avoid more cookie-cutter options. Still, you might consider the following before buying vintage:

  • If the home is on the National Register of Historical Places (or identified as significant by your local historic board), certain renovations may be illegal. That said, related tax credits or low-interest loans may be available.
  • Invest in a formal home inspection by a structural engineer or older home specialist who can objectively assess its needs.
  • Secure price estimates from contractors on any needed repairs. Structural work may be prohibitively expensive no matter how enchanting the home.
  • Ensure the house meets safety and health regulations, particularly those related to asbestos and lead-based paint.
  • Be especially leery of former remodeling efforts that may be covering up significant issues.
  • Old-fashioned windows, shutters and roofs can be far from energy efficient, and older cooling and heating systems may be sub-par as well. Ask to see utility bills.
  • A leaky basement can be costly to remedy and may be a deal breaker.
  • Does the house lack multiple electrical outlets, an attached garage, closets and/or storage space? Could that be problematic?
  • Other red flags might include crumbling foundations; shoddy wiring and/or breaker boxes that may constitute a fire risk; sagging floor joists and support beams; outmoded and/or hidden plumbing; a lack of sufficient insulation; water or termite damage; outdated septic systems and/or missing load-bearing walls. One online source even found a live gas line left over from the gaslight era.

Still not daunted? Then move forward on your purchase with full confidence. After all, lovers of old-time craftsmanship argue that newer homes are sometimes less durable than older ones because of today’s different building standards.

Coldwell Banker Hedges Realty can help you find a new or vintage home.

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