So you think you might like to buy an old home? Perhaps even something old enough to be historic? It’s a good idea to carefully evaluate the pros and cons before you decide. There are plenty of both. Will the pros be valuable enough for you to be willing to cope with the cons? Where shall we start? With a cautionary tale, I think.
In 1972, my husband and I bought a house built in about 1825. We moved in on August 15th. My husband had an out of town business meeting and left about 5 AM the next day. (What makes him so smart?) About an hour later, I started downstairs and flipped the switch to turn on the chandelier in the downstairs hall. Boy did I get light. I started downstairs and flipped the switch to turn on the chandelier in the downstairs hall. Boy did I get light. There was a flash, and then what looked like lightening ran up the cord. I turned the switch off, but the fireworks continued. There was a flash, and then what looked like lightening ran up the cord. I turned the switch off, but the fireworks continued. I ran and yelled for our sons (10 and 11 years old at the time). We got out a door off another hall and ran to our next door neighbor’s house to call the fire department. (This is a very exciting way to meet one’s new neighbors.) The fire department was really fast and got to our home before we got back ourselves.
By the time my husband returned late that evening, we had been visited by not just the fire department, but also an electrician (old wiring needed to be reworked and a fuse box replaced with circuit breakers), a painter (to get a price on fixing water and fire damage), and a floor refinisher (same reason as the painter), and both our sons had been offered marijuana. (Did I mention that beautiful old houses are often located in intercity areas and sometimes the whole neighborhood has not yet been completely restored to its original state of gentility?) We were asking ourselves, “What have we done?”
Well, we had the wiring fixed, put off having the floors worked on and did the painting ourselves. We also paid tuition and fees to keep the boys in their old school district.
You have to be flexible to happily live in an old house. Nothing is a standard size. Right angles are purely coincidental. (The water damage mentioned above had showed us that the floor on the outside edge of the front hall is about six inches higher than floor on the far side of the living room.) Go to Lowes or Home Depot to buy a standard replacement this or that? Forget it. You’re probably going to have to fabricate it yourself or have it done. You need to either have a large home maintenance budget, be prepared to invest a lot of “sweat equity” or both.
Our house is real wood, not vinyl, and the roof is standing seam tin the original roof. That, of course, means there is a lot of surface to paint, and, since the house is two stories and has high ceilings, some of the surfaces are pretty high. (Did I mention that my husband has fallen off the roof twice?) We’re in the process of having our home painted (not a do it yourself project this time) yet again. The bids we got ranged from $15,000 to $20,000. (Did I mention you need a larger maintenance budget with an old house?)
Whew! I think the cons are clear, don’t you? Owning an old home is wonderful. Just make sure you understand what you are getting into.