We purchased an old house once, ONCE!
Actually, we still live in an older home, built in the 80’s. So, when people question what type of home is the better investment, new or old, several factors come into play. Plus, our history of home ownership somewhat bucks the seemingly natural progression of buying an older home first, fix it up, sell, then buy an old home, renovate, sell, then build a brand new home.
We progressed from building a brand new semi-detached, followed by a brand new home a few years later, to buying a century old farm house, then moving into our existing, simply older home of today.
After 30 years of living in various new, old, and very old structures, what single distinguishing home feature separates the then and now of home building? The use of the basement.
Our first two homes were new, with finished basements. Our last two homes were old, where in the century home we were faced with a dungeon, essentially unsuitable for modern human life, whereby a basement renovation would have cost more than the price of the home. Our existing basement space is typical of most homes built in that era. That being a generally low ceiling, unfriendly placement of duct work (requiring anybody over 5’8” to duck every five steps) and the occasional puddle of water on the floor. So, other than being a relatively good venue for youngsters to hone their wrist and slap shot skills, the 30-year-old basement can be a risky investment living space wise. Risky, but not impossible.
The advantage new homes have is that the basement walls have not only been sealed with foundation tar, but they’ve been subsequently covered with either a plastic dimpled membrane, or water sheading type of fiber matting. Plus, the weeping tile systems are perfectly clean, effectively diverting water into a sump base, or sewer system.
In the olden days, concrete basement walls were simply tarred, with sediment and soil settlement certainly having somewhat compromised the weeping tiles effectiveness by now. When the homes defensive system breaks down, water gets in.
So, what do you do if this great older home comes for sale, but you really need the space provided by a finished basement? Well, you either walk away, or forget putting money into the more fun, kitchen and bathroom areas for now, and call in the backhoe. Only by excavating around the foundation, installing a new impermeable membrane, and new weeping tile drain, can you really be guaranteed a dry space for the next 20 years.
Although never chosen for their basement advantages, older homes are often attractive due to their uniqueness, reasonable price, but most often, location. Location is huge, whereby the best strategy asset wise, is usually to buy the worst home on the best street. Therefore, if this old house is livable by your standards, then every penny you put into it should increase its value, and be recuperated if you decide to sell years later.
What can you expect to replace or repair in an older home? Well, if history, or our experience, is any indication of what is, most homes for sale are at the end of their work cycle. In other words, we haven’t met a homeowner yet who chose to update their furnace, re-shingle the roof, or renovate the kitchen and bathroom areas, before putting their house on the market. It’s been more of a take it as is, sure we’ve just given the place a coat of paint, but basically that’s the price, and if anything should break or go wrong, may the strength of your faith pull you through.
Best bet, have an accredited home inspector, or home builder friend, take a walk through this older home with you. They’ll have the experience to ignore the staged bowl of fruit and fresh flowers on the counter, and get right to checking the age of mechanical systems, roofing, windows, and the general integrity of the homes envelope.