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What to Assess and Address When Considering an Older Home

old chair in a historic house

Demand for new U.S. homes has been uneven throughout 2014, in part because many shoppers have displayed an affinity for older, often more historic homes.

Commerce Department data compiled through the first two quarters of the year noted sales of new single-family homes were down significantly from the same time a year earlier, with new properties now accounting for only about 10 percent of all sales activity so far this year. While those figures are partially due to a slow sales year overall, which began with a weather-ridden first quarter that hindered everything from job growth to consumer activity, it's also true that buyers' tastes appear to be shifting.

As a U.S. News & World Report piece detailed, much of the buyer activity has been increasingly focused on older homes. House hunters are interested in historical charm and homes with proven track records, whether in terms of the neighborhood or the core functions of the property itself. In essence, an older home is an older home at this point whether it was originally constructed 200 years ago or 20 years ago. Properties built outside of the past quarter-century are less likely to feature eco-friendly amenities or updated appliances unless they've been installed by the previous owners. Those factors, among others, should be accounted for when prospective buyers are weighing their options.

Is This House Bug Infested?

A frequently cited, unfortunate risk associated with older homes is infestations. Because many 20th century structures feature older—and frequently weaker - wood, flooring and wallpaper, termites and other pests can capitalize on the vulnerabilities and cause further damage. Termites, especially, like to take advantage of soft wood, and in doing so can cause leaks or create structural weaknesses. Whether such issues are evident or not, it's essential for buyers to invest in a thorough home inspection that looks into the possibility of infestations. If a home is being attacked from the inside, it will need to be treated and factored into the overall cost of ownership.

Paint Possibilities

Lead paint was banned in 1978, but homes built prior to then may still contain the harmful substance. It can be detected by professional inspectors or through the use of a lead paint detection kit, which typically won't cost more than $100. If discovered, lead paint needs to be efficiently addressed—a process that could entail hiring a crew that specializes in removal projects. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates such projects cost an average of $10,000—so establishing with certainty the existence of the substance is crucial.

Core Structural Issues

The heating and air conditioning systems of older homes are frequently outdated. This doesn't make them inoperable - more likely they're just inefficient—but it's worth considering how much they might cost you during the winter and summer. In a similar vein, ensuring that insulation within a home is sound and secure will minimize the chances that air escapes from the home and forces the systems to work harder while heating or cooling the house. Other structural components, such as the windows, siding and base of the home, need to be thoroughly examined by inspectors before committing to the purchase of an older home. There are cosmetic fixes, which can be worked around, and there are core structural concerns that must be addressed.  Understanding the difference between the two and assuring that the latter are properly assessed and addressed can go a long way in purchasing a home that costs extra, versus embarking on a sound investment.

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