Be Aware of These Things When Buying an Older Home

Real Estate Broker/Owner with SD Home Source Realty BRE #01363537

Anyone San Diego home buyer who has viewed homes in Mission Hills, Bay Park, Talmadge or Kensington is thinking of buying an older home.

But, are these older homes good buys? Considering that most of a home's components deteriorate with age, you may be not only buying a vintage home, but vintage problems as well.

Here's a quick look at some of the more common problems with older homes.


It would seem that an old house has done all the settling it's going to do, right? Wrong. The rate at which the house settles diminishes over time, but it never completely stops – especially if the house has never been "piered."

Piers are long steel shafts that are driven through the soil and into the bedrock below. This process takes the weight of the home off unstable soil, and the home is less prone to settlement. It's a big job, though, and quite pricey.

Look for cracks in the walls, bulging floors and doors that won't close. These are all signs of possible foundation damage. Not all cracks, however, indicate a problem, so don't be alarmed – let a professional diagnose the situation.

Take a 4-foot bubble level with you when you visit an older home you're interested in purchasing. Use the level to check the floors and walls. If any of them are out of level, have the house checked by a structural engineer.

Electrical System

A home's electrical wiring system has a life expectancy of about 40 years.  Safety risks increase when the system ages beyond this limit.

If the home was built between 1920 and 1950 and has never been remodeled, it may still have knob-and-tube wiring, which is considered incapable of handling today's electrical loads.

Some home insurers won't cover a home with this type of wiring and will insist that it is replaced before insuring the home.

Your home inspector should be able to determine what type of wiring the home contains and its condition, at least in visible areas.


Old houses typically have old pipes. If the house you have your eye on was built before 1960, the pipes may be made of steel or cast-iron. These materials corrode, decay and rust over time. Cast iron pipes are notorious for becoming clogged with mineral build up.

Determining the type of pipes in the home is challenging because so much of the system is behind walls. A plumbing contractor inspection is your best bet, and even then you may not learn about all of the pipes in the house.

"Replacing old pipes in a 1,500-square foot, two-bathroom home costs $4,000 to $10,000, and requires cutting open walls and floors," claims Joe Bousquin at HouseLogic.


The last thing most homebuyers look at when they drive up to a home for sale is the roof. It's easy to be distracted by charming landscaping and attractive paint colors, but it's imperative that you take a good, long look at the home's roof.

Sagging is a sign that a roof is holding too much weight. This can happen when new roofing is installed over old roofing or from prolonged contact with a significant layer of snow.

If you know you'll be looking at older homes, take along a pair of binoculars. Before entering the home, look at the roof from the curb and determine whether the chimney and rooflines are straight.

Next, check the shingles. If they aren't flat and instead curled or cupped, they may need to be replaced.

Ask the homeowner the age of the roof. Although the lifespan of a roof depends on several factors, if it is wood, tile or asbestos and over 15 years old, you may need to replace it in a few years.

Since a new roof may cost upwards of $8,000, it's important to have the home's roof inspected before obligating yourself to purchase the home.

While it's highly doubtful that a home built in the mid-1800s still retains original components, you'll need to inquire as to the last time these elements were replaced.

Other problems you may find in an older home include:

  • Lack of storage
  • Lack of natural light
  • Inadequate insulation (thus higher heating and cooling costs)
  • Small kitchen

While all of these items can be rectified, the cost to do so should be factored into the price of the home.

Many San Diego home buyers love the charm and character of the older neighborhoods. But few things last forever, and a home inspection, as well as using the appropriate contractors, is a must when considering the purchase of an older home.

Comments (7)

Troy Erickson AZ Realtor (602) 295-6807
Good Company Real Estate - Chandler, AZ
Your Chandler, Ahwatukee, and East Valley Realtor

Cindy - The older the home, the more potential issues there may be with all of the things you mentioned. It just comes with the territory.

Jul 01, 2015 08:18 AM
Winston Heverly
Winston Realty, Inc. - Atlantis, FL

I enjoyed your read tonight, and thought it had great points to share with the readers.

Jul 01, 2015 01:58 PM
Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Good morning Cindy. I live in an older home and get this. Well done but PLEASE make the font bigger so it is easier to read.

Jul 01, 2015 08:38 PM
Joe Petrowsky
Mortgage Consultant, Right Trac Financial Group, Inc. NMLS # 2709 - Manchester, CT
Your Mortgage Consultant for Life

Good morning Cindy. New England has lots of older home, any present real challenges when it comes to inspections, but just part of the charm.

Jul 05, 2015 12:56 AM
Joan Cox
House to Home, Inc. - Denver Real Estate - 720-231-6373 - Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate - Selling One Home at a Time

Cindy, great list of pitfalls buyers could find in an older home.   My buyers found the sewer line cracked in two places as well.

Jul 06, 2015 12:51 AM
John Meussner
Mason-McDuffie Mortgage, Conventional Loans, Jumbo Loans, FHA, 203(k), USDA, VA, - Walnut Creek, CA
#MortgageMadeEasy Walnut Creek, CA 484-680-4852

An old home can have a lot of charm, as well as a lot of problems.  You make some great points that home buyers need to be aware of here.

Jul 08, 2015 08:35 AM
Larry Johnston
Broker, Friends & Neighbors Real Estate and Elkhart County Subdivisions, LLC - Elkhart, IN
Broker,Friends & Neighbors Real Estate, Elkhart,IN

Hi Cindy Davis ,  Great information for those TV watchers, ready to buy an old home and flip it for big profits. (So they think!)

Jul 29, 2015 10:47 AM

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