I’ve owned three primary residences and they were all built before 1940. The first home I bought in East Sac. was built in 1937; the second was in Midtown/Boulevard Park, built in 1905; the third in Curtis Park, built in 1924. Most people who seek out an older home may love the neighborhoods, or the charm, detail and craftsmanship an older home has to offer. However, when it comes to buying an older home there are certain things you may want to consider ahead of time.
Many love the idea of owning a home, but no one loves the maintenance. An older home may require a bit more maintenance, or as my current neighbor says, “You’ve gotta keep tuning them up!” Roofs, water heaters, and windows all need maintenance and potential replace, however, older homes can have larger structural issues in addition to all the normal items. Many home inspectors carry a marble in their tool kit to check if floors are level. Many older homes have settling foundations, giving way to wonky floors. I’ve been in some houses that make you dizzy. Some floors crown in the middle as a result of settling foundations, while others have a slope to the corners.
The marble trick works well to determine the level of a home. Also look for cracking tiles and sloping stair cases and door jambs. Many times it’s just part of the home’s charm, while other times it can mean major renovations are needed ( = $$$$). My Midtown home has a brick foundation which made me a bit nervous when I bought it. My father, who was a contractor said, “Well, it’s been here over 100 years… I don’t think it’s going anywhere.” While there have been no issues, advise: Find a contractor who specializes in foundations. I now know a few – call me if you need a recommendation.
There’s nothing quite like a “painted lady” or Queen Anne Victorian. While many would say these homes are worth every penny due to their beauty, beware of the costs to
maintain this charm. The exterior especially on this homes commands attention and tune up. Due to the intricate details, spindles, railing, gingerbread shingles, etc., regular painting in order to protect is a must. Without fresh paint, these homes just look tired and sad, many times costing tens of thousands of dollars in dry rot repair alone. Also, sometimes these require an artist’s touch to paint right – no spray job will do!
Recommendation: Get a paint bid ahead of time, so you know what you will be in for later. Also, always get a pest/termite inspection to determine the amount of dry rot and if there are pest that like to eat old wood.
These older homes have a unique look and quality that make them stand out. I personally love brick homes and almost bought one in McKinley Park, but backed out
when I found out that one of the archways was failing and would have cost upwards of $50K to fix. One upside of a brick home, only the trim needs painting and bricks don’t get termites!
Recommendation: Have a mason/brick specialist inspect the brick work before buying.
Old Home Plumbing
Over the decades plumbing has changed quite a bit. Fresh water pipes can be a concern, especially if you are seeing rust in the water – have the water tested or bank on replacing the pipes. Also a major concern is the sewer line – the larger pipe which all of the homes waste drains into. My oldest house originally had a cistern and a leach field (waste just flowing into the yard, percolating through the soil, and eventually composting) – the City of Sacramento didn’t have public plumbing in this suburbs back in the early 1900’s. How do I know this you ask? I had to replace this sewer line can saw that it ran through an old brick well-looking thing (uphill) for a few feet! This pipe was the classic clay, with bell connectors every 3-4 feet. This piping is notorious for root invasion through the joints, which is what happened to mine. These days most the sewer line pipes are ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene – I had to look it up) or PVC – strong, sturdy and hard to break. I believe that cast iron is still used at time, mainly in commercial applications. One of the worst pipes, used until the 1970’s,is called Orangeburg (fiber conduit), known for collapsing and letting in tree roots.
Recommendation: Have your sewer pipes inspected by a plumbing company, who will run a camera down the pipe and determine the health of your sewer line before you purchase a home. This small expense could save you thousands of dollars down the road. It’s an easy negotiation when you can show the seller a video of their pipes with tree roots and all.
On the up side, many older homes were built by artisans and master carpenters, who took their time, fit things together, and were proud of their trade. Much of the materials stand the test of time – we still have the original windows and hardwood floors! Also, the wood used in construction many times was old growth redwood – it’s so hard that termite don’t even bother. Many new homes today are built on the fly, using the cheapest materials, and slapped together by “schlocky butchers” (as my dad would say) – May be defined by the saying, “A little caulk and a little paint, makes a carpenter what he ain’t!”
I have a great home inspector that knows old homes – this is what you want, in addition to a great agent that can guide you through the pitfall and lead you to the promise land.
As I said, I love older homes and would love to assist/represent you on your next home purchase or sale.
Keith Klassen – Real Estate Broker – 916.595-7900
Specializing in Residential Sales and Property Management