Author Topic: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb  (Read 12103 times)

jennifers

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I found what seems to be a good house for me, but it was built in the 1920's. My parents think I should look for something built in the 1950s or newer, but they don't seem to have a good argument for this.

It looks like it's all been updated fairly recently.
New roof, siding, windows: 2003
New furnace, water heater: 2013
Central air added: June 2017
Remodeled kitchen/bathroom 2013.

Here are some of my concerns:
The house is 1000 square feet and has 3 bedrooms.  The three bedrooms are upstairs and they're all very small: 6x11, 7x9, 9x9. This works okay for
me but I'm worried I'll have trouble selling the house in the future. I'm a single female and I'm hoping to have at least 1 foster child in the home with me sometimes.  Because of how the house is built there isn't a way to combine these rooms into anything bigger.  I've looked up the average energy usage for the house and heat was about $100 a month in the winter which isn't bad for Wisconsin. 

Lead paint: The house has been recently painted so I doubt this will be a problem indoors. I was reading that there can be lead in the soil around the home. I'd like to have a garden. Is this something I can get tested before making an offer or maybe add an escape clause to the offer? 

Electrical system: I need to know that this is completely upgraded right?

Plumbing: ????  Check if this is upgraded?


The house is in a good location, has a small fenced in backyard for my dogs (one of my main requirements is a yard), and looks great. It's also within my price range so I'll have extra cash for any needed repairs.
The house is really charming and cute and I'm worried that I'm getting too emotionally attached to make a rational decision.

Any arguments for or against buying such an old house?
Is there anything else I should be asking about other than the items above?


Heroes821

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2017, 06:45:23 AM »
My brother almost bought a house from the 1880s and generally if the house has been occupied it's probably up to date on things like plumbing and electrical, but you definitely want to make sure none of the electric is aluminum. Plumbing should be easy to find out.  I'm guessing that being that old it should have a fireplace built in some way that can heat most of the house, which could be why the heating is low in the winter.

Personally, I have no problem with bedrooms that small, my first house was like that. My wife on the other hand thinks it's too small.  For Mustachians we shouldn't need big rooms to hold all our junk. 

You might want to chat with your insurance provider to see if there are any things they worry about in older houses that could raise your insurance.

Jon Bon

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2017, 07:06:18 AM »
Hire an inspector or better yet offer to pay a general contractor for a "consult" and go through the house with him.

There are many things that it sounds like you have read to much about the dangers of! Think of it this way, there are MILLIONS of houses built in the time frame you are looking at. Do they regularly kill their owners? No? You are probably safe!!

To me it looks like a lot of the big ticket items have been covered, so I would not expect too many surprises. I'd be concerned with the structure of the house (look for cracks in the basement) as well as for termites. From the list below it sounds like someone has been taking good care of it for the past 15 years, this is a good start.

You might want to post on DIY section, those guys/gals are pretty awesome.



Here are some of my concerns:
The house is 1000 square feet and has 3 bedrooms.  The three bedrooms are upstairs and they're all very small: 6x11, 7x9, 9x9. This works okay for
me but I'm worried I'll have trouble selling the house in the future. I'm a single female and I'm hoping to have at least 1 foster child in the home with me sometimes.  Because of how the house is built there isn't a way to combine these rooms into anything bigger.  I've looked up the average energy usage for the house and heat was about $100 a month in the winter which isn't bad for Wisconsin. 
It only takes 1 buyer, if you are willing to buy this house, someone else probably is too

Lead paint: The house has been recently painted so I doubt this will be a problem indoors. I was reading that there can be lead in the soil around the home. I'd like to have a garden. Is this something I can get tested before making an offer or maybe add an escape clause to the offer? 
This is a big "fear factor" item. Again look how many houses probably have lead paint. If its been painted over in the past 40 years you are probably going to be in good shape. Full disclosure, my house has lead paint and I am always doing projects creating messes. I freaked out over this and had my son who puts everything in his mouth tested. He was off the charts low. "Lead Paint" is a spectrum. Sure 1PPB might classify as lead paint, but you could probably eat it all day and be fine. Educate yourself a little about the toxicity levels here.

*I am not a medical professional*


Electrical system: I need to know that this is completely upgraded right?
This is a bold statement, no way to know, odds are its HAS been upgraded on some level. Knob and tube is to be avoided if possible. K&T on outlets if not ideal, on lights its less of a concern.

Plumbing: ????  Check if this is upgraded?
Again need more info, original plumbing could be nearing the end of its life, but depending on like 1 million factors it might have 50 years left. Waste plumbing and supply plumbing are different items that have different useful lives.


The house is in a good location, has a small fenced in backyard for my dogs (one of my main requirements is a yard), and looks great. It's also within my price range so I'll have extra cash for any needed repairs.
The house is really charming and cute and I'm worried that I'm getting too emotionally attached to make a rational decision.

Any arguments for or against buying such an old house?
Is there anything else I should be asking about other than the items above?

BeanCounter

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2017, 07:26:53 AM »
I wouldn't worry at all about the small bedrooms or lead point for the reasons others have pointed out.
I would have a good look at the foundation and see if there are any signs of leaking when it rains.

If I were buying an older home again the one thing we said we would pay for during the inspection period is to have the main plumbing line scoped with a camera. This will tell you what kind of pipes you are dealing with and if there is any issues that need looked at. A crumbling main line can be a $4,000 fix. Better to spend the $150 to have a plumber camera it and know what's under there.

zinnie

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2017, 07:50:27 AM »
1920s house owner here. Obviously have a good inspection and know that plumbing/electrical will need to be updated if not already done, but beside that nothing else on your list would concern me. And if it charmed you it will likely charm a future buyer as well!

lizzzi

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2017, 08:01:02 AM »
My three grandchildren were raised in a house built in 1924 from birth until the ages of 5,4,2. (Pittsburgh, PA.)The two oldest had gone to daily childcare centers. The youngest was able to stay home with Mom as she quit her job and became a SAHM. He was checked out thoroughly after failure to gain weight. You guessed it--lead poisoning. They don't know how he got it--he wasn't eating the paint or anything like that, and in fact, the place had been painted over with lead-free paint in later years. There was a big involvement by the health dept., etc. etc. (This was a very nice house in a good neighborhood, btw.) DD and s-i-l spent a lot of money on re-painting the interior, but also had to hire a contractor to scrape away lead-infused soil in the yard. Expensive and very puzzling--they think it did not effect the two older kids because they spent so much time out of the house. The "little guy" is still on the small size of normal to this day. Scary stuff.

After that, I had my house in another state (New York)  tested for lead because it was built in 1938 and the grandchildren visited there. Sure enough, lead levels were high enough to need remediation before I could sell the house. Pain in the neck and expensive, but you do what you gotta do.

gardeningandgreen

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #6 on: July 05, 2017, 08:16:17 AM »
As someone who is currently fully remodeling a house that records state was built in 1921 but likely built in the late 1800's sometime. I would buy it! If it is charming and a good fit for you. One great benefit especially to mustacians is that old houses tend to be small and built well for the climate they are in. Minus the fact that insulation might have been non existent. Since the house had low heating costs that is a good indication that the house has been insulated well and most likely that also means that the electrical has been updated fairly recently. I live in northern Minnesota and our heating costs for a 1100 sf house was around $200 a month last year. This is why we are remodeling our house and are putting in insulation! Most of the house had very little or no insulation. If you want to have an edible garden near the house I would have it tested for lead but most plants wont pull that much out of the dirt to be too much of a worry. Good luck! I hope the house is wonderful! Old houses can be amazing! There is a reason they have lasted for so long!

Dee18

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2017, 08:50:06 AM »
Laughing here!  I am moving out of my 1920s house tomorrow.  I bought it 9 years ago.  I am so, so very happy to be leaving this adorable craftsman home! I learned a lot of DIY, but all its problems took a lot of time and money.  It was exhausting and took time away from other things.  I had a reputable home inspection company......but be aware they evaluate a house in part based on its age.  Do not assume ( as someone advised) that because it has been occupied it is okay.  Things to look for:  any evidence of mice...they love living in old plaster walls.  Check attic carefully for signs of other animals, squirrels?  Roof rats?  Was the duct work replaced when ac was installed?  Years ago they insulated ductwork with carpet like lining....that degrades over time.  Cost to replace: $6,000.  Depending on the weather and the roofing that was used, it might need a new roof soon.  Have the sewer line scoped.  Cost to replaced crumbled sewer line under cement basement: $10,000.  Electrical:  how much of it is up to code?  Have a thorough termite inspection.  Look for evidence of any water leaks under bathrooms.   Low utility bills can mean someone kept the house at odd temps; it doesn't necessarily mean it's well insulated.  Talk to some neighbors...what did they hear about the house over the years?  Have your realtor ask questions of the owners. Take a marble to the house...does it roll downhill in every room? Was the bath properly remodeled?  Mine had pipes improperly installed during the remodel....looked great, but had to be redone.

Good luck! 

Meowmalade

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2017, 08:54:43 AM »
We have a home from 1926 and love it!  When we moved in, the previous owners had been here for 30+ years and the house needed updating.  The plumbing was original so we had to replace that, and for electrical we replaced the knob and tube in the attic (when then allowed us to insulate that space).  My electrician (who does a lot of work on old homes) said that knob and tube in the walls is fine if no one disturbs it.  If it's had substantial remodeling done, hopefully those things have already been addressed by previous owners.

Also, just a general homebuying piece of advice, get a sewer scope to make sure that the sewer line hasn't been infiltrated by tree roots.  I think ours cost $150 and we got a $4k sewer liner installed by the previous owners.  It's not part of a normal inspection.

Our house is solid.  There were crazy wind storms a couple of months ago and our friends with a fairly new house said they were afraid that it was going to fall down, but ours didn't make a peep.  Also, I wouldn't worry about resale-- someone else will also see the charm down the line!

lizzzi

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #9 on: July 05, 2017, 09:38:46 AM »
The OP had mentioned plans for a foster child or two. I would guess there will be a pretty close screening of the environment in terms of health and safety.

jennifers

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #10 on: July 05, 2017, 09:45:54 AM »
Thanks for the great advice so far everyone.  Any foster children would be 10 years and older so I'm thinking the lead wouldn't be an issue. I'll check with the agency just to be sure.

 

sokoloff

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #11 on: July 05, 2017, 10:07:36 AM »
Our home was built in the mid-1920s and we love it. The only significant downside for us has been that the house was built without meaningful insulation, so our heating bills are a bit high. (It's structural brick, so the cooling in the summer isn't as much of an issue as the brick mass helps modulate the temp swings during the day, but in the winter when it's cold 24 hours a day, it's more of a concern.)

Hire a house inspector, not one recommended by the realtors involved and have a look around with them. (Yes, take time off work and poke around with the inspector. Don't just read the report afterwards.)

Car Jack

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #12 on: July 05, 2017, 10:24:49 AM »
Asbestos.  We have an aunt with a house built in 1890 where one pipe from the furnace is insulated with the stuff.  Estimate to remove: $1500.  It's also possible that exterior shingles can be made from asbestos, but if not drilled into will not cause a problem.  This tends to be a 60's thing but if the exterior was updated, check it out.
Lead: Yes, test for it.  If it's there, you want it gone.  Both inside and outside.
Knob and Tube wiring:  Our aunt's house also used to be powered with K & T wiring.  Even though it was disconnected, the insurance company would not write homeowner's insurance until an electrician certified that no K & T was live anywhere in the house.

BrandNewPapa

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #13 on: July 05, 2017, 10:52:11 AM »
Make sure to get the electrical thoroughly checked out for aluminum or "knob and tube". Not a deal breaker, but expensive to fix so you can negotiate the price. Be careful here, as some cheap flippers and/or contractors have been known to hide knob and tube in the wires and tap off it to make it look legit at the outlet.

Get the plumbing checked as well. Older houses may have lead pipes that need to be torn out and replaced. Again, not a deal breaker but a negotiating point.

Jon Bon

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #14 on: July 05, 2017, 11:04:36 AM »
Ok sure, we can all over anecdotal evidence on why XYZ type of house is dangerous and in need of major repairs. . Yes sometimes old houses need expensive repairs. But does not every house need an expensive repair on a long enough time line?

I honestly would say the OP needs to get off these forms or else they will NEVER buy a house. All houses have warts.

Oh and this.

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/06/07/safety-is-an-expensive-illusion/

Maybe it would help if the OP sent some more information? Perhaps pictures from the listing (not the actual listing)? I would not want to give out my address to internet strangers either.

Papa bear

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #15 on: July 05, 2017, 12:35:22 PM »
I have multiple houses from 1920 and earlier.   There will be lead in the house or on the property.   I was listening to an NPR segment on lead paint in Philadelphia with some concerned parents.   The city health inspector (a pediatrician I believe) was making points as well on mitigating lead exposure.   All studies have pointed to lead paint as the culprit.  He also said, every single neighborhood in Philly would have elevated lead levels in the soil.   Lead paint will have chipped/dusted/deteriorated over time into the land.   There really isn't anything you can do about this unless you want to haul away your yard and bring in fancy virgin soil.  Basically all told, lead risk was very low as long as your old lead paint was encapsulated, you clean your house, and you try to keep your kids from eating paint chips. 

If you are concerned at all about the recent remodels on the property, find out who did the work or if it was permitted.   That could give you a good idea on how well the rehab was done. 

Plumbing: cast iron waste lines will probably need to be replaced at some point.   You're hitting your useful life on that.   Copper supply lines will be good, but you may run into issues if its galvanized steel supply.  That will be reaching a useful life end. 

Electrical: I am usually not concerned about some K&T in a house as long as it hasn't been added on to or spliced for other projects.   I would want to see an updated electric panel (with breakers, not fuses) with romex wiring throughout the basement.  I would look for ungrounded outlets either through a visual inspection or with one of those fun electric outlet testers. 

I would look for water issues - do you have rotting fascia and soffits?  rotting wood elsewhere?  Where is that coming from and how do you fix it?  Check for structural issues - do you have any cracked or bowed walls?  How bad do the floors slope?  Do you have cracked tile or grout lines in bathrooms or kitchens that were recently rehabbed?

In general, old houses are great and just based on survivorship bias if still standing, were built well.   Some have some deferred maintenance that will need to be addressed, as could newer houses.  There really isn't anything that can't be fixed at some point down the road.   Have a good inspection and make sure they hit some of the big points.

jmecklenborg

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #16 on: July 05, 2017, 12:49:57 PM »
My house was built in 1914. 

Knob & tube wiring precludes insulating the attic.  Rewiring just the upstairs of the house will cost about $5,000, however you definitely do not want to live in a house without attic insulation. 

Knob & tube is easy to spot.  If you take a ladder and flashlight to the house you will be able to see it (and the lack of insulation) through the attic hatch. 



jennifers

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #17 on: July 06, 2017, 08:14:05 AM »
I just put in an offer on the house!! Thanks everyone.

Moving on up from a 500 square foot condo to a 1000 square foot house (hopefully)!

zinnie

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #18 on: July 06, 2017, 08:31:10 AM »
Exciting! Good luck :)

jennifers

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #19 on: July 06, 2017, 09:52:41 AM »
My dad is acting like the world is going to end because there's no service door to the garage and no electric garage door opener. LOL

Help I can't get out of my clown car to open a door! hahah.


Heroes821

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #20 on: July 06, 2017, 10:03:44 AM »
My dad is acting like the world is going to end because there's no service door to the garage and no electric garage door opener. LOL

Help I can't get out of my clown car to open a door! hahah.

While I can agree to not needing a garage door opener, a man door to the garage is super useful depending on budget and DIY skills, probably worth adding if yours lacks it.

Cassie

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #21 on: July 06, 2017, 02:24:49 PM »
I lived in WI for years and never even had a garage. Many older homes there just don't have them so at least you have one:))

Meowmalade

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #22 on: July 06, 2017, 02:47:54 PM »
You also don't need to keep your car in the garage  :)  Our garage is narrow and tiny, and we just use it to store our trash bins and such.  It also doesn't have a garage-door opener.  Someday when it stops working, I will get one and it will be such a luxury!

rachael talcott

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #23 on: July 08, 2017, 05:35:10 PM »
I once live in (and loved) a house built in 1940 with old knob-and-tube wiring that had been replaced.  Except not all of it in the basement was removed and some of the old stuff caught fire and burned the house down.  So check carefully. Aluminum wiring is highly unlikely to be a concern with a house of that age.  I buy a lot of old houses (although not quite that old) and the most common problem is drain lines.  I remove garbage disposals because the plumbing just can't take the gunk without clogging.  And you might want to buy your own professional drain snake.  It will pay for itself with one use.

Rural

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #24 on: July 09, 2017, 06:41:27 AM »
If there is knob and tube, be sure to check that you'll be able to insure. We were unable to get home insurance at any price on an 1880s house with some remnants of K & T and a tin roof and so had to cancel a contract during the inspection period. Both the wiring and the roof were factors in the insurance denial (and I think the concern over a tin roof was stupid, but I called about a dozen insurers including the state high-risk pool and they all agreed for whatever reason).

JLR

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #25 on: July 15, 2017, 06:29:48 PM »
I really miss our 1920s bungalow.

While we were there we had the old wiring replaced and had a new board put in. Cost a few thousand $$$s, but they did the work in one day, so no big disruption.

We had one water pipe start leaking in the backyard. My husband tried to DIY finding it. Ended up digging a huge pit, but couldn't find it. Called a plumber and he found it on his 3rd small spade full of dirt. LOL. Wasn't difficult to get fixed.

It was a double brick house with plaster on the inside. It had a lot of cracks in the plaster from movement over time, but we mostly DIY'd that. Had lots of fun working on it.

We had a hail storm come through while we were there and insurance covered the cost of replacing the tin roof. It probably would have lasted quite a few years otherwise.

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #26 on: July 15, 2017, 06:43:55 PM »
Re: foster care.  It will surprise you how un-thorough they are.  If the home appears nice and neatly kept and your electrical, water, and fridge work, then you're all set.  We adopted our oldest as a teen but we're rated for newborn-17.  They will give you a checklist.  Follow it.  Easy as that to pass regardless of age of home.  New house/old house doesn't matter- you fail if there is no running water and the lights aren't on.  And vice versa you pass if the criteria is met even if their might be lead hidden in your paint.  The

dpfromva

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Re: Buying an old house built in the 1920s - help me not be dumb
« Reply #27 on: July 19, 2017, 03:22:10 PM »
I bought a 1920 row house, it's been a education. (Portland cement content in brick wall mortar -- it's important!) What I did was hire an experienced local contractor to come look at several houses with me before making an offer. Good advice at much less than inspection fee BEFORE I got into a contract situation. Well worth it.