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A house built in 1900. Is it a money pit house?

I found a house that I like very much however, it is old (built in 1900). Is it a bad idea to buy a house this old? what should I check in the house to make sure things are OK. What kind of upgrades need to be done? will the cost for upgrades be too high?
  • November 03 2009 - US
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Answers (8)

Here's a few things you need I'd suggest, that need to be found out before you now if it's a money pit:

1st, what have the homes in the immediate .7 mile radius around this one selling for in the past 3-6 months, which are comparable in the square footage(+/-200 sq feet), beds/baths, acreage, and early 1900s builds?  You want to find out what features these homes had, which were in the condition that you'd like to have done to your subject property; did they keep the original(or add) hardwood floors throughout, or granite counters... are you going to need to open the floorplan flow, when you compared with the other recent sales.  That should give you an idea on your current exit price. 
Keep in mind that supply/demand are influenced by interest rates, not in time.  Meaning, just because you are planning to hold the home for 2,3, etc years, doesn't automatically assume prices to rise each year.  If you don't already have a knowledgeable agent in that area, then call a few brokerages and ask for the broker directly; then share with the Broker that you'd like to work with one of the agents there who has the most transactions closed the past 12 months.  That person they assign should be knowledgeable for you to pull accurate market research here.

Once you have the top/median exit resale amount, I'd drop that figure by around $10k to be conservative.  It may be a good idea to get the home under contract, and do the next steps throughout your due diligence period(so no one else gets the home under contract, while you're doing these repair figures).  Next is getting with your agent, and seeing if they can refer some top builders, or contractors for all of your repair work estimates.  Also at this time, whatever you need estimates on needs to be accounted for; and that's including commissions and closing costs for when you resale the property.  While in your inspection due diligence period, have a reputable home inspector to inspect the property; they get paid to deliver you a book of repairs needed, which the untrained eye would miss.  Add up all of these figures for repairs and cosmetics needed, to be in line with your renovated historic homes which have previously sold.  If you make a profit, or break even(depending on your exit goals) on the numbers once you've done all of this work, then you're probably on the right track. 

It's all about the numbers!  Good luck!
  • December 06
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Profile picture for sunnyview
"We updated and remodeled thru the years, and it has been the best home we have ever owned."

I love old houses too so it is nice to read a reply from others who agree. There is such a big difference in the bones of old houses vs new. Mew looks shiny for a few years, but the wood and materials are often not very durable. Many are built to be out of sight, out of mind with the wood, siding and systems chosen to be the lowest cost options for the builder.
  • December 06
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I have a home built in 1900. the plumbing and electrical was updated by previous owner. My house is a 2 course true brick house. We upgraded the steam boiler and didn't take out the radiators, as it is the best way to heat the house. We updated and remodeled thru the years, and it has been the best home we have ever owned. I will never own a newer constructed home again, ever...
  • December 06
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Profile picture for alabanza2011
I find old 1900 homes in much better quality in wood than then newer homes. We purchased a 1903 American Square Home cheap, $12,000 and we guttered her out, the inspectors saw how great the wood quality, we took out all the old wiring and updated, plumbing, took out the radiadors and installed furnace, etc, etc,.Inspectors came again to see before we put up the walls, and again when we finished for the final inspection, they loved it.

  If you like working in construction, heating and cooling, plumbing, you can make the home you desire your way, knowing that it will be built without cutting corners. The new homes, you get what you see and from a few friends, one of their complaints is, their house is cold.   Plus, any old home if you're lucky will have the original wooden floors and stairways if it has a 2nd floor, love my home.  Took us a few years to finish, but all well worth it.
  • March 10
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Pasadenan and Sunnyview raise good points, but the fact of the matter is that every house should be inspected by competent professionals and their opinion should take precedence over ours.
  • November 03 2009
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Sunnyview and Pasadenan, thank you for replying.
  • November 03 2009
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Profile picture for blue screen exile
A house built in 2009 could be a money pit.

A house built in 1900 usually has much higher quality materials that will last much longer.  But all wood requires periodic painting or oiling or something, and all piping requires periodic cleaning, inspection, and replacement, and all wire insulation eventually requires replacement, and all receptacle contacts eventually lose their spring, and all switches and breakers eventually have worn contacts or bad springs...

Replacing things a little at a time as they age is no big deal and is part of maintenance of any structure or ownership item.  deferred maintenance can cause big problems, but you should see that easily.

As suggested, the first thing you want to inspect is the integrity of the concrete foundation.  If the concrete is crumbling, or if it is on brick, or on river-rock..., you may need to lift the house to replace the foundation.  This still could be very cost effective and provide a better return on investment than buying a 2000 "cracker box", but you need to know your market, the cost of the work, and the present condition.

Not all houses built in the 1900's are equal.  The size of the floor joists and girders should give you some clue.

And remember, some of these were "kit" houses that you ordered out of the Sears catalog.  You won't find that kind of detail with "real lumber" for most of the houses built now; it is just too expensive, so you get "press board" or "plastic" instead, or no detail.
  • November 03 2009
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Profile picture for sunnyview
Old houses can be great, but they vary in condition a lot. If the main systems such as electrical, plumbing, heating have not been updated in the last 50 years, you may need to expect to replace them in short order. Many houses of this age were updated between 1930-1950 and they may have some systems that have been redone commonly electrical or water supply pipes, but you need to have solid inspections to make sure you know where they are now in terms of type and condition. 

Systems in old houses wear out, but if they are shot the good news is that you can replace them with much more efficient systems as long as there is room in the price for the work to be completed. A house of this age may also need foundation or window work. My advice if you want to buy this house is to start with a general house inspector and then add other inspections from licensed professionals like a plumber, electrician, general contractor and/or foundation inspector familiar with old houses
  • November 03 2009
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