Paul Morse made a career of renovating old houses. Some have problems that come as a surprise to the homeowners. Today, he tells you about a few of the most common ones.
Buying an older home is a lot like buying a used car in a private sale. You can have it checked out by an expert, but there are no guarantees that something won’t wear out or malfunction – and no warranties if they do.
I’ve worked with homeowners who bought homes with leaks that were temporarily hidden by paint, insulation that had settled so much that it was virtually nonexistent, and basements that turned out to have serious water problems. The prior owner or home inspector may know of and disclose the potential for future problems. When the seller doesn’t know or doesn’t tell, the new owner is in for an unpleasant surprise.
A few years ago, the National Association of Home Builders conducted a study on the life expectancy of home components. Here are a few highlights:
• A foundation should last forever, but termite proofing will only last about 12 years
• HVAC systems last an average of 15-25 years with proper and regular maintenance
• A slate roof can last 50 years or more; a roof made of asphalt shingles lasts an average of 20 years (although it may be less with the tough Boston weather)
• Wood windows last longer than aluminum – 30 years versus 15 to 20
• Stairs and custom millwork should last a lifetime
• Kitchen faucets should last about 15 years, but a whirlpool tub could keep going as long as 50 if you don’t use it much
• Decks could last 20 years, depending upon the materials used
In my renovation work, I frequently encounter structural or infrastructure problems such as window headers that are not framed to meet today’s code; original balloon framing without floor-load support that meets today’s standards; joists that have been cut or notched in improperly done renovations; rotting wood hidden by soffit and fascia boards; and electrical panels that will not support home improvements. These issues may dramatically affect the total cost of a repair project.
Maintenance and repairs are part of being a homeowner, but unexpected problems are no fun. Some of these surprises could be avoided if buyers ask questions such as “When were the windows installed?” ”Have you replaced the roof since you’ve owned your home?” “Have you installed insulation and when?” or “Do you have a record of structural changes made to the house?” Answers to these questions will help anticipate future expenses.
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