I want to buy an old house and remodel it...1 prob...

…I dont know what I am doing!

My wife and I have recentlyt fallen in love with older houses. We definitely want something rural, like an old farmhouse that has some acreage.

A few questions the Dopers may be able to help with:

  1. Is there a place online where I can find homes I may be interested in for sale? (I am in Central Virginia) I have looked, but not much luck.

  2. Is anyone aware of any online resources for helping you to plan/plot your plan of attack as far as what to look for, what repairs generally cost etc?

  3. Are there any special finance strategies that may be peculiar to these types of properties?

As this moves forward, I am sure I will have lots more questions! I thank you in advance!!!

National House Finders
US House Finders

Might help for #1.

This site may have a lot of good information.

Realize that if you buy a historic home that you’re going to be putting a lot more time and money into it than you might think. Make sure to have a careful inspection done to check for foundational problems and the like, which are HUGE money-suckers.

Count on updating the electric. A lot of older homes still have knob-and-tube wiring, which is a big fire hazzard. A lot of insurance companies will not even cover you if you have it. The plaster on the walls will need to be removed to take out all of the old wires and replaced.

You might need to replace the plumbing because a lot of older homes still have lead pipes.

Your heating costs are likely to be higher, because a lot of these homes are very drafty. If the windows are the origional wavy, bumpy glass, I wouldn’t replace them because of their charm, but consider that you’ll most likely need storm windows installed.

Owning a historic home is a labor of love. Unless your willing to dedicate yourself to the work and expense of refurbishing, I wouldn’t suggest it.

My wife and I bought a house circa 1760 in Massachusetts (where I am typing from now) about two years ago. We really love it but it is a lot of work. I would do it again but it is certainly not for everyone.

Here are some things that you need to know:

  1. http://www.realtor.com has the listing for the great majority of all homes for sale in the U.S. I found ours this way.

  2. You have to have a home inspector that knows antique houses extremely well when you find one that you are interested in. This requires specialized knowledge that most home inspectors do not have but it will require some work on your part to find one that is qualified. DO NOT SCIMP ON THIS STEP. You really need to look before you leap to know what you are getting into and to know what adjustments to make to the offer.

  3. Most insurance companies will not insure antique homes although I didn’t find that much of a problem. I just called my local agency and they found one that would (Utica insurance out of New York) rather easily.

Right. Hire one who is doing the inspection FOR YOU, not for the bank. The H.I. should be skeptical and adversarial, and be trying to (often literally) poke holes in the house and find everything that’s going to cost you money. We paid around $700+ on our house inspector, and it was worth every penny. He showed us all of the massive amounts of powder post beetle damage throughout the basement and first floor, and problems with how additions had been built onto the house. It probably would have cost us just as much as the cost of the house in order to replace all the wood.

Some houses are more fun to fix up than others. We passed on that one.

Insist on having an inspection done before you make an offer. Some realtors (I learned this the hard way) will bully you into making an offer and then having the inspection done. Remember, YOU are the one in control. If they’re refusing to let you inspect before making an offer, walk away: they’re hiding something. If you don’t like something in the contract, insist on having it changed before you sign.

Second tip: do not use a realtor from the same agency which is selling the house. Regardless of the “dual agency disclosure” form they have you sign, they are working for the SELLER, and their loyalty is to him, not to you. (When we were involved in a realty lawsuit, our lawyer told us that those dual agency forms are of dubious legality in the first place, and are worth less than the paper they’re printed on.) If XYZ Realty is selling the house, go to ABC company to get an agent. The seller is responisble for their fees, not you. (He will pay around a flat six percent, which the realtors will divvy up.)

And though it may cost you a bit, it’s a good idea to have a lawyer look over the forms before you sign. Our lawyer found a good deal of problems with the “standard” form which could have really screwed us to the wall.

Carefullly outline in the contract which repairs the homeowner will be responible for, and by which date they must be completed, and place a clause therein that if they do not fulfil their obligations to your satisfaction, the contract is voided. (The part about the buyer being satified by the repair was what saved us when we were sued.) Insist on bringing in your own contractors for estimates. (Homeowners will try to go with the cheapest, regardless of the quality of the work.) NEVER, EVER accept a check in escrow for repairs to be completed after the sale. Sometimes repairs cost more than the initial estimate, and then it’ll be nearly impossible to get the previous owner to pay. Insist on repairs being done and re-inspected by YOUR inspector before closing.

Find and watch the movie “The Money Pit” starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long.

3) Are there any special finance strategies that may be peculiar to these types of properties?

Before investing some or all of your own money, do some research into your city and see if it offers a historical fund to help finance and restore some or the older homes. I know my city does.


Depending on the fund, there are some conditions involved. In our state, the fund will pay for a certain amount of the restorations needed, but in return, you must have your home open to the public for tours for a certain amount of days. (By appointment only.) You must also comply with rules that will maintain the historic integrity of the home. For example, they may not allow you to knock out walls, or make updates which would change the home dramatically.

A person I know did this. They bought a large home, and were given a large amount of money by the state, which not only paid for the refurbishing, but there was enough left over for her to furnish the home in period-style furniture. She runs a bookstore out of one of the parlors, and has a small sign advertising that tours are available by appointment, but so far, no one has ever asked for one.

If you plan on living in the home for the rest of your life, the organization that I linked to previously will “buy” the home from you on condition that when you die, it becomes property of Historic Homes of America. You can remain in the home as long as you live, but again, would not be allowed to change it in any drastic way. Most likely, you wouldn’t be able to borrow against it, either.

At the moment, I’m in the middle of remodeling a house that was probably built around 1880. It’s the third one I’ve done, and I’m having almost more fun than I can stand – I sometimes have to call on someone to help me share the fun.:wink:

I chose to respond because Lissa is simply incorrect on several points, and I’d like to help out if I can.

Old wiring – whether it be knob-and-tube or cloth-insulated metal-clad Romex – needs to be replaced, but not necessarily removed! Unless there is some overriding reason to completely remove the old wires (and there seldom is), just cut 'em off and leave 'em where they are. Dead wires encased in walls are, uh, dead wires, completely harmless. If you can find a way (and there usually is one) to run the new wire to where you want it to go, DO NOT remove plaster, lath, or anything else as long as you can safely and permanently disconnect the old wiring.

As for the plumbing, it is extremely unlikely that any house you look at has a single lead pipe. What you may find is malleable iron pipe that is jointed with lead. In addition, you may find older copper supply lines that have been jointed with lead-bearing solder. (Incidentally, the plumbing trade gets its name from the Latin word for lead, plumbum, the material that plumbers of yore used to joint iron pipe.) Actually, by the time in-house plumbing was becoming widespread, lead pipe was out, iron was in. Galvanized iron piping systems generally contain no lead at all.

Finally, with regard to the windows with “bumpy glass,” REPLACE THEM!!! Bumpy glass, in my view, has the level of ‘charm’ I associate with something my dog left on the carpet when I was away. No storm window ever made will pay for itself in insulating value, in my experience. But well-made replacement windows WILL pay for themselves, and rather quickly, if they’re installed correctly.

In our situation, the plaster would have had to be removed becaue there was no other way to run the wiring. The previous owners had “jumped” the wiring to give the house more juice, (which was a code violation).

I guess it depends on where you live. I currently work in a museum which is housed in a home which was built in 1838, and the pipes in there are lead, which is one of the first things they told me when I started working there: don’t drink from the tap! One of the homes we considered buying had lead piping, and in the house in which I grew up, (built in the 1850’s) all of the pipes were lead until my parents replaced them prior to moving in.

Another of the houses that we looked at had copper pipe, connected to galvanised fittings, which was causing some sort of weird chemical reaction which was corroding the fittings. The inspector said they’d all need to be replaced, which was really no big deal, but it was just another expense, on top of many.

My parents decided to keep them and install storm windows. There was a bit of a draft, but we just hanged heavy drapes over the upstairs windows in the winter.

Still, I think they are a quaint touch, and I like them.

I don’t know for sure, but if you get one of those restoration grants, they may insist that you keep the original windows as part of the home’s historical integrity.