Homes built in the 1800s have a certain degree of historic charm that you just won't find in newer homes. If you're a history buff or enjoy vintage architecture, buying a home from this era may be perfect for you. But there are also some unique challenges and intricacies that come with buying such an old home. Before you make a formal offer or hand over that earnest money, make sure you look into these factors.
Does the municipality regulate the renovations you can make to the home?
In historic districts, there are sometimes restrictions on what modifications you can make to your home. You may be required to preserve the home's original character, and specific restrictions may prevent you from making additions, replacing the windows with more modern ones, or using certain kinds of shingles on the roof. Often, these restrictions will make renovations more expensive, as you will have to stick with certain materials and products. The restrictions may also limit you when it comes to making energy-efficient upgrades. For instance, if you're required to maintain single-pane windows, you won't be able to take advantage of modern, three-pane, energy-conserving windows.
Before you make an offer on a house for sale from the 1800s, check with the local building code office to ensure you know exactly what the requirements for maintaining that home will be. Make sure you can live with these restrictions and that they won't cause you undue frustration.
Have you had the home looked over by a qualified inspector who specializes in historic homes?
It's never wise to buy a home without having it inspected, but you have to be even more careful with a home from the 1800s than with a newer one. The home's age alone puts it at risk for foundation issues, plumbing malfunctions, and more. Make sure the inspector you hire has experience specifically with homes from this era. An inspector who is used to working with newer homes may overlook certain problems because he or she is not accustomed to looking for them.
Understand that when you have a home from the 1800s inspected, there are almost certainly going to be some issues that are uncovered. It is up to you to decide whether they're issues you're willing and able to address, or whether they're too extensive or costly to bother with. Your building inspector should be able to give you a good idea of how expensive and burdensome fixing a certain problem will be.
You can always adjust the amount you offer on the home according to the results of an inspection, too. If the home will cost you more to repair than expected, lowering your offer may make it affordable.
Are there hazardous materials in the home?
Lead paint was used frequently until the 1970s, and it can cause serious illness if ingested. Asbestos was also common in insulation, plaster, and flooring between the 1940s and 1970s, so if the home was renovated during this time, there may be some asbestos present. Inhaling or ingesting asbestos can cause lung and intestinal cancer. Before you make an offer on a home from the 1800s, you need to be certain whether either of these hazardous materials are present in the home. They may well have been removed by a previous homeowner, but they may also be lingering in some areas. A knowledgeable building inspector should be able to tell you exactly where any lead paint or asbestos in the home is located.
If you buy a home with asbestos or lead paint, know that you'll have to pay to have these materials professionally removed, which can be quite costly. It's best to avoid purchasing a home with lead paint or asbestos if you have children, since they are more likely to ingest these materials.
Buying and living in a historic home can be very rewarding. Just take the time to check into regulations, have a complete building inspection, and consider the possibility of hazardous materials before you sign on the dotted line.