Charming. Quaint. Money Pit.
All of those descriptions might apply to an old home. There are understandable reasons why you might be attracted to something with vintage character rather than a modern, cookie-cutter type of home, but just make sure you understand the hidden costs of buying an old home.
Try to look past the charm and see the elements of the house that are the worse for age. Here are 15 easy-to-overlook costs of buying an old home, starting with your drive up to the house….
1. Repaving the driveway
Wow! This old driveway is bumpy! Actually, it is not so much a driveway as a crumbling, heavily-rutted track of what was once asphalt. Cold climates can be especially hard on pavements, but if your driveway isn’t reasonably smooth, you can’t plow the snow off it effectively. So you may want this done before winter, but depending on the length of the driveway, it can easily run over $10,000. Still, better get it done before you add to that cost by ruining your car’s suspension.
2. Modernizing the garage door
OK, you’ve made it up to the garage, a little shaken and not deterred. Who is going to get out and open that heavy old thing? You weren’t actually expecting a garage door opener were you? Old garage doors like that often are not compatible with automatic openers, and replacing the door could cost you in the neighborhood of $1,000.
3. Adding garage space
Once you get the garage door open, easing your SUV into a space built for a horse carriage is not for the faint of heart. Goodness knows where you will put the second car, not to mention the sporting goods warehouse Americans tend to keep in their garages. At least the cost of adding garage space will make the cost of the new garage door seem like a bargain in comparison.
4. Fixing walkway hazards
As you walk around to the front door, you curse a bit as you turn your ankle. You might think about fixing the concrete in the walkway before the UPS guy turns his ankle as well and threatens to sue.
5. Updating locks
It takes a little pushing, pulling, and jiggling to get this front door lock open. The irony of old locks is they can be hard to open with a key yet not very secure against a burglar. This is one of those relatively small costs that is easy to overlook, but that starts to add up when you own an old home.
6. Replacing doors
Of course, replacing the lock isn’t going to do much good if the door is not secure. A decent quality new one will run you a few hundred dollars, and you can easily pay over a thousand if you want something high-end. Now multiply that by the number of exterior doors in the house.
7. Putting in new windows
Like old doors, old windows can be both a security risk and an energy drain. You never realize quite how many windows are in a house until you face the cost of replacing them. And to think, you loved this house for all the natural light….
8. Adding new insulation
If the old house is drafty, it could be because the insulation dates back to the Truman administration. This is one of those investments that can pay for itself over time, but that’s not much help when you face the upfront cost.
9. Getting a new heating and cooling system
The previous owners figured they didn’t need air conditioning because the windows are so leaky. However, you won’t appreciate your heat leaking out in the winter. Figure to pay a few thousand for a new heating system, and more if you add in air conditioning.
10. Paying high energy bills
Chances are you won’t get all of the above door, window, insulation, and climate control upgrades done right away. In the meantime, it is going to cost you in the form of energy bills that can easily be three times what you would pay in a more energy-efficient home.
11. Upgrading the plumbing
There are a lot of things to think about when it comes to plumbing. Many older homes might not provide the same water pressure as today’s newer homes so that bathroom addition you want may have to wait. Some have septic tanks, which need to be cleaned out if backed-up. That means digging up the yard. With older piping, some of it could have rusted away or needs to be resealed before leaks damage your walls or worse, your home’s foundation. Unfortunately, in order to fix plumbing, you might have to take out a lot of walls to reach those problems.
Plumbing is like a home’s vascular system, and once you pay to have it upgraded, you will feel like you paid for extensive surgery.
12. Updating the decor
And to think, avocado was once a trendy color…. These design choices tend to be especially egregious in kitchens and bathrooms, perhaps because they are built solidly into the tiling and counter tops. If you want to start over, each bathroom remodel could cost you nearly $10,000, and to redo the kitchen could run around $20,000, or considerably more if you want high-end counter tops and appliances.
The cost of this will probably be several thousand dollars, but here’s some advice – don’t do it cheaply. Have the old shingles stripped down, and the underlying sub-roofing checked and repaired if necessary. Simply installing good new materials over bad old ones is a waste of money.
14. Repainting, re-siding
If you can simply get away with repainting, you may get off reasonably cheaply. If you have to replace the siding it is likely to be more expensive, but also more maintenance-free in the long run.
15. Getting taxes reassessed
The good news is that many of the above renovations can boost the property value of your home. The bad news is if that results in a higher property tax assessment, your monthly payments could end up being higher than you had budgeted.
Scared? You don’t have to be. Despite all of this, you might find the challenge of buying an old home to be well worth it, and you don’t have to be scared as long as you are prepared. Before you commit to buying a home, it’s a good idea to get a complete home inspection done on the property. Even if the seller has already done a home inspection, hire another one you trust and know on your own. It doesn’t hurt to get a second opinion and you might find additional problems the first one missed. It’ll cost a little more upfront, but it’s worth the money to prevent your dream home from becoming a total nightmare.
Gerard Anthony is a finance and economics writer with over 20 years experience in the investment advisory business. As a writer, he provides economic market insight and how current events may affect the average consumer. Gerard has a CFA designation.
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