15 Things You *Need* to Know Before Buying an Old Home

Ahhh, yes, old houses: So full of warmth, history and charming character features.

...And plumbing problems and sloping floors and Lord only knows what else. We polled our antique home-owning friends for the one thing they wish someone gave them a heads-up about before they pulled the trigger. Here, 15 things you need to know before buying an old home.

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1. The Age Of Your Windows Will Severely Affect Your Heating Bill

“Our windows hadn’t been updated for decades, and no matter how much I cranked the heat, the house seemed to have drafts blowing around from every angle. In some cases you can seal or caulk old windows, but honestly, it’s totally worth spending the extra money to update...rather than running your heat bill through the roof!”
- Ella (home built: 1912)

2. Leveling Floors May Lead To An Entire Gut Reno

“My home sits on the higher end of a hill, and had sloped down quite a bit. So the first thing I did was jack up the entire back half of the house. Surprise: All the walls, ceiling and floors cracked when we leveled it out. On the plus side, it made demo’ing the interior a little easier to stomach.”
- Vanessa (home built: 1921)

3. Exposing Original Features Can Make Your House Noisier

“When you expose old walls or ceilings, you lose a lot of sound insulation. Now that we’ve ripped out our ugly 1950s drop ceiling, the wide plank floors above look beautiful—but you hear everything happening upstairs. There are ways to deal with it, but they’re so expensive that we decided to leave it alone.”
- Nancy (home built: 1950)

4. Plumbing Might Be Draining To A Dry Well

“Lots of old houses were originally plumbed to feed into 'dry wells'—as opposed to the septic system or municipal lines. They’re not legal anymore and they could lead to gray water flooding, so have a plumber check your basement’s drainage situation ASAP. (Our standard inspection missed it.)"
- Andy (home built: 1744)

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"Outlet placement (and quantities!) was not made for today’s electronics needs. I have a ridiculous number of heavy-duty extension cords and power strips in my kitchen. One day, I’ll get to new hardwiring!”
- Brian (home built: 1898)

6. Don’t Count On Symmetry

“One thing I’ve struggled with in my pre-war apartment is the general lack of symmetry. Not only are the old plaster walls slightly wavy (gah!), but the interior layout has all kinds of incongruous stuff going on. For example, my bed is technically centered in room but it looks off-centered since the windows aren’t placed in the middle of the wall. Drives me kind of nuts!”
- Grace (home built: 1894)

7. Creaky Floorboards Don’t Stay Charming Forever

“Old creaking wooden floors and stairs are real! We’ve come to embrace the character they add, but we did add woven area rugs to some rooms to help muffle steps. In the bedrooms we put down wall-to-wall carpeting. The walls are still wood, but the carpets add a blanket of silence.”
- Sarah (home built: 1901)

8. Pipes Can Hold All Kinds Of Surprises

“In my home, it wasn’t just that the pipes were rusty—there was a severe amount of sulfur in the water passing through them. Luckily, I was already planning to change the plumbing. But this is another pricey cost to budget for when updating an entire house. There are water and pipe tests you can have run during your inspection and they are so worth it.”
- Renee (home built: 1924)

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9. Don’t Count On Modern Layouts

“I'm still coming to terms with the fact that our 1910 craftsman will never have an airy, open vibe. It's a lot of dark wood and a lot of cool, quirky rooms—and the kitchen is entirely closed off from the dining room. While I hated that at first, I've since grown to love the fact that when we entertain, the kitchen can get super messy and none of our guests have to see it!”
- Jill (home built: 1910)

10. Don’t Bank On Hidden Gems

"After purchasing our 1800s home, we were sure we would find beautiful floors under the linoleum and original beams under the drop ceilings. Sadly, we found that the house had been rebuilt several times and everything was a bit of a mish-mash. Those beautiful original features had likely been ripped out centuries ago and patched over.”
- Malcolm (home built: 1747)

11. Old Insulation Methods Were Not Effective

“As it turns out, our old farmhouse was 'insulated' with...newspapers, which leaves the rooms freezing in the winter. Since re-insulating would cost a fortune, we now rely on space heaters and our two wood stoves to keep things cozy.”
- Lizzie (home built: 1805)

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12. You Might Need To Change Your Locks

“I wanted to keep the old locks on our doors in our 100-year-old home for their beauty and character...but they can be sticky and tricky and a general headache. I compromised by leaving old locks only on the doors I rarely use, and replacing the main points of entry.”
- Nadia (home built: 1940)

13. And Rewire Original Lighting Fixtures

“Our house had fabulous original sconces and overheads. And while I wanted to save as much of them as possible, I knew I wanted them in all different places in the house. When my contractors knocked down the walls and started to rewire the place, they actually said it was a blessing a fire hadn’t broken out yet. Back in the 1920s, when the house was built, there was some sort of wiring that involved insulated copper. Not. Good."
- Victoria (home built: 1925)

14. Nocturnal ‘pets’ Are A Real Concern

“We didn’t notice anything at the inspection, but we soon came to realize there was a family of nocturnal squirrels living in our attic. We hired an exterminator, installed a one-way door and patched up all our holes—but we’re still battling them. They do not want to leave!”
- Eddie (home built: 1880)

15. There Might Be Ghosts

“I know you won’t believe me, but it wasn’t until my son had a vivid dream of a small boy in period clothes standing over his bed that we dug deep into our 1700s home’s history...where we found out that a ten year-old boy died of influenza in that room in the 1840s!”
- Thea (home built: 1775)

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Home Editor

From 2014-2019 Grace Beuley Hunt held the role of Home Editor covering interior design, styling, trends and more.