Buying an Old House? Here’s What to Look Out For

You’ve finally found it, the home of your dreams.

…Or, so you thought.

You’re now deep in the process of buying an older home, about to finalize the paperwork, when you realize there are way more problems with the house than you’d imagined. If only you had had some guidelines to follow from the moment you first walked in the door…

I see what you’re getting at! Here are all of the warning signs you should look out for when buying an old house.

Infestations and Mold

One of the first things you should check for is evidence of any form of infestation. If the home you’re considering is particularly old, you might muse that a little rat problem is common for old homes.

Don’t fall prey to this. Rodents can carry disease, and are destructive in their feeding habits, leading to weaknesses in the structure of infested homes. But rodents may not be your only problem. A home can also be infested with:

  • Bats (yes, bats)
  • Fleas
  • Cockroaches
  • Termites
  • Beetles

Aside from these living pests, you can also be roommates with hazardous molds.

While the CDC says there isn’t yet enough evidence to prove a link between health problems and the mold commonly found in homes, they do warn that people with weaker immune systems, who are asthmatics, or children, are more susceptible to respiratory illness.

In other words, you don’t want it in your home. It’s smarter to not entertain its existence at all, and to eradicate it as soon as possible.

Structural Issues

A home is supposed to be structurally sound. So yes, you want to make sure you won’t fall through the floor or find yourself inexplicably rolling out of bed in the middle of the night.

To be completely sure of this, you may need to get an engineer into your home to thoroughly check out your foundation. If they find the tell-tale signs of structural weaknesses, you could find yourself emptying your wallet a few years down the road once all the real problems begin.


A home with old, outdated wiring is a dangerous one.


Check all of your outlets for fire damage, and if they’re the three prong outlets that reduce the risk of electric shock. You might get lucky and find they even have reset buttons, an indication that the home has been rewired with more modern equipment.

But besides the inherent danger, you also don’t want to find yourself without power. A damaged breaker box or an ancient fuse system needs replacement, immediately.


One of the easiest ways you can determine if an old house has ancient plumbing is to turn on the hot water. If the pressure is low, the house probably has corroded or stopped-up galvanized pipes.

An expert will probably tell you the whole plumbing system of the home needs to be replaced, but if you can’t quite afford it, have a plumber identify the problem areas for you and run new pipes in those places.

You should also make sure your sewer line isn’t root-bound or crushed. You’ll have to run a sewer camera down there for a few hundred dollars to figure this out. If it turns out this is the case, you’ll need to replace or repair it, pronto.


Heating an old house (especially if it’s on the larger side) can be way more expensive than you bargained for. Especially if it hasn’t been replaced since the home was built.

If you’re in the colder climates, don’t try to go only halfway on insulation. You’ll thank yourself later for spending the extra bucks on comfort.

Be sure to check out your storm windows and screens as well. While the actual insulation in your walls and attic is important for keeping out the elements, the big holes in the wall with only glass separating you from the outside world can be ground zero for lost heat.

Lead-based Paint

When buying an older home, one of the most obvious red flags is lead-based paint.


If you spot paint that seems to be cracking and chipping in areas, have your inspector test it to see if it is lead-based. If you have children, this could possibly pose a health risk – especially if you’re dealing with toddlers who put everything in their mouths.

When was the house built? According to the EPA, if the home was built between 1940 and 1959, there’s a 69 percent chance it contains lead-based paint. Before 1940? The likelihood increases to 87 percent.

Lead exposure can lead to some pretty terrible side effects, ranging from lower IQ to hearing problems and stunted growth. So please, make sure you’re safe from lead-based paint.

Outdated and Inefficient Heating Systems

Many older houses were originally heated with oil or wood-burning stoves. And not only is oil far more expensive today than it was back then – it’s also far less efficient.

If the home’s heating system relies on outdated technology, either pass or see what can be worked out with the seller to correct the problem by installing new systems. They might cut you a deal so you can replace it yourself, or they might offer to do it for you before you finalize your purchase.

If the home’s heating system is more modern but is cheaply made or hasn’t been maintained properly since its installation, it could be a serious fire hazard. So, be sure to keep an eye out for any red flags involving your heating systems.

More Questions you should ask When Buying an Old House

  • How long has the property been empty?
  • Does the home have asbestos?
  • Are there any local planning/zoning laws to consider?
  • Will I need a water filtration system?
  • What are the average utility costs?

Why You Need Two Inspections

Many times when buying an older home, the seller will have already paid to have it inspected, and will tell you something along the lines of: “Yes, it passed with flying colors, no problems at all!”

If you hear this, politely reply that you will be hiring your own licensed and certified home inspector to come take a look. And when they show up, go through this whole checklist with them item by item.

If everything comes back positive, no problems at all, don’t feel like you wasted time and money. If you’re about to invest tens of thousands of dollars into a home, you should have the confidence going into the purchase that the home won’t fall apart on you a few months in.

And, if you still aren’t fully confident, consider another inspection. You can’t be too careful. And, if worse comes to worst, you can hold the inspector liable for any problems they might have missed.

In Conclusion

When buying an older home, your best bet is to cover all your bases. Yes, the home might seem like a charming fixer-upper to begin with, but it could quickly turn into a headache you wish you’d never set foot in.

And there are tons of other questions you might have when going through the home-buying process. That’s why you need a seasoned realtor who can offer you insight and expertise in your journey to find the old home of your dreams.

Contact me today, and let’s work together to find the perfect older home for you and your family.