Should 100-Year-Old Properties Scare You as an Investor?

by | BiggerPockets.com

No, I’m not scared of 100-year-old properties. In fact, I have always been fascinated by older properties. They just have a look and a feel that you do not get with newer ones. They have a history and a story to them. I wonder who lived there. I wonder who worked there. I wonder what life was like for them 100 or more years ago.

I live in a home built in 1923, and I generally work with properties even older than that. I have nothing against newer buildings, as I have worked with them as well. But the older ones just seem more special and fun to me.

So no, I’m not afraid of older properties, but that does not mean they don’t come without some unique challenges, just as most other properties do. Some of those challenges will, however, be unique to older properties, as building techniques, materials, and styles have changed over the years. You simply have to be aware of these potential challenges going in and learn how to deal them. Then these older properties are just like any other property out there.

So, what are some of these unique and potential challenges that your will face with properties that are over 100 years old? Here are a few I have run across.

8 Challenges You May Face With Old Properties

1. Knob and Tube Wiring

This is a very old form of electrical wiring. Insurance companies hate it and often will not insure properties that have it. Why? I’m not sure as it seems to work perfectly well as long as it is undisturbed. This is honestly the major problem you may face with older properties as the knob and tube often has to be replaced, which is costly.

plaster-wall-old-home

2. Plaster

Installing plaster is a lost art. Very few know how to repair it these days. So, damaged plaster walls often have to come completely down. This can be good anyway because you need to expose that old wiring mentioned above to replace it.

Related: Do Not Touch: 3 Old Home Features to Protect During Renovations

3. Lead Pipes

Lead has been used in pipes going all the way back to before Roman times because lead is so malleable. Unfortunately, we now know the damage lead can cause to humans so it is best to replace them.

4. Lead Paint

Lead had many other uses as well back in the day. Lead helps paint cover and stick. Unfortunately, over time it chips away and has a nice taste to young children. Remediating lead paint is always something to keep in mind when looking at older properties.  Or really, anything painted before 1974.

5. Asbestos

It was a great insulator. Don’t disturb it and you will usually be fine.

6. Dysfunctional Layout

People lived and worked differently several generations ago. Kitchens and baths were smaller. Dining rooms more formal, and bedrooms came without closets. Don’t overlook expanding or adding useful features if you need to.

7. Unique Architectural Features

Older properties often have features that you just do not find today. Items such as winding banisters, extensively carved wood, or stonework and odd-sized windows are common in older properties. Thing is, these items are unlikely to be found at the local Home Depot. Expert and specialized help may be required to do the job properly.

door-knob

Related: 8 Things to Look for When Rehabbing Older Homes

8. Historic Regulations

Older properties are often located in historic districts with rules that dictate what you can and cannot do to these properties. Don’t try to bypass them—your neighbors are watching and will tattle on you.

Wow! After typing this list, perhaps I should be scared of older properties or at least find something newer to work on. Newer properties, after all, cost less to renovate and are less hassle, right? Not necessarily. It does not take much to quickly mess up a property. A leaky roof or aluminum wiring can lead to costly repairs. Trust me, I have been there, too.

Plus, many of these challenges that I have listed above are not found in every older property. Often, they have been corrected at some point in the past by previous owners. Lead pipes have often been replaced with copper, and wiring most likely has been upgraded as more modern conveniences were added. You just have to know what to look for going in.

So, should you be scared of 100-year-old properties? No, I do not think so. Be cautious, yes, but you should use caution on any deal. In all of my years, I have only seen a couple old properties that were simply not fixable, where it was better to tear them down. Almost everything is fixable.

To me, 100-year-old properties are like any other property.  You have to learn what to look for, budget for it, and make an offer.

About Author

Kevin Perk

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in and manages rental properties in Memphis, TN and is a past president and vice-president of the local REIA group, the Memphis Investors Group.

11 Comments

  1. Angel Gutierrez

    I’m not afraid of 100 year old properties! I just won’t pay any money for the structure if it’s wood framed.

    For many of you folks out there that don’t already know… from an engineering standpoint, wood framed structures have a useful service life of about 40 years.

    My second real estate deal was with an old 122 year old Queen Anne Victorian style home that was framed using granite block. Since most of the houses in the neighborhood had already been torn down, my plan was to tear down the structure and sell off the granite, then get whatever I could for the lot. I stood to earn about $25,000 when the whole thing was over.

    We I went to apply for a demo permit, I was threatened with incarceration if I did so because this property was registered on some national historical register (of course) and when I went to get my earnest money back from the seller…. she refused to give me my money back that I had borrowed.

    I finally got a resolution to the whole fiasco, so when anyone asks me about “old houses” to buy…. I usually pass because I won’t pay a dime for a structure that has an expired useful service life…. and you shouldn’t either.

    Jus sayin’….

    • Ryan Wittig

      I own a 4 family that was built in 1840. It’s wood frame (what else would it be?) and has no structural issues… Luckily the electric and most of the plumbing was replaced before I bought it.

      I’ve owned it for 7 years and it’s one of my best investments.

    • Vaughn K.

      Yeaaah, that 40 year thing is ridiculous.

      There are homes in the Americas, and far more in Europe, that are older than OUR COUNTRY that are still standing.

      The way they’re building modern wood framed houses I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the newer ones are falling down in 40 years… Material quality and craftsmanship are garbage nowadays… But the OLD ones were mostly built like tanks, using wood that was far thicker/stronger than needed at every point.

      Personally, I would rather buy a 100 year old home than a 15 year old home. In the brief time I worked on construction sites in my youth I saw just how low quality ALL the new construction I saw was, and how 2 year old homes had more warping on them than 100 year old ones.

      You have to know what is what with an older house, as they CAN have expensive problems… But they can just as often be in better shape than a house that’s not even old enough to drink!

  2. Peter Amour

    good article , if i ruled out old properties i would have never got into real estate to start with . i don’t think i have owned anything less than 120 years old . our market just has old housing stock , i don’t get to choose 🙁

  3. John Teachout

    Two of our houses are over 100 years old. One is 75 years old. Two are about 60 years old and we have a few that are newer (built in the 1980’s and 90’s). All of these homes are wood framed.
    I do agree that older homes have more “character” and are sometimes challenging to repair but if the structure is solid, lots can be done with them.
    I have never personally seen knob and tube wiring or lead pipes but have been inside lots of old houses and do enjoy the history of them. Good article.

  4. Vaughn K.

    I prefer old houses in general. The character for one. The quality of the woods, fixtures, etc are also generally nicer than all but the highest of high end stuff you can get new. New houses, even supposedly high end ones, always just seem so cheap and flimsy. EVERYTHING just seems dainty and not meant to last. An average middle of the road 3 bedroom from 1900 has solid doors made of better quality wood, with better quality knobs, than you’ll find in any new construction that isn’t a $5 million mansion.

  5. Katie Rogers

    Be careful when you buy in a suburban tract. The houses may not be 100 years old, but tract developers are notorious for cutting corners when they build. In one tract housing neighborhood in my community, the developer did not put rebar in the floor slab. In addition these floor slabs were poured over slab foundations. Everyone’s floors are cracked and heaving,sometimes as much as 1 1/2 inches out of level. The plumbing had been put under the house. Nearly everyone has had to replumb their house, cap the old plumbing and run the pipes outside the house. Subsequent buyers of these houses are surprised to learn that the home warranty does not cover any plumbing outside the perimeter of the foundation (except the sewer lateral to the street). In some cases a older, well-built house is a much better deal than a far younger tract house.

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