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Hidden Pitfalls of Older-Construction Homes

What to consider when buying an older home

By Jan Soults Walker

Along with the charm and history of an older home are a few caveats. Get helpful tips from an experienced real estate broker to help you go into the purchase of an older home with eyes wide open.

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Suzanne Tucker
You love the character of the older home you're considering, but prepare your budget for some expenses unique to structures that have been around for a while. "There are some pitfalls to buying an old house," says real estate broker Ginger Bonneau with @properties in Chicago, "but there are solutions."

Here's Bonneau's best advice for buyers considering an older home.
1. Buy a home warranty or—better yet—ask for the sellers of the home to include that in your purchase. A one-year home warranty typically costs around $550 to $700.

2. Hire a reputable home inspector before you buy to ensure that the house's electrical and plumbing systems are working well. A home inspector will also check siding, roofing, the foundation, windows, appliances, and more.

3. Have a good contractor or architect walk through the house if you plan to remodel. He or she can help you think through current needs as well as changes and updates that you may need to consider for the future.

5. Check with local utility companies to find out about the home's past energy usage. Also ask about available rebates or tax incentives for new, energy-efficient appliances or features.

6. Consider the kitchen closely since it is almost always the heart of the home. Think through your typical cooking style and needs. Are the flow, layout, appliances, storage, and counter space sufficient for you? "Everyone eats and works differently," Bonneau says, "so plan based on your needs and not necessarily on something you have seen in a magazine."

Take a look at these 5 Money-Smart Kitchen Renovations.

7. Typically older homes lack closet space, so consider the need for additional closets and storage. "You may be able to add storage features to existing closets," Bonneau says. "Also think about finding spots for more closets or storage, such as in room corners and in the basement. With good organization, you could double or even triple the home's storage. Also, keep in mind that moving is a great time to get rid of clutter. Don't move things you don't love or use."

For storage ideas, check out:

8. If the home is short on bathrooms, consider adding a full or three-quarters bathroom or even a powder room. "This is an investment that will add value to your home as well as make life easier for you and your family," Bonneau says.

9. Replace or give the windows some love. "Good circulation is essential to healthy living," Bonneau says, "so if your windows are painted shut, plan to work on them to get them operational."

Learn How to Choose New Windows for Your Home.

10. Always follow local and city building codes so you don't waste money on having to undo a renovation because it doesn't meet code or was done without a permit. 

11. Make an older home more earth-friendly with energy-efficient updates and repurposed features. "Use and reuse," Bonneau suggests. "Think of creative reuses for items you may typically throw away. For instance, use a door front for a table or workstation or to create a cabinet or storage."

For tips, see our Room-by-Room Energy Updates.

"Remember that you will be creating your own history in your new older home," Bonneau says. "Enjoy your dream come true!"

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