I fell hard and fast.
We put in an offer within 48 hours.
For someone who had her heart set on a historic home, there’s was probably nothing short of writing on the wall that could have dissuaded me from buying one. However, I wrote this post as a kind of cautionary tale to anyone who might be as naïve as I was when purchasing an old home as their first home.
I’ll start by sharing my eager homebuyer sentiment and follow it up with some cold, hard homeowner truth…
What no one tells you:
1. When you have multiple 100 year old trees on your property, you will likely spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars every other year having them trimmed. Especially if you live in an area of the country that gets snow, ice, and tornadoes like we do here in Missouri. No trimming? This is just asking for a disaster come winter.
2. More trees = more leaves. Obvious enough, right? It becomes painfully obvious around November 1st. When my friends in the ‘burbs complain about raking up after their two (measly) trees, I have a hard time not one-upping them with our “We fill 30+ giant outdoor bags every fall…from just the front lawn” sob story.
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“The hardwood floors are gorgeous.”
What no one tells you:
And crooked and slanted and stained in ways that can’t be fixed. Our hardwoods are seriously one of my favorite things in our house, no question. But they are far from perfect. The floor sags and wood slats are crooked in almost every room. Some previous owners added carpet (most likely in the 60’s), so the holes from carpet staples are now “battle wounds” around the perimeter of our main living areas.
If I was a perfectionist, this would drive me crazy.
Thankfully I’m not.
I can easily forgive my home’s wobbly floors that have shifted over time…We have some things in common, my old house and me.
Historic building restoration is something I’ve learned a bit about over the years. Checking real estate around the country, like this mls listing in Tennessee, helped me understand more about the cost of older homes as well.“The crown molding and trim are just lovely.”
What no one tells you:
Look closely…see that white trim? Most likely there are other colors of trim paint underneath it and the one is likely to have lead. Only after we moved in did we realize that under the newest white coat of paint was a layer of hunter green, blue, and then what looks like the original white.
Why on God’s green earth would anyone EVER paint all the trim in a cute house hunter green??
Because those lovely layers ended up having lead paint, we have to test Gemma for lead poisoning each year. (Doctor’s request.) So far, so good. We had some friends in the neighborhood who had a real scare with lead paint though. One bite into a window sill from their daughter meant a whole ordeal of testing and home visits and general craziness for our poor friends.
So now we tend to watch our toddler even more closely (than you would normally watch a toddler) to make sure she doesn’t decide to gnaw on a bit of trim.
“The roof is new. That’s great!”
What no one tells you:
The roof is the least of your concerns, sweet homebuyer. That’s only one very easy and very visible thing that’s to be checked out when buying an old home.
What you really need to be investigating are the following:
4. Major appliances
BTW, that homeowner’s warranty the seller is throwing in? It’s worthless. Trust me.
Within the first 6 months of moving into our home, we had almost $9,000 of repairs that went completely unnoticed in our home inspection and uncovered by the warranty.
New furnace? $5,000. We thought for sure our Home Owner’s Warranty would cover it, but apparently there are lots of loopholes to actually keep the company from ever giving you a dime.
Other major appliances include a water heater (tankless or with tank), a water filter/softener, and possibly air conditioning.
A couple months after the new furnace, we had to replace the original plumbing that lead from our house to the city sewage. From what our contractor can figure, because the house was finished being built in 1943, most of the plumbing underground is copper. However most likely because of metal rationing, the final pipe installed was actually an industrial cardboard dipped in tar.
Yep, a cardboard pipe that held up for 67 years…and only crapped out 6 months into our watch.
You can imagine the stress my poor husband felt that fall as we ripped up half the lawn to replace that darn pipe. Oh, and my furniture budget was demolished. (Which explained a lot of DIY projects and flea market finds a few years ago.)
Ahh, yes the clincher. Character.
Of course our home has oodles of charm and character and can’t even compare to the pre-fab houses in newer developments. Window seat in the office, an addition of a walk out den in the back of the house that’s full of windows, glass door knobs. However…
You know how sometimes the most interesting people have some of the most dreadful secrets?
Yes, this applies to old homes too.
Many of the windows have been painted shut. Gorgeous and original they are, but practical they are not. We cannot even open the one window in our kitchen. Only 50% of the windows in our bedrooms can be opened.
Many of the door jams have shifted over time, so shutting doors is more like a suggestion than a reality. (We always encourage guests to do a call out before entering a door that’s not completely wide open.)
Like paying for two inspections, asking a bunch more detailed questions to our realtor, and negotiating much harder when buying.
But I will forever be grateful to this home because it healed so many wounds in my heart I didn’t even realize existed.
After my parents divorced when I was a teenager, I never really felt like I had the one home where I always belonged. My brother and I had two gorgeous homes to go back and forth between, but I longed to have that one place that held everything and everyone I loved.
This home became that place for me.
It’s where Stu and I brought our baby girl home from the hospital in the middle of a snow storm.
It’s where I got to dig my hands in and turn a life-long love of homes into a creative outlet and eventually a new career.
It’s where we’ve hosted BBQ’s and crazy Christmas parties and Easter lunches with the people who I just can’t imagine doing life without.
It’s where we learned what it meant to take responsibility for something we put our name on and tend to it intentionally and lovingly…despite all the times we wish had just picked that newish 3-2 in the ‘burbs.
We wouldn’t trade it:)