Should You Buy An Old House in Richmond Virginia?

February 12, 2018


If you are thinking of buying your first home in Richmond, Virginia, you may be like lots of my other buyers, who watch HGTV shows like Fixer Upper and Property Brothers!  I have to admit, I am also addicted to these shows as well!  And many of my buyers like the idea of getting into an area where they can walk or take an Uber to restaurants & bars, yet not be far away from shopping & work!


And for many of my buyers, they don't want to be in the suburbs!  They want to live in an urban area!  And, fortunately, for us here in Richmond we have lots of choices of urban areas that are wonderful and up and coming!  But most of the homes that you will see in many of these neighborhoods are going to be older homes, built in the late 1800's to the 1950's!  So if you are going to live in one of these areas, you will most likely be buying an older condo, townhome or single family home!


As someone who lived for 20 years in a brick Colonial built in the early 1930's, I will tell you that I absolutely loved the house and the neighborhood!  And as we see on so many of these HGTV shows, these homes ooze lots of charm & character, and the neighborhoods are great walkable neighborhoods where you will find joggers and dog walkers on a nice day, where the neighbors get together and help each other out when the power goes out for days on end!  There is definitely lots to love about living in many of these in-town neighborhoods in the City of Richmond!


But, if you are going to buy a home with lots of charm & character, then you need to make sure that you are prepared for some of the downsides of buying an older home!  Here are some of the lessons I learned from my old house in the Bellevue neighborhood of Richmond!


The House Could Have Lead Paint & Asbestos in it!

I was lucky in that my old house didn't have any asbestos insulation or asbestos siding in it!  Asbestos is a great flame retardant and was popular for siding & insulation in many of the old houses that were built back in the day!  And if you have to remove it, that can be costly! 


If There Is A Basement, Check For Mold!

Many of the older houses in the Richmond area have a basement, and many of them are below grade, so your windows are high up on the wall and at street level.  Many people don't choose to finish them, but if you do plan to finish the basement, you may want to check into how much that would cost!  Richmond basements do tend to take on water, even, as my basement did, just minor wicking of water through the masonry walls during rains!  A dehumidifier in my basement helped to keep the dampness at bay, but if the house has been vacant for awhile and there has been no circulation of the air through the basement, you may have mold in the basement!


Check The Stuctural Components of The Home!

I had a 4-sided brick home in the city with a slate roof!  I loved my brick home and loved the look of the slate roof on brick!  Although a slate roof will last about 100 to 150 years, I found that there were not many good slate roofers in the area, and to do a repair to my slate roof was very expensive!  And don't forget to check the plumbing in your house - eventually my plumbing was so galvanized I had very little water pressure in my bathrooms & eventually I had to have all new plumbing installed!  I was lucky to have a basement, but some of the homes in the city are built on crawl spaces and you may find that over time, the house has settled and there may be some cracks in the foundation or along the basement floor!  If you look at a house and see cracks in the plaster, in the outside foundation, or on the basement floor, you may want to include a structural inspection as part of your home inspection process!  And if the plumbing in the house does not have good water pressure, you may have to take care of that after closing!


Do A Fireplace Inspection!

Many of the old houses have fireplaces in the houses!  In many of the homes throughout you may have multiple chimneys in the house - and many of those chimneys are no longer working!  Most homes in Richmond are now being sold with the fireplaces, flu and chimneys being sold in as is condition, and the seller will not agree to do any repairs!  But if you find that  you have to reline your chimney, depending on how tall the chimney is, you could end up spending many thousands of dollars to reline the chimney and do any other needed repairs!


Windows May Be Inefficient - And Replacement Windows Can Be Expensive!

Many of the windows in these older homes tend to be different sized windows from what is being put into the new homes!  This means that if you decide to replace the original windows with new windows, it may be more expensive!  And if you do decide to keep the original windows & have the sash cords repaired so that they can be opened and closed in spring & fall, you may find that that can also be expensive!  I decided on my old house to just prop the windows open with a block of wood rather than take away the look of the old windows or pay the expense of replacing the windows with vinyl windows!


Consider The HVAC Systems Already In Place!

When I bought my house, the boiler that was in my basement had to be from the 1940's!  It was big, and clunky - and it was highly inefficient!  So I replaced the boiler with a more efficient one, which was also about half the size of the original boiler in the house!  That helped to bring down my heating bill substantially!  But I did not have central air (which in Richmond summers is definitely a highly needed thing)!  So I had to have central air installed in the house!  But since my house was old, there were no ducts anywhere in the house!  So I had to look at putting in a one zone system (which meant losing valuable closet space) or putting in a two zone system (which would have been more expensive)!  I opted to go the two zone route so I could save as much closet space as I could!  And keep in mind that many old houses still run on oil heat, since oil was so cheap back when the house was built!  If the home you are looking has oil heat, an older boiler, and/or no central air, think about the cost if you choose to update your HVAC system!


Think About the Electrical System & The Wiring Along With It!

For many of the old houses in the Richmond area, the electric may still be on fuses, not circuit breakers!  That may be fine for the way the home is operating now, but if you do decide to add any additional electrical outlets to the house, you need to upgrade the panel to circuit breakers!  In addition, you may also be looking at some old wiring and the house may need to be rewired!  And when you are inside the house, look at the outlets - if they are two prong outlets, the chances they are ungrounded, which may affect your computer or televisions!  If you need to rewire the house, that may be an expense you didn't count on!


Small Small Closets!

Forget about walk in closets in many of these old houses!  In fact, in some areas of the city of Richmond, there may be no closets in the house!  If you have a lot of clothes, you may have to do what I used to call "Seasons" - I would have winter clothes in my closet in the winter time (with all my summer clothes in the attic) and then I would spend a day or two switching out the clothes at the change of seasons!  Unless the house has been renovated & a walk in closet added, the chances are that you will have small small closets!


Historic Restrictions!

There are many wonderful neighborhoods in Richmond that have historic designations attached to the houses in the area!  This means that any exterior renovations that are done must be in compliance with the historic ordinances that are in place!  The City of Richmond takes this very seriously - so if you are buying in an area like Church Hill and the wood siding is in bad shape in the house you are looking at, you may not be able to re-side it with vinyl!  You may have to repair the wood siding and paint it in a historically accurate color!  If you have a chimney that is falling down and the fireplace it goes to is a non working fireplace, you may not be able to just take down the chimney!  If the home you are looking at is in a historic area, make sure you are able to comply with the restrictions that may apply!


Many homebuyers are attracted to buying a home with loads of charm & character in it, and putting their own stamp on the house by doing renovations!  And for many buyers, the upside is great!  For instance, in Area 30 (our northside of the city), a Four Square home with about 1440 SF built in 1924 with 3 bedrooms & 2 1/2 baths that needs work can be had for around $149,000!  But if someone goes in and does some smart renovations, a home in that same area with around 1,500 SF built in 1924 can go for as much as $280,000!  That is almost double the value!  That is so attractive to so many buyers out there!  And the area is an up and coming area where people get out and walk, neighbors get together for neighborhood clean ups and new small restaurants & coffee shops are opening up! 


And, as someone who loves the city and what it has to offer, the upside potential is there!  But buyers who are looking to give some love and care to their new (but older) home, there are just some things you need to keep in mind when looking at older homes!


Thinking of buying a home?  Thinking of buying an older home?  Want to know a little bit more about the in-town neighborhoods in Richmond?  Feel free to get in touch with me and I would be happy to help!









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Barbara A. Reagan


Long & Foster Realtors

2931 Polo Pkwy

Midlothian, VA  23113

Phone:  804-869-1191


Barbara A. Reagan - Long & Foster Realtors - 2931 Polo Pkwy - Midlothian, VA  23113