Buying An Old House? Things To Consider!

July 2, 2018


One of the things that I really love about the Richmond area is the older neighborhoods you find throughout the city of Richmond!  I lived in an older home (built in the 1930's) and I loved my old house - but owning & living in a charming older home in a wonderful neighborhood in the city has lots of things you need to consider that maybe you don't have to consider in the a newer home in the suburbs!  So here is my list of those things to consider when you are thinking of buying an older home!


Lead Paint & Asbestos

In the city you will find many homes that may have asbestos in them!  It was a great flame retardant and a great insulator, which is why it was so popular!  It was used for everything from siding and roof shingles to insulation in the house and having the pipes wrapped!  And in my old house, what looked like old & yellowed linoleum tiles was most likely old asbestos tiles in my kitchen!  In 1989, asbestos was outlawed because if the asbestos is disturbed, it could cause airborne particles that could lodge in the lungs and cause cancer!  


In addition to asbestos, many older homes will most likely have lead paint!  Lead paint was outlawed in 1978, so homes built before 1978 will probably have lead paint, although it can be under hundreds of layers of paint that has been put on the walls since 1978!  But lead paint has a very sweet smell (sort of like the Double Bubble bubble gum I used to chew as a kid), and young children may eat it if the paint is peeling and that can cause problems, especially in children!


For both of these things, you may or may not want to have it inspected.  If it needs to be removed or abated, this process can be very pricey!  It may not be a problem, but it is something to keep in mind when looking at older homes!

Foundation Issues

For many homes in the city, the homes may have cracks here or there - this is probably normal settlement over the years!  But I have seen homes where there is a definite sloping of the floors!  Or there are large stairstep cracks in the foundation!  And I have even seen homes where the older trees are now growing into the foundation!  If your home inspector notes that there are concerns about the foundation, it is definitely something I would recommend having a structural engineer looking at the foundation to let you know just what the problem is and what would need to be done to fix it!



It is hard to believe that in 2018 there would be any homes still on fuses, but I have definitely seen them!  I showed a home the other day and there were only 2 outlets in each of the bedrooms and in the living room!  And most of them were two prong (vs the three prongs) which told me that the outlets were not grounded!  With today's lifestyle, we have lots of computers, televisions and other electronics, where you probably need more outlets and probably need to make sure you have grounded outlets as well as three prong outlets!  The home may even have some old knob & tube wiring or aluminum wiring!  If the house has any of these issues, re-wiring the house may be costly!  Make sure you look at the electrical when inspecting the house!



Old houses most likely have old pipes, which over time may galvanize and cause water pressure to drop in the house.  In my old house, I had to have my plumbing redone because the pipes in the original bathroom had galvanized and I had very very low water pressure!  It was somewhat easy because I had a basement and they could run the plumbing up from the basement, but they had to cut into the plaster walls to replace the pipes, which then meant I had to get a plasterer after the plumbing was redone to go in and replaster the walls that were cut into!  Make sure that your inspector looks at the water pressure as well as the pipes in the house to see if you need to do any plumbing upgrades after closing!



Many of the roofs on the older homes you see will not be the standard composition shingles you see on the newer homes in the suburbs!  You will find a lot of different types of roofs:  slate roofs, asbestos roofs, flat roofs, rubber roofs, tin roofs!  Not all roofers are able to properly work on these different types of roofs!  So if you have a repair that is needed, you may need to pay more money to have a roofer take care of the roof problem!  A slate roof may last 150 years, but it could cost a lot more money to have a cracked or missing shingle replaced!  An asbestos roof may last a long time, but when it needs to be replaced, it must be done in people with the white suits on and disposed of in proper landfills!  Make sure your inspector looks at the roof to see if you are looking at costly roof repairs after closing!


Leaky Basements

Many older homes, especially in the Fan and the northside, will have basements.  Typically these basements will be below grade basements with windows high on the walls that are at sidewalk level.  I grew up in an area where people had below grade basements but they were typically dry!  Not in Richmond - you can have basements that range from taking on several inches of water in them every time it rains hard to basements that just wick in moisture through the masonry walls!  If you are thinking of using the basement for living space and finishing it off, you need to make sure you have it properly dried so that it will not take on water or moisture!  If you walk into the basement and it smells musty when there is no dehumidifier running, then the chances are high that it does take on moisture!  If there is white markings on the wall or floor, there is a high chance that the basement has had water in it.  


Energy Efficiency May Be Lacking

Many of the older homes are not going to have the energy efficiency features that newer homes have!  Windows, for instance, are not standard sized windows!  But they may be old and drafty!  They may not be able to be opened because the sash cords have been cut or are missing!  You may have a wonderful brick home - but no insulation in it so in the winter it feels cold and in the summer it retains heat!  Your heating and air systems may be old and inefficient!  If you are looking at older homes, look at the HVAC, windows & other energy efficient features to see if you are okay with them.  After closing you may want to upgrade the home's energy efficiency!


Homes May Not Be Up To Today's Building Codes

Building codes in the various localities change every few years.  But houses are not usually required to be redone every few years to bring them up to the current building code.  So it is very possible that you may find homes that have very steep stairwells (I had this in my house - the stairway to the attic was so steep even my dog wouldn't go up the steps), the height of the railings may be lower than the building code requires, there may be no closets in bedrooms and you may even have to go through bedrooms to get to another bedroom!  All these things may not be up to today's code, but were probably code compliant when they were built, and will most likely be grandfathered in under the old building codes!  If you do significant renovations, keep in mind that you may need to bring these things up to today's code and may even need building permits from the city to have the work done!


Can Your Appliances Fit Into The Home

This is especially true in the kitchen!  If your home has an old stove in it that is wider than the stoves that are used today, you may find that when you go to replace it it may be difficult!  The space for your refrigerator may not be wide enough to accomodate the side by side refrigerator that you want to put into the house!  And if your laundry area is not in the basement, it may be difficult to go from top loading washers to a high efficiency front loading machine!  You need to keep this in mind when you are looking at the homes!


Lack of Storage

Older homes were built when people didn't have as much as we have today!  Back in the early 1900's, most people had a couple pair of shoes, maybe a couple of pants & several shirts!  Armoires were the "closets" for many homes you find in areas such as the Fan and Church Hill!  And even with homes built in the 20's and 30's and 40's, you may have had closets in the house, but they were very tiny!  In some homes, you even had what is called a "trunk room", which was very small and had no closet - it was where people in the day would keep their trunks that they used when travelling!  If you need a lot of storage space look at how you can work with the storage space the house has!  Maybe it means that you have to do "seasons" in your closet - switching clothes out each season!  



If you have finished reading this post, you may think that I don't like the old houses!  But the truth is that I love old house living!  I love the charm & character you get with an old house that you don't necessarily get with the newer homes!  I love the history of each house in these wonderful, eclectic neighborhoods!  I love the walkability you find in these neighborhoods that you won't always find in the newer suburban neighborhoods!  All these homes have a wonderful story to tell - and they are wonderful places for making great memories!  But living in an older home is different than living in a newer home - it is not for everyone!  But if it is for you, just make sure you know what the quirky things are that you should consider!


Thinking of buying a home in the City of Richmond?  Not all Realtors love the older homes - I do!  Give me a call and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have!






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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