Things to consider when buying an old home

Late last year we took the plunge and bought our first “project” house. Our previous home, although it was once an old school, had been beautifully converted by some developer and therefore  when it came to doing it up our main tasks were deciding paint colours and furniture. This time however it’s been a little different.

Our new house was previously owned for  30 years by a couple who moved in just before they had their first child and they raised both their kids there. We loved the fact that it was a family home with many happy memories and I think they were happy it was going to be lived in by another family rather than bought by a developer.
Although the house is completely liveable and not bad at all, the decor is not quite to our taste and some things haven’t been updated for a good few decades. As we’ve spent more time living here and looking into doing it up we have slowly been uncovering a long (and slightly scary) list of things that need to be done. And unfortunately there are a load of really boring things that need to be done before we can begin work on the more exciting things like painting and furniture.

In light of these new discoveries of ours I thought I would share with you some of the things to look out for when buying an old house so that you don’t end up with a load of surprises.

What are the electrics like?

Not something that is easy to test but something that can cost you quite a bit if they need to be redone! Try and find out when the place was last rewired and what the state of the fuse board is. If you’re not able to find this out have a look at the plug sockets and light switches as these can be quite a good indicator. Are the plug sockets more than 45cm above the floor and are the sockets flush against the skirting board? In houses which have had the electrics redone the plug sockets tend to be around 45cm from the floor (although they only legally have to be at this height in new builds). Whereas in older houses the plug sockets are much closer to the ground, sometimes to the extent that you would have trouble plugging in a bulky phone charger. Old sockets also tend to be big white boxes stuck on the front of the skirting board rather than flush against the wall.

If you do think you may need to rewire the house factor this in to your budget and your plans for the year. Rewiring an entire house can cost between £3k – £6k depending on how big it is and whether you have any lovely cornicing that the electricians will have to work around and not damage. The process of rewiring can take up to three weeks depending on the size of the house, in which time it’s best not to be living there. Your carpets and floorboards will need to be taken up in each room to lay the new wiring and the electricians will need to drill channels into the wall wherever you want a switch, light or plug. Do not do ANY decorating if you think you’re going to need to rewire as it will just be a waste of money and time. Oh and you may need to get some professional cleaners in at the end to deal with all the dust!

interior vine victorian house

Is the boiler up to the job?

When was the boiler last replaced and serviced? Replacing boilers can obviously be quite expensive but they can also make all the difference to the efficiency of your heating and hot water. A good boiler is worth it’s weight in gold in my opinion, but that’s probably because I love taking long hot showers!

The owners of our house had recently replaced the boiler which is great, however we have been told that even though it’s a good boiler it might struggle if there were more people living in the house or two people were taking a shower at the same time.

Make sure you get a boiler that matches your hot water needs!

Do the walls need to be replastered?

A lot of old houses have never been replastered which can make drilling into the walls a nightmare. When we moved in we tried to hang a few things into the walls and quickly found they started to crumble the minute you drilled into them.

In Victorian and Edwardian houses the internal walls are usually made up of lath and plaster, which holds up very well and allows the house to breathe (reducing the likelihood of damp) however any wall that was plastered over 100 years ago probably needs a bit of patching up! In order to check whether your walls need to be replastered you may need to peel off a few layers of wallpaper in order to understand the real state of it. Although it can be a bit of a bore it’s always exciting to see what lies underneath.

Our walls had been patched up by the previous owners with layers of lining paper  and so we decided not to paint on top but bite the bullet and strip it all back and replaster.

Check to see what kind of plaster your builders are going to use so you can make sure it’s suitable for your type of property and won’t cause damp.

Interior vine victorian house

Do the windows need to be replaced? 

When we were house hunting I was adamant that ultimately I wanted wooden windows. I’ve never liked plastic/pvc windows despite their numerous benefits and so I decided that if we did buy a house with plastic windows I would simply replace them.

Having now looked into the cost of wooden sash windows I’m so happy that our house already has sash windows as we would be saving for years to replace them. The majority of the windows upstairs were replaced by the previous owners with double glazed sash windows. It is only the downstairs living room and our bedroom which have the original single glaze sash’s. We’ve got estimates to replace the windows in both these rooms and they have all come in between £10 – 25k!

When looking at an old house check the state of the windows, are they rotten, are they going to let in a huge draft or are they plastics windows you’d like to replace. If so make sure you’ve budgeted for this as it is a huge chunk of money you need to set aside.

Those are the big things we’ve learnt so far about buying an old house. As we uncover more I’ll be sure to share them with you.

Rebecca X 





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