The Top 5 Costly Surprises Lurking in Older Properties (and How to Avoid Them)

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There’s no denying the charm and character of an older home. From the unique architectural details to the rich history, many homebuyers find themselves drawn to properties with a bit of age. However, as a TREC licensed professional inspector with years of experience in residential construction, I’ve seen firsthand how these older homes can also come with some costly surprises.

While every property is unique, there are some common issues that tend to pop up more frequently in older homes. In my opinion, these are the top five costly surprises to watch out for:

1. Outdated Electrical Systems

One of the most common issues I see in older properties is an outdated electrical system. Many of these homes were built before modern safety standards were put in place, which means they may have inadequate wiring, overloaded circuits, or even in rare cases knob-and-tube wiring.

Not only can these outdated systems lead to inconvenient power outages, but they can also pose a safety hazard. Rewiring an entire home is a major undertaking that can cost tens of thousands of dollars, so it’s important to factor this potential expense into your budget if you’re considering an older property.

Research the home’s age and typical electrical standards that were in place when it was built to gauge potential issues. Check for any electrical permits, which could indicate updates. Ask the seller about known electrical problems, updates or previous work.

2. Plumbing Doesn't Generally Age Well

Over time, pipes can corrode, leading to leaks, poor water pressure, and even burst pipes. In some cases, portions of the plumbing may need to be completely replaced, which can be a significant expense.

Older homes may also have outdated plumbing fixtures and appliances that are not up to current standards or are inefficient compared to modern options. Upgrading these items can add up quickly, so it’s important to have a realistic idea of the condition of the plumbing, especially in an older property.

Be sure to ask the seller about any known plumbing leaks, issues, or repairs. Be sure to include a sewer camera inspection when you schedule your home inspection to get a good understanding of the condition of the waste piping.  Again, check with the local building department for any permits that may indicate updates or replacements to the plumbing system.

3. Foundations

Foundation problems are another costly surprise that can lurk in older homes. Over time, soil can shift and settle, leading to cracks, unevenness, and even structural damage. Poor drainage around the foundation can also contribute to these issues.

Repairing foundation damage can be a complex and expensive process, requiring the expertise of a structural engineer. As a homebuyer, it’s crucial to have a thorough inspection of the foundation before committing to an older property.

When your looking at an older home, be sure to walk around the outside.  Look at the exterior walls for visible cracks, settling, or unevenness. Research the area’s soil conditions, in North Texas, we have expansive soils that are prone to shifting and this is more common in some areas than others. 

4. Roof and Gutter Damage

The roof is another area where older homes can hide costly surprises. As a roof ages, it becomes more susceptible to leaks, missing shingles, and other damage. Gutters can also become clogged or damaged over time, leading to water damage and even foundation issues long term.

Replacing an entire roof can be a significant expense, often costing tens of thousands of dollars. As a homebuyer, it’s important to have a professional assess the condition of the roof and gutters.  But you can also look for obvious signs of potential problems when your looking at the home.

Be sure to ask about the roof’s age, known repairs, or known issues.  Look to see if you notice any missing/damaged shingles or tiles. Check that gutters appear to be in good working order and that there are no obvious sign of water running down the sides of the home and collecting near the foundation.

5. Inefficient Heating and Cooling Systems

Finally, many older homes have outdated heating and cooling systems that are inefficient and costly to operate. These systems may heat and cool the home unevenly and produce high energy bills. In some cases, the ductwork may also be damaged or improperly designed, further reducing efficiency. 

Upgrading to a modern, high-efficiency HVAC system can be a significant expense, but it can also lead to long-term energy savings and improved comfort. Be sure to ask about the HVAC system’s age, maintenance history, and typical lifespan for that type.  If you can’t get the age by asking see if you can get the manufacturer and serial number off the outside unit’s tag.  With that and a simple internet search you can very often find the age quickly.  

How to Avoid Costly Surprises

While the above areas require scrutiny, there are additional proactive steps you can take as a homebuyer:

However, the most crucial step in avoiding costly surprises is to hire a qualified, thorough home inspector. An inspector’s trained eye and comprehensive evaluation can identify potential issues that may not be apparent to the untrained homebuyer. While upfront costs may be an investment, a quality home inspection can save you from unexpectedly expensive repairs down the road.


House Fluent Inspections

House Fluent Inspections, the premier home inspection company in North Texas.

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