[10 on Tuesday] 10 Tips on Inspecting Historic Homes Before You Buy

Posted on: April 30th, 2013 by Sarah Heffern 4 Comments

In our ongoing series about buying a historic home, we've covered how to find a historic house, determine its architectural style (parts One and Two), and finance the cost. Today we're on to the next step in the process -- how to inspect the house to make sure it is in good condition.

Of course, a professional inspection -- which will cover many of these same areas, but with greater depth and accuracy -- is necessary once you move from looking to buying, but knowing what to look for while you're shopping around can help you make your decision!

1. Make a list. Before you get started, make a list of all the areas you want to look at, including the roof, chimney, interior and exterior walls, porches, windows and doors, foundation, fireplaces, attics and basements, bathrooms, etc. This will help ensure that you don't miss any critical elements, and can also help you prioritize the work that needs to be done once you become the owner.

2. Take pictures. Having photos to refer back to will help you remember what you've seen. (Be sure to ask the owner or their representative for permission first!)

3. Start at the top. From a distance, examine the roof and chimney. Look for a sagging roofline, leaning chimney, and any sort of obstructions. Closer in, examine the roof shingles or tiles for signs of rotting, cracking, or other damage. Check the chimney for loose or missing mortar, and verify that the flue liner is intact.

Photo courtesy PreservationNation, Flickr

4. Examine the walls. Like the roof and chimney, a house's walls need to be looked at both from near and far. Different kinds of exteriors (wood, masonry, stucco, etc.) will show different kinds of wear, but signs of water damage and cracking are rarely good signs. And don't neglect the interior -- while paint color and wallpaper are easily changed, make sure those aesthetic choices aren't covering up signs of leaks, loose plaster, or other damage.

5. Spend some time on the porch. And not, alas, just drinking iced tea and reading a book. Look for weak floor boards and peeling paint, which are signs of rot, and take a moment to look underneath to make sure the piers holding up the porch are stable and not pulling away from the house. Also, make sure the stairs are in good condition; be on the lookout for missing or damaged railings.

 6. Look out the windows. Are they original? Moreover, are they in good shape -- no cracked or broken glass, or damaged sills or rails? If the windows are not original, are they compatible with the house?

Tip: If you're not sure about how to handle a home with historic windows, check out our toolkit from last fall, 10 Things You Should Know About Retrofitting Historic Windows.

7. Walk around -- and up and down. In other words, pay attention to the floors and the stairs. Listen for squeaks and feel for springiness, sags, and tilts. Pay particularly close attention to the floors near sinks and tubs -- is there water damage? Peek under the carpet when possible to assess the state of the flooring below, and look along the baseboard for ridges that indicate a floor has already been sanded down. (Most can only be sanded one or two times.)

Basement. (Photo courtesy howzey, Flickr)

8. Go underground. How is the basement? Keep your eyes peeled for signs of water damage -- both obvious and hidden. Puddles, clogged drains, or a sump pump make it clear that water has been an issue, but stealthier signs often include furniture and books up on risers rather than on the floor.

9. Are all systems go? Don't forget to look at the basics that we all take for granted: heating, hot water, and electricity. Many houses that have been renovated have newer systems, but not all will. You'll want to be sure that everything is functional and safe before buying the house.

10. Don't forget the attic. There are several key things to pay attention to in the upper reaches of a historic home: making sure there's no wildlife (look for signs of animal damage, nests, or hives), holes in the roof not visible from outside, or water damage -- and that there is climate-appropriate insulation.

There are just some of the many things to keep in mind when inspecting a historic home. What else do you look for?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class. Follow her on Twitter at @smheffern.

10 on Tuesday, Real Estate, Tools

4 Responses

  1. Dennis Hockman
    DH

    April 30, 2013

    Good tips. Another great idea is to hire a professional inspector who is versed in historic architecture. Oh, and if you do go it alone, use good binoculars to inspect the roof and chimney–it’s not always feasible (or wise) to inspect a roof from a ladder.

  2. Calgary home builder

    May 1, 2013

    This are all quality tips. Never underestimate how much you’ll need the pictures.

  3. Amy Jacob

    May 2, 2013

    Great tips. Most of us tend to be careless enough to not notice these small signs of damage that can lead us to invest in a money-pit.

    Thanks for such an informative post.

    fast home buyers

  4. bahrain property

    May 14, 2013

    Thank you for this article, I would like to add a small tip while buying a home which is asking about future plans. Do research about the area that you’ll buy your property in or ask your agent because real-estate agents are aware of any future plans that will happen in any area they’re selling property in because they use it as an advantage for the villa or apartment to increase its price. Future plans may be a hospital, bus station, or even a supermarket that is planning to open.