Owning History: Buyer Beware!

Vintage home or money pit? A master plumber’s guide to telling the difference. 

A wide variety of historic homes in East Falls & Germantown

Isn’t it funny how fashion comes back around? And that’s not just true for clothes. It’s true for homes, too. Stately Victorians and Philadelphia rowhouses aren’t the only sought-after historic homes.  Suburban homes from the 1960s — like the ones at the bottom of Gypsy Lane in the “mid-century modern”style — are going like hotcakes.

But no matter what era your historic home is from, it’s still going to need extra attention before you buy it. That’s because, frankly, it’s old. Older homes have a lot of the same problems. The structure wears out over time. The systems, if there are any, might be outdated, out of code or just plain dangerous.

A little wear and tear can be nice. It gives the home its sought-after character. But when wear and tear is more than skin deep, you’ve just taken a sharp turn away from vintage homes and into money pit territory.

Here’s what you need to know when buying an older home.

Watch Out for the Big Five

When you’re looking at an older home, keep what I call the Big Five at the top of your mind. You need to know the exact condition and age of the home’s:

  1. Water and sewer lines
  2. Electrical system
  3. Roof
  4. Heating and Air Conditioning
  5. Windows and doors

The Big Five are the parts of your home that can cause the biggest problems and can cost the most money to fix. If one of these isn’t in the best shape and you still decide to buy the home, at least you’ll know what to expect.

Get a Good Home Inspection

Everyone knows to get a home inspection before buying a house, but the stakes are higher with an older home simply because there’s more that can go wrong. I highly recommend pairing your traditional home inspection with visits from home service and repair professionals like plumbers, HVAC specialists and electricians. These pros can diagnose problems your home inspector might miss, and since they’re licensed, they’ll be able to give you an estimate for repairs.

Check the Zoning

There’s a big difference between an old home and one that’s historically certified or located in a historic overlay zone. Philadelphia was the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage City for the “outstanding universal value” of our incredible local architecture. If the place you’ve got your eye on has protected status — thank you for helping preserve our history! But be aware that you’ll likely be limited to historically-accurate colors, moldings, accents, updates… There will be a committee of experts who will tell you what you can and cannot do to your own property.

Renovating or rehabilitating a certified historic home is a lot harder and more costly than doing the same to a house that’s simply old. That’s because the historic designation adds rules and regulations to the equation. This information should be disclosed in the home’s agreement of sale, so be sure to read all documents carefully and research on your own before you buy.

Owning a vintage home can be a blessing or a curse. Who wouldn’t love living in a beautiful piece of history? But if you’re not careful, your new/old house can have you throwing good money after bad.

If you would like more information about buying and maintaining historic homes, visit www.calljg.com or call us at (215) 375-7134.

About Joseph Giannone 6 Articles
Joseph Giannone, is a local expert and owner of Joseph Giannone Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning, proudly serving NW Philly (and all of Philadelphia & Delaware counties). More info at calljg.com or call 215-375-7134

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