Princeton Capital Blog

Spotting Hidden Problems in Older Homes

October 10th, 2012

Spotting Hidden Problems in Older Homes

Are you looking into buying an older home? If so, grab your camera and a flashlight before you look. Home inspections can be very good at identifying problems. Nothing beats taking a close look yourself before you have the money spent on an inspection.

Two big and obvious problems

In this article on spotting hidden problems, the author focuses on the problem:

Problems in older homes are often well hidden. More often than not, serious damage doesn’t show any symptoms until the damage is significant and expensive.

There are clues, but even trained eyes sometimes have difficulty telling normal wear and tear from the signs of serious underlying problems.

Most old-home problems, however, have predictable causes and if you know where to look you can find hints that might lead you to discover concealed damage.

 

You’ll want to read the article. The author felt that the two major problems are:

  1. Water damage from where the home settled and water pooled
  2. Outdated electrical system being overused in our modern age

If you find a home that needs new wiring, or water damage repair, you will want to weigh that against the cost of the home.

6 Signs it could be a lemon

MSN had a great list of the 6 signs that the house could be a lemon as well as details on the signs (how to know what you’re looking at), and how much it could cost to fix.

The article also brought up aging roofs, foundation cracks, failed sidings, and sticky doors and windows, but one that we thought was interesting was on sloping floors.
Sloping floors
Sloping floors are not uncommon in older homes, especially turn-of-the-century houses. “I’ve seen houses with as much as five inches difference from one side of the house to the other,” Balin says. Don’t let a seller pass the problem on to you, because it’ll cost you when it’s your turn to sell. “You think it’s not going to make a difference in the price of the house?” Balin says. “Of course it will.”

A sloping floor may signal weakness in the home’s supporting structures. But that’s not always the case, Juneau says. Sometimes it’s just the result of an imperfect repair. In replacing floor joists, for example, the floor may not have been correctly re-leveled.

Signs of trouble

• Look at the house from the street. Is everything — the front entrance, the windows, outside doors, foundation and walls — straight and square?
• Place your marble or level on the floor. Does it roll to one wall? Does your carpenter’s level indicate a subtle tilt?
• Notice how the floor feels beneath your feet: Humps beneath doorways and bounce can indicate failing supports.
• Be alert to ridges under a carpet. In a house with a slab-on-grade foundation, irregularities in the floor may be your clue to a crack or break in the slab.
The fixes
As with leaks, different causes will require different types of repairs. For example:

• A rotten or damaged floor joist can cause the floor to slant. Repairs may run as little as $300 or as much as tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the scope.
• A cracked concrete slab is repaired by drilling holes and injecting concrete. It’s called “slab jacking” and it typically costs several thousand dollars.
• Re-leveling a floor over a crawl space involves slowly lifting the house and making the support beams level. Costs start at about $3,000.

 

Mold and Mildew

Additionally, MSN detailed mold and water stains. You may smell it as soon as you walk in or head to a corner. Don’t be afraid to gently poke at a wall to see if it feels squishy. Black mold could be very expensive to clean up, and might impact your homeowner’s insurance.
Mold and water stains on ceilings and walls
The cause of mold and rot is simple: Water got in where it shouldn’t have. The pros call it “moisture penetration.” The longer it’s there, the more damage it creates.

Signs of trouble

• When touring a home, use your nose. If you encounter moldy or dank smells, politely ask the agent or owner about its origin.
• Check walls and ceilings — particularly under bathrooms and kitchens — for water stains, mold and mushy drywall.
• Check for signs of repairs or remodeling by holding your flashlight parallel to the wall or ceiling. The light casts shadows on every irregularity, repair, patches and a telltale difference in surface sheen. Start at the highest point and work your way down all interior walls. Do the same with the ceiling.
• Inquire about repairs. They are fine if done well. Ask what went wrong, what exactly was done to fix it and when. Satisfy yourself and the experts helping you that the problem was fixed adequately. Ask to see any documentation available.
The fix

• Fixing a leak may involve only replacing a missing piece of flashing. Cost: $10 to $20.
• The same leak, left undetected, can result in a nightmare of rot and mold. “I’ve seen homes where you have to take off the siding all the way around and strip the house down to its bones,” Balin says. Cost: As much as $100,000.

It’s better to identify the problems before you buy, and cheaper to identify major problems before spending time and money on inspections.

Have you ever decided against a house because of a major problem?

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