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Don't Buy A Money-Pit, Lookout For These Problems in Older Homes

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Primary Blog/Don't Buy A Money-Pit, Lookout For These Problems in Older Homes

If you are in the market for an older and possibly distressed property then you likely have big renovation aspirations. Those aspirations may include a simple remodel of the existing finishes, removing load-bearing walls to open up the space, or a more extensive renovation that involves tearing everything down to the studs and starting from scratch.

The sky’s the limit!

…But pump your brakes for a minute, and let’s make sure you’ve read this guide before submitting an offer on that fixer upper and find yourself overwhelmed by the extra work, and cost, you didn’t signup for.

So, why does determining the age of a home matter?

When you can establish the age of a property and what improvements have or have not been done to it, you can better prepare for the work ahead.

How can you determine a home’s age?

There are four actions you can take to find out a home’s age:

  • ​Speak to the original owner. This would be the best way to confirm the home’s age, and know for certain what work (if any) has been done to it.
    Note, if this is an older home, the chances of you speaking to the original owner are rare.
  • As the buyer, ask your Realtor to request this information from the Listing Agent. As the seller’s representative, they must provide you with the material facts.
    Note, the current owner may not be aware of any previously completed work before they came into possession of the home.
  • Request information from the Municipality. Under the Freedom of Information Act, you can request a digital copy of the Property Survey and Permit Drawings that the Municipality has on file (If there is anything). Depending on their capacity you may be waiting a while for them to pull said information.
    Note, these could both be outdated and therefore not indicate the full extent of work completed in the home.
  • Know some basic fundamentals about building systems and construction materials. These can give you an approximate time period the home was constructed and/or renovated. So long as your home has not been completely renovated that is.

All are viable options, but Number 4 is what will provide you the insight needed to plan your future renovation. It’s also the subject of today’s post. Take the time to read this post and refer to my quick Reference Guide near the end of this post. It could be the difference between a profit and a loss.

That’s all great, but again, why does determining the age of a home matter?

Simply put, the building systems and building materials in the home constructed during a certain period could have a major impact on your renovation plans. That includes the scope of work, budget, schedule, and in some cases even your ability to qualify for an insurance policy.

What do you mean by building systems, and what building materials?

Building systems include all aspects of a building. Everything from the exterior to the interior. This includes the supporting structure (ie: footings, foundation walls, posts, beams, etc.), enclosures (ie: exterior walls, roofs, doors, windows, etc.), comfort (ie: Water, Electricity, HVAC, etc.) and safety to those with reside in it.

The way building systems and materials interact can not only affect their individual performance, but the performance of other systems and materials as well. How everything works together is really a holistic approach with the objective of maximizing their life cycle(s).

So, why do you want to determine a home’s age and find out what building systems and building materials are in it?

Changes to local building codes, improved safety standards, manufacturer innovations, and a stronger emphasis on energy efficiency and sustainability continue evolving with each passing decade.

If you have big renovation aspirations, as I mentioned at the start of this blog post, then identify building systems that are:

  • Deteriorating (past their optimal lifespan),
  • Inefficient (poor insulators or use excessive energy compared to modern-day products),
  • Hazardous (ie: asbestos, lead, faulty electrical)

Can all have a BIG impact on the scope of work, budget, and schedule.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; Fail to plan, plan to fail.

Take the time to become informed. Doing your due diligence is particularly important when tens if not hundreds of thousands of your hard-earned dollars are on the line. It would be great to always have your preferred General Contractor or Home Inspector at your side during the property showing, so they may identify the extent of the work involved. However, that will not always be possible when time is of the essence and they are otherwise occupied.

You might be asking, how am I supposed to figure this all out by myself?

All of the critical building systems and building materials in the home are likely behind closed walls, ceilings, etc. But if you can identify even just one of these, then there’s a very good chance you can put an approximate date on the home, and with that, you’re already in better shape than when you started out. You’ll also be able to make assumptions as to what other building systems and building materials were used during that same period.

Here are some of the critical systems and materials that will provide clues you can use to identify the home’s age:

  • Footings & Foundations: Stone foundations, Brick, Cast-In-Place Concrete, Concrete Block (CMUs).
  • Exterior Structure: Framing, Roof Systems, Windows.
  • Floor Joists & Sub Floors: Timber, Wood Plank, Plywood, Oriented Strand Board (OBS), Steel I-Beams, Engineered Joists, Engineered Roof Trusses, Laminated Veneer Lumber.
  • ​Insulation: Newsprint & Paper, Cellulose, Vermiculite, Mineral Wool, Fibreglass, Extruded Polystyrene.
  • ​Interior Finishes: Lathe & Plaster, Drywall/Gypsum Board, Paint types.
  • Plumbing: Copper (Waste), Galvanized, Cast Iron, Lead, ABS and PVC (Waste), Kitec, PEX.
  • Mechanical Systems: Boiler(s), Radiators, Oil Furnace, Electric Baseboard Heating, HVAC Systems.
  • ​Electrical: Knob & Tube, Aluminum, 3-Prong, Copper.

Further to the above list, I’ve put together a Quick Reference Guide below that translates these building systems and building materials into a visual timeline which spans back decades. Hopefully, you find this visual timeline insightful and you’ll be able to reveal these hidden clues before acquiring your next fixer upper..

Building systems and construction materials haven’t changed all that much over the last few decades, but if you’re in the market for an older (pre-1980s) and distressed property that hasn’t been updated (or very little), you’ll be glad to have this Reference Guide.

You won’t need to wait until the walls and ceiling are exposed to figure out what you’re up against. You’ll be able to communicate these critical details to your General Contractor in order to understand the scope, cost, and time implications before submitting your offer. This could make the difference between a good investment or burning a hole in your wallet.

Now get after it!

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Michael Emanuele

(a.k.a. ""The Real Estate Rehabber")

​Bestselling Author, Real Estate Investor, and Entrepreneur

I want to empower new and seasoned real estate investors alike to navigate the challenges of property rehabbing with confidence.

These resources include essential tips and insights, that every real estate investor can use to excel in the competitive world of property rehabbing.

​Whether your goal is to flip houses, create long-term rentals, or execute the buy-rehab-rent-refinance-repeat strategy, "The Real Estate Rehabber" will educate viewers on how they can plan and manage property rehabs.