Although there are no hard and fast rules for what constitutes an older home, those built before 1920 fall in the antique category. Since Chicago became a city in the mid-1800s, there is a substantial inventory of older homes in the city and surrounding suburbs. As such, it’s not uncommon for prospective buyers to find an older home on the market. It may have a rustic charm, but buyers should be aware of a few common and costly issues associated with these homes.
Lead and Asbestos
Until the 1970s, construction materials commonly included lead and asbestos. Any older home may have remnants of these hazardous materials leftover from previous decades. Mitigating lead plumbing can mean filtration, replacing a few fittings or replumbing a whole house. Many older homes come with a lead paint warning, and the only way to ensure a house is completely free of lead paint is by investing in professional lead paint abatement, which can be expensive. The same goes for asbestos removal.
Insufficient and Unsafe Electrical Systems
Most houses built in the early 20th century were not wired for the number of electronics, lights and appliances we have these days. While you will need an inspector to fully assess the wiring in a house and a professional electrician to help replace wiring, you can learn some useful things about a house’s electrical condition during an initial walkthrough. Look for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) and grounded, three-prong wall sockets. Count the number of outlets in each room; newer building standards typically include them every few feet. Open the breaker box as well. It should have breakers, not fuses, and the panel should be free of rust and other signs of damage.
Although water heaters, furnaces, and central air can last for decades in some cases, an older home may have equipment that is well past its recommended replacement date. The current owner will probably be unlikely replace these items, but with a little research, you can schedule and prepare for their replacement costs. Don’t forget to account for appliances like refrigerators, ranges, and dishwashers too.
This short list of issues that you may find in an older home is just a start. Home buyers should also be on the lookout for mold and mildew, termite problems, leaky plumbing, poor insulation, outdated windows, roofs in disrepair, radon and foundation problems.
Of course, a professional home inspector will call attention to any of the issues, but it never hurts to have a list of questions ready when it comes time to walk through that classic old house of your dreams.