Is this Your Money Pit?

It could be if you purchase a historic home without doing your homework first.

Remember Tom Hanks in the “Money Pit”? It was funny, right? Well, it is, until it happens to you. Here’s some advice on what to look for should you be thinking of buying an older home. Oh, and this advice comes from first hand knowledge of my own money pit historic home from a couple years back.

I am using this Saint Paul Historic Home as an example, so if you own this home, please forgive me. It is easy to see from the photo that the home needs work, but not every home upon first appearance will tell you as much.

I have a photo of this home also at the end of summer. As you can
also see, it is usually covered in vegetation and doesn’t appear to be kept up very well. If it were for sale and I was a potential buyer, red flags would immediately go up. The perception being, if the yard is a mess, than the inside can’t be much better.

So a couple things to look for on the Exterior should be:

  1. Age of the Roof – if the shingles are peeling, then plan on spending upwards of $10,000+ for a new roof. Victorians are notorious for steep pitches and multi-gables, which bring the price up on roof repair. Not to mention they are quite dangerous for a roofer not use to the height.
  2. Wood Rot – some may not notice this as a problem in Minnesota, but if bare wood exposed to water is allowed to continue, your little problem could spread and before you know it you are not only replacing a window sill, but the entire widow casing and support beams.
  3. Overgrowth & Drainage – trees that rub against the home can cause extensive damage to the roof and siding, and also cause runoff into the home itself. Check to make sure there isn’t any water pooling in the yard from faulty gutters as it could end up in your basement during a downpour.
  4. Weather Stripping – are the windows original to the home? If so, make sure they are properly sealed, and by sealed I mean “neatly” sealed, not just some caulk slapped up for good measure. Old homes can be drafty and cost you a bundle in heating and cooling if windows and doors are not sealed against the elements.
  5. Foundation or Porch Sag – if the porch is warped and sagging, not only will you have to replace the porch foundation, but most likely the porch roof as well. The strain put on the roof supports could cause too much stress and make the porch not very safe, and also cause drainage problems. Remember #2, wood rot? Also, look at cracks in the exterior brick or stucco. This could be telling you the home has foundation problems which will require extensive retrofitting and sometimes go as far as jacking the home up for repairs.
  6. Chimneys – one hundred year old chimneys are usually the last item on any repair list, but if not looked after, they could come crashing down into your home during high winds. Have a professional chimney repair company check the mortar around the bricks. If he can lift a brick off the top or stick an knife in the mortar like butter, than the chimneys will have to be retucked. You might even want to seal them from the elements using a 10 year product that keeps moisture out of the mortar.
  7. Exterior Brick – too many times I see exterior brick homes that need to be completely retucked with new mortar. This can be an expensive repair depending on the size of the home, but it has to be done to keep the structure around for another hundred years. And no, painting the brick is not a good solution. It will cause more problems than it will solve.
  8. Exterior Paint – check and make sure the paint is not peeling around trim. Some times home owners take the easy way out and keep painting over 50 years worth of paint. Instead, all old paint should be stripped off, then the trim should be treated, repaired, and painted with new exterior paint. Remember lead based oil paint was used prior to 1978 and will not take water based paint very well over it. It always bubbles up or peels within a couple of years.

This post just covers the exterior parts of a historic home that you should pay attention to if planning on purchasing in the future. It is also a good basis for home owners who currently live in an older home. Use it as a check list for repairs that you might not previously have thought about completing.

Look for my future post in the next week where I discuss items to look for in the interior of a Historic Home whether it is in Minneapolis, St Paul, or somewhere else in the States.

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