As a group of some of the oldest states in the US, New England has its fair share of old houses. In fact, in Massachusetts alone, the average age of a home comes in as the second oldest in the country: about 60 years old. Beyond that, we have some of the oldest houses built in the US!
And while owning or living in an older home is a way of life for most New Englanders, newer homes and new construction homes have become more prevalent in Boston’s suburban and exurban communities.
In general, homes built after 1990 are considered newer, while homes built before 1920 are considered “old” or “antique.” Antique styles commonly seen in the Greater Boston area include Tudors, Capes, farmhouses or Colonials, most of which are chock-full of charm while presenting high-quality construction. At the same time, newer construction homes, which commonly reflect more modern versions of the cape and the colonial and offer today’s amenities, such as extra space, larger closets, and master bathrooms.
But if you are stuck on purchasing an older home (or that’s what’s available on the market in your area and price range) what are the pros and cons? Here is a little insight into both.
Lead and asbestos are two hazardous materials that were used in residential construction until just a few decades ago. Lead, a metal that’s particularly harmful to children, is commonly found in paint produced before 1978. It’s also found in pre-World War II plumbing systems, as well as water pipes installed before the mid-1980s.
Asbestos, a fibrous material that causes a serious form of lung cancer and respiratory problems, is an insulation and fireproofing material used prior to the mid-1970s. While asbestos applications have been banned since the late 1980s, many older crawlspaces, walls, and pipes still contain asbestos insulation.
Over time, termites can destroy wooden and wood-like components of homes, including floors and structural supports. Signs of termite damage include sagging or buckling floors, hollow-sounding wood supports or floorboards, and bubbling or peeling paint.
Over time, homes exposed to excessive moisture can develop mold and mildew problems. Particularly common in basements and bathrooms, moisture-related growth can occur anywhere. The problem is more likely to occur in older homes because moisture readily seeps through cracked foundations and leaky pipes. Since mold infestations can start inside walls, it’s possible to walk through a mold-infested home without realizing there’s a problem.
Because mold eats away at its host surfaces, particularly wood, drywall, grout, unchecked mold infestations can cause structural problems and render a home uninhabitable.
The most significant danger of an old plumbing system is the possibility of a pipe failure that floods the home and/or causes major water damage. A serious failure can cost tens of thousands of dollars to clean up, though the damage is often covered by homeowners insurance.
Older homes are prone to a variety of foundation and structural issues, such as major cracks or unevenness in the foundation wall, corrosion, dry rot, or moisture damage in pilings or concrete foundation supports, damaged support footings, and dry rot or moisture damage in above-ground studs.
Signs of foundation or structural problems include doors that jam or don’t latch, wall cracks that grow over time, cracked tile or concrete floors, sticking windows, and floors that are clearly off-level.
Radon is a gas that occurs naturally and enters the home through cracks in the foundation and walls, commonly in older homes. Though it’s not toxic when encountered in small doses, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers, and exposure is not recommended for long periods of time.
Older homes are more likely to have original, inefficient windows. Inefficient windows result in higher electricity bills and the inability to control indoor temperatures efficiently.
Older homes typically have multiple previous residents, and sometimes many more, each doing renovations and/or additions to the property.
While many older homes retain the charm of their original construction, others have seen updates that detract from the home’s appeal and potentially add to the cost of ownership. Luckily, as long as the feature isn’t unsafe, you can live with them until you have room in your budget to change them.
Because most cities and towns grow outward over time, antinque homes tend to be located closer to amenity-rich town centers. A central location offers many convenient benefits, such as the opportunity to walk shops, restaurants, and parks.
Many older homes are swimming in charactor, showcasing charming, period-specific features that provide a look into the past. For example, the built-in storage and display cabinets in a home’s dining room and the original banister along a home’s main staircase can massively influence a buyer’s decision to purchase.
Depending on the architectural style and the home’s location, an older home may be constructed more solidly than newer homes. This can be particularly true for budget-friendly new homes and/or pre-fabricated homes, which are commonly built with cheaply mass-produce materials.
Creative homeowners often find opportunity in older homes’ shortcomings. Having a vision for an older home that is less than perfect can pay huge dividends and a well-executed renovation/update can boost a home’s value and resale value by more than the project’s cost.
While older homes can have their issues, it’s important to remember that newer homes do too. Just like older homes, newer homes can require significant repair and upkeep investments over time, too. Ultimately, it’s more important to choose the home that gives you all the feels than to obsess over the age of the home and the possibilities of what could go wrong.
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