We started looking for a house about a month ago. It’s a tight market in our area, so we’ve seen about five or six houses in person along with closely watching the online listings and poring over the photos. And of course, there’s this one house…
I’m sure anyone who has bought real estate is going “okay, where’s the ‘but’ on this statement?”
So, here it is: but it’s a 1926 house that’s priced a little over our current range and needs an entire new HVAC system among other things.
I love old houses. Love the crown molding, love antiques, love the feel, love hardwood, love how unique old homes look, love bay windows, love the fact that an old house good enough to buy today is built well. When we started looking, I immediately started checking listings in the historic neighborhood. We saw the 1926 house and fell hard for it. It’s gorgeous with big, airy bedrooms, the pretty trim, and as soon as I set foot in it, I was moving in furniture in my head.
Like I said, it’s priced a little above what we want to pay. However, it’s been on the market for several months, and the sellers are ready to negotiate. So that hurdle was largely overcome. Arthur and I started talking about offering.
Then I did some research as we knew the HVAC system needed replaced and during that, discovered a few things about buying an old house. We knew there would be repairs and remodeling work, which we were willing to do. We knew we needed a cash reserve for the inevitable things that go wrong, which we could handle. There’s often asbestos floor tile somewhere (not an issue as long as intact and not disturbed) which we figured we could manage or replace eventually. We knew we needed to check the electric system (old houses weren’t built to handle modern electronic life), but figured we could manage that as well.
Then I was reading and discovered something we aren’t entirely sure we can handle: lead.
Any house built before 1978 in the USA generally has lead paint somewhere in it – the older the house, the more certain there’s lead paint in it. Lead paint, I discovered, was used more on ‘nicer’ homes of the era because it has such brilliant colors and durability. Meaning this gorgeous 1926 house almost assuredly has lead paint. Apparently, lead paint can be covered and well maintained with few issues. The problem comes if it’s on friction surfaces like windows and door frames (which can create lead dust when the window is opened or the door is open/closed), if it’s in the soil outside the house from outdoor paint (and tracked in), and/or if you have kids under the age of 6 (who tend to be more susceptible and who put everything in their mouths).
I also learned that the Latin word for “lead” is “plumbum” (hence the chemical symbol for lead) and so lead pipes and plumbing are a concern. Lead pipes were used in houses, but even more recent copper plumbing can have lead solders. The high lead solders were banned in 1986 and the amount of allowed lead reduced again in 2014 in the USA.
I dove down the rabbit hole with a vengeance. Did some digging locally and discovered there’s a good chance the service line (the pipe that connects the house to the water main) could be lead. Possible there’s still some lead piping in the house, though hard to say without an offer and a thorough inspection. The windows appear to be original, so there’s a good chance those have lead paint.
We’re debating if we want to deal with this – if we would make an offer and get a lead inspection done and plan on abatement or replacement – or if we should just walk the heck away. At the moment, I’m making calls to the city to find out if the service line was ever replaced (should be a matter of public record), talking to local lead inspectors, and putting in a call to the pediatrician’s office to get their take on things.
I’m starting to understand why all those home buyers and home owners on the HGTV and home improvement shows all seem to have constantly worried to panicked looks on their faces. I’m discovering that all houses have issues. The trick is being aware and picking the issues we feel we can live alongside or change.
If anyone has advice or lives/has lived in an old house, I’m all ears.
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