Important Questions To Answer Before Buying Your Historic Home Or Fixer-Upper
There’s no doubt that renovating a home can be a lucrative way to customize, restore and potentially profit. Encountering a “fixer-upper” sometimes happens naturally when living in the same house for many years … but often you may be considering buying a home in need of some improvements.
How well do you really know your potential property? Answering a few of my own home-grown questions may help you with your decision to buy – or run – from your potential new home purchase!
1. Do I love the house “as is” or do I plan on making upgrades?
Ahhh … this is perhaps the most important question of all! Historic homes sometimes come fully restored and ready for move in. Other times they are hanging on for dear life and in dire need of some TLC. Home upgrades may require “sweat equity” (the physical labor you give to improve the home) or more often enhancements are made possible via cash injections. Knowing what investments you plan to make is the best way to manage the expectation of your future happiness.
Address questions from the big to the small, but important ~ Do I love the “bones” of the house? How’s the plumbing? Is there a garage? Do I get strong cell reception inside this home? Is this home all-electric, gas, or a mix of both? What cable or satellite programming options would I have?
2. What’s my total budget?
Answering question #1 above will help you answer this question. Knowing if – and what – improvements you plan to make will guide you into a total budget for your new home. Don’t underestimate how your budget will drive your decisions. My personal rule? Add a 20% buffer to what you plan to invest – not just financially, but emotionally as well.
What’s my list of must-have and my nice-to-have changes? Do I have bids or recent financial experience for the planned work? How will I finance all the work – all at once, or in future stages?
3. If I’m making upgrades can I live in the house while they’re being done?
Sometimes your upgrades are confined to one part of the home, like a spare bath. Other times they could be completely disruptive to daily living, like a complete kitchen “gut and renovation.” Know where you plan to live before starting work – even if it’s several months in advance and you’re planning ahead.
Am I moving into the house before work begins? Can I realistically relocate my family and pets to a temporary place? Am I emotionally up for a move – and potentially two monthly payments while the work is underway? How long will the renovation take to complete?
4. Do I have an inspector skilled with older home inspections?
Partnering with a good inspector is as vital as having a good doctor. You probably don’t know this house very well so a third-party expert opinion can save you from making the biggest mistake of your life or helping you find your greatest house love. If you’re really concerned about the home, get two inspections from two different inspectors – compare the results and go into things eyes wide open.
Does this home have asbestos? What about lead based paint? Are there active termites or signs of prior termite damage? Does the sprinkler system work? How’s the foundation? Any signs of shoddy repairs?
5. What type of foundation does the home have?
Knowing the home’s foundation will guide future restoration decisions and help you know if your potential home is sound and sturdy. There are inspectors that specialize in foundation assessments and your Realtor® can help connect you with Austin’s reputable foundation repair companies.
Pier and beam foundations vs. slab foundations – which is better? What type of foundation does this home have? Does this home have a crawl space? Where is it? Are there any signs of prior foundation repair or existing foundation issues?
6. Have I specifically addressed the age and condition of the home’s key systems?
What’s the home’s 30-second story regarding the condition of its roof, HVAC, insulation, windows and energy types (electric, gas, solar)? If you don’t know you owe it to yourself to find out. An appraiser can help you fill in the blanks.
How old is this home’s roof? How much longer might the water heater last? Does this home have an attic fan? Can I replace the electric range with a gas range? Would this home be a good candidate for a tankless water heater?
7. What’s the “effective age” of this home?
There’s actually a difference between the true age of a home and its effective age.
True age is the physical age of a home – kinda like it’s “human age” in years.
The “effective age” is how old the property “appears to be” compared to other properties. Because of updating and good maintenance, a house may appear to be younger than it actually is; it’s remaining life may be longer than other properties built about the same time, and the property may be worth more than properties built about the same time.
Has this home had any recent updates? Which ones? What things might need to be replaced next? Will this house likely be standing long after I plan to leave it?
8. Do I know the home’s typical utility consumption?
This may seem like a minor question to ask. But if you’ve received $400+ monthly electric bills (I have), you’ll want to make sure you consider what your monthly utilities will cost on top of your mortgage payment. Your Realtor® can help you obtain this useful information.
How is this home heated? Do I know how much I may be spending for utilities in addition to my monthly mortgage payment? Can I comfortably afford this home’s utilities? How much might I be paying for air conditioning in the height of Austin’s summer or heating in the winter?
9. Is my home located in a historic district?
While the skyline of “Boomtown Austin” may make the city look relatively young, Austin actually boasts three historic districts, the most popular being Hyde Park. Living in a historic district has many advantages but also comes with a responsibility to educate yourself so you’re savvy and compliant with Austin’s older communities. You can learn more about Austin’s 7 historic districts at the City Of Austin’s Official Website … it’s loaded with useful information!
Is my home located in a historic district? Do I need a permit for my home improvement project? What might I “save” with Austin’s tax abatement program?
10. Will this home come with a home warranty?
In many cases home purchases can include a home warranty for the buyer. Knowing if you will receive a warranty can be helpful in the event things go wrong with the normal wear and tear of plumbing, electrical or appliances. Familiarize yourself with what the warranty covers – and more importantly what it does not cover.
Is the pool covered by the home warranty? Is there a trip fee for service calls? After my first year how much will the home warranty cost me each month if I decide to renew the plan?
I’ve owned and restored a 1920s Tudor home (shown above) and while it wasn’t always easy, it taught me many valuable life lessons about living in – and loving – an older home. Because of this I truly enjoy the energy I receive when helping my clients determine if a particular home is right for them.
Finding your next home is an adventurous journey that requires careful navigation. Reach out to me when you’re ready to pursue finding your next Austin home … and until then “live the great life” here in Central Texas!
~ Joe Paul Reider
Home Style Austin Founder Austin Realtor® Keller Williams Realty, Inc.
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