23 Hidden Costs of Buying an Old House


Buying an old house may seem like a great way to save some money. The purchase price is typically much lower than a newer house, especially considering the cost per square foot. Older homes tend to be located closer to downtown areas, which can be convenient and reduce transportation expenses. Plus, you may see potential to fix up an old house yourself and sell it for a profit.

However, it's easy to overlook hidden costs that can hit you soon after you buy that old house, all of which trump any potential financial gains. Here are some of the hidden costs I learned about the hard way after I bought a 120-year-old farmhouse.

1. Big Energy Bills

The heating bill for our old farmhouse was over $300 per month before we added insulation. Check the utility bill history before buying an older house to see what kind of energy costs you are signing up for!

2. Air Conditioning

Older houses may not have air conditioning at all, or may only have a window unit in one room. Installing central air costs a few thousand dollars.

3. Furnace

Older houses may have older furnaces. Although a furnace can last 50 years or more, at some point the furnace will become unsafe or ineffective and will need to be replaced at a cost of thousands of dollars.

4. Roof

The roof of a house wears out over time and eventually needs to be replaced. Depending on how many layers of shingles have been installed, you may be able to add another layer, or you may need to tear off all of the roofing material and start over. Be prepared to spend a few thousand dollars if you need a new roof.

5. Exterior Painting

Wood siding requires periodic repainting. You can repaint a house yourself, but this is time consuming. It took me five months to repaint my house, working mostly on weekends and evenings. Hiring someone to repaint a house can cost thousands of dollars depending on the size of the house and the condition of the siding.

6. Siding Replacement

If you don't want to paint wood siding, you can upgrade to vinyl. The biggest problem with this is that new siding can cost $30,000 or more.

7. Window Replacement

Older houses often have single pane glass windows. With respect to energy efficiency, single pane glass windows are almost as bad as leaving the window open. Upgrading windows costs around $300 per window. Older houses tend to have a lot of windows, so this can add up quickly.

8. Lack of Storage

Older houses usually have much less closet space than newer homes. This means you may need to buy wardrobes and other furniture for storage, or install cabinets, or build closets yourself.

9. Electrical Services

Older houses may have an undersized electrical panel. Modern houses need at least 100 amp service to handle appliances and lighting. Upgrading the service panel can cost a few hundred dollars.

10. Electrical Outlets

New houses have abundant electrical outlets in every room, but older houses may only have one or two in each room. If you don't want to use extension cords, you may need to have some outlets installed at a cost of over $100 each.

11. Old Electrical Wiring

The insulation on old electrical wiring starts to crumble and can be a fire hazard. Old wiring is hard to deal with, since it can be difficult to remove and replace with new wiring. Rewiring an old house can be incredibly expensive.

12. Lead Paint

Before 1979, lead paint was used for both interior and exterior surfaces. Older houses may have lead paint, which is hazardous and expensive to remove. You may need to resolve any lead paint issues before you can sell an older house.

13. Asbestos

Another hazard in older houses is the potential to encounter asbestos. Asbestos was used for insulation and may be used in old floor tiles as well. Removing asbestos can be expensive and requires special equipment and expertise.

14. Wet Basement

Older houses may have settled over the years, resulting in cracks in the basement which leads to dampness and water issues. If you are planning to use the basement of an older house for storage or to remodel it into living space, make sure there are no water problems first.

15. Insulation

My old farmhouse had no insulation in the walls or under the floor! I added insulation and was able to recover the cost in a few years from lower energy bills — but initially, this cost thousands.

16. Well Expenses

If your older house has its own well to supply water, you are responsible for all costs of maintaining the well. I had to replace a well pump at a cost of about $2,000 and then had to add a chlorinator to resolve a bad water test result before I could sell the property.

17. Small Garage

You may be in for a surprise when you try to pull your SUV or minivan into the garage of an older house for the first time — it may not fit! Measure the garage or try to pull your car in when looking at an older house to make sure you will have a place to park.

18. Water Line for Refrigerator

Refrigerators that dispense water and ice are a relatively new invention. To put one in an older house, you may need to install a water line for your fridge.

19. Old DIY Projects

In an older house, you may encounter old do-it-yourself projects that are not up to code or are just plain ugly and need to be removed and redone. (See also: 15 Cool DIY Home Improvements for $50 or Less)

20. Nothing Is Square

One thing that struck me when I moved from my old farmhouse to a brand new house was how square and level everything was in the new house. Improvements in an old house can be more challenging — and more expensive — because nothing is level due to settling over the years.

21. Uneven Steps or Sidewalks

Having uneven steps or sidewalks at an older house may seem like a minor problem, but this presents a trip hazard and it is expensive to correct.

22. Historic Restrictions

Some older houses may be classified as historic. This designation may result in restrictions on the type of remodeling and additions that can be done, and even what color you can paint it. This can force you to spend more than you planned on remodeling and can limit your potential to upgrade an older house and sell it.

23. Endless Projects

Constantly spending money for home improvement and remodeling expenses is a big drag on your budget. Those trips to buy more building materials and paint every weekend add up to significant money. It can easily end up being less expensive to buy a newer house that requires less work than taking on all of the challenges of fixing up an older house, even if the initial purchase price is lower.

Before deciding to buy an older house, get a home inspection by an inspector experienced with older houses. Review the inspection report and make a list of all of the upgrades and repairs you think the house needs. Consider all of the hidden costs of buying an older house before taking the plunge.

Do you live in an old house? How "charming" is it?

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Guest's picture
Welmoed Sisson

Many of these problems also exist in any home that is more than 20 years old. Also, newer equipment doesn't seem to last as long as the "good old days" either.

Guest's picture

Once you live in an historic house you will never want a new one. The character just can't compare! We need to appreciate and preserve our old homes. After all it's our history!

Guest's picture
George (Properly)

I'd add toilet. Old houses tend to have weak flushing toilets which means expect backflow and plumbing issues. Replace it with a high velocity one! It'll save you a ton of hassle in the future.

Guest's picture

Despite all the drawbacks mentioned above, there is nothing better than historic homes. Mine has wood beams, leaded glass windows, phenomenal built ins and (real) hard wood floors, etc. Or you can buy a new home, choosing from two or three floors plans and different shades of tan everywhere. No character, no personality, and boring, boring boring!i