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Thinking About Buying an Antique House?

I absolutely love old homes. What I mean by old in our area (greater Jacksonville) is anything over 50 years of age.  Our oldest housing stock is approaching one hundred years of age. There is nothing like the craftsmanship found in these older dwellings, from the open front porches and bead board ceilings, clapboard siding or brick, exposed ornate rafter tails, solid wooden doors, brass hardware and copper spring door gaskets, to the inlaid solid wood floors, etc.  And, the detail in the framing, it’s almost like a work of art.  There is nothing more pleasing to an old framer than to see compound miter cuts in roof rafters where the joint is so tight you can’t find a visible gap. 

What saddens me is the poor condition that we find many of these homes. Years of neglect and poor maintenance have wreaked havoc on some of these magnificent properties.    

A tale of two inspections:

I recently inspected two historic homes on the same day. Luckily I had help on both of these homes or someone would have found me dehydrated and delirious or passed out in the attic or crawlspace of the second home, as it was brutally hot on the afternoon appointment.

Both of the homes we inspected were one hundred years old. The first was located in the Avondale/Riverside area.  The second was located in the Springfield area. Both properties, we were told, had significant remodels in 2003.  An interesting sidebar, it’s always a challenge to the home inspector whenever we are told the home has been remodeled.   

TIP: Any buyer should visit building department and conduct a permit search. This will give you invaluable information on the recent permit history of the property you are considering.

The Riverside/Avondale house had a true professionally done  remodel to include; structural repairs, professionally done re-wringing and service update,  arch fault interrupters, ground fault protection, alarm system, updated roofing, insulation, water heater, modern kitchen and appliances, updated bathrooms, and an additional bedroom and bathroom built into the original attic spaces (to include four shed dormers to let in light).  The home showed very well and had only minimal defects that we associated with typical wear and lack of maintenance over the preceding seven years. 

From a cosmetic standpoint, I didn’t like the modern wooden floors (prefinished, glue down engineered hardwood) and the two step knock down ceiling texture.  To maintain the period, the owner should have installed, nail down wood floors, and had a plasterer plaster the ceilings, either with a flat trowel finish or a stipple finish.  Additionally, modern hollow core six panel Masonite doors were installed (though they did used modern antiqued hardware).

The second home was located in the Springfield area and was remodeled at about the same time period as the Riverside/Avondale home but this home was the exact opposite. Upon arrival we found that there was amateurish repairs to the clapboard siding, improperly installed oriented strand board siding, rotten plaster covered crawlspace skirting, damaged and settled columns at the front porch, structural defects (too numerous to list), as well as amateurish electrical updating, vinyl flooring, and significant structural cracking and undulating floors. We also discovered subterranean and dry wood termite damage throughout the structure.

TIP:  Whenever you look at an older home, settlement will have certainly happened. Minor settlement can often be easily corrected but if you notice that the floors undulate, slope in various locations, bounce, and/or walls that have diagonal cracks over window and door openings, windows that cannot be fully closed or opened, or  doors that don’t open or close, you should  be prepared to spend big bucks on structural repairs.

TIP: Think about how difficult it will be to work inside a crawlspace that has limited access and clearance.   

TIP: You should be suspect when walking though an old house that has modern sheet vinyl flooring. Vinyl flooring has very poor to no permeability. This means that moisture in your crawlspace will not be able to migrate through the subflooring and into the house for evaporation.  What occurs in the crawlspace is the creation of a microclimate, moisture vapor collects and condense on the subfloor, which will lead to decay. 

TIP: Anything that we do in an older home as we make efforts to modernize will have consequences. Some of those consequences can be negative.

Back to the Springfield home.

Two of the biggest red flags on this home and based on the condition of the upgrades that concerned me more than the settlement issues themselves; the original ceilings were covered with drywall and retextured with popcorn and the second floor was plywood subfloor and carpet. Why would this occur, you ask?  It could simply have been cosmetic corrections from years of neglect, or more importantly the home had other significant issues that may or may not have been correctly repaired, prior to the cosmetic corrections.  These homes would have plaster ceilings (there is nothing wrong with simple plaster cracks) and solid wood floors. 

In closing, always get a home inspection. Your home inspector should be experienced and should understand the nature of older homes. Ask about their experience, its important!


Inspecting homes in the Jacksonville area since 1992.      `

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