Old cape cod style home

Buying an Older Home? 6 Things to Know

Updated December 3, 2016 . AmFam Team

Buying an old house has its perks, but it’s important to understand what to look for before making an offer. Here’s what to know when buying an older home.

Whether it’s an art deco bungalow or an old farmhouse on a sprawling piece of land, living in an older house has its perks. Beautiful craftsmanship, unique characteristics, and character galore means you’ve got a great opportunity to make your home uniquely yours. But before you start browsing the classifieds for your dream home, it’s important to brush up on the things to look for before making an offer. That way, you’ll be prepared to take on your home — quirks and all.

Structural issues. The older the home, the more important it is to get it checked out by a home inspector — or two. A problem with the foundation or the structure of the house is a huge problem, and often the priciest expense when it comes to fixing up an old home. If your inspector finds any issues, it’s important to make sure you have the funds to have it fixed ASAP — or, know when it’s time to walk away.

Pesky pests. Older homes are pretty susceptible to bug and rodent problems. Check for mice, bats and squirrels, and then have any holes patched and the area treated by pest control. Insects are often a tougher issue to handle — especially termites. They love to munch on soft wood, and can create significant damage in older homes.

Window pains. Original windows are beautiful and add a ton of character to the house, however, they often have some drawbacks. Many older windows are single-pane, aren’t as energy-efficient and often have leaks, which can mean a really big heating bill. If you live in a colder climate, consider sacrificing your home’s authenticity for the sake of your wallet. Read up on the signs your windows need replacing.

Old fashioned heating systems. Many old homes — often 100 years old or older — were heated with oil, which was inexpensive at the time. How times have changed! Not only is it expensive, it’s inefficient. Even if there isn’t an old oil drum in the basement, it’s important to check that whatever heating system is in the house, it’s been properly maintained and is in good shape.

Water woes. When it comes to water, there’s three things to watch out for: filtration, a leaky roof, and mold. If your area has a high sulfur concentration, your home’s water might have that rotten egg smell. While it’s not dangerous, it can be a nuisance and can usually be fixed with a water filtration system. Next, check for water getting into your home. Two common problems: moisture in the roof and mold in the basement. While both have fixes, they’ll most likely cost a pretty penny.

Walls and floors. While the home inspector may deem them sound, it’s important to take a close look at the floors and walls. Does the hardwood need to be refinished? Is the carpet unsalvageable? Next look at the walls — is there wallpaper or 70s paneling that will need to be removed? Both can add up. It’s also important to look for lead paint, which carries serious health risks — especially for children and pregnant women. If you suspect lead paint, you can either buy a lead paint detector kit, or hire a professional. Keep in mind that lead paint removal can be pretty steep — so factor that into your final costs as well!

While this list might seem daunting, an old house can be a joy to spend your life in. Talk to your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) and check out our homeowner coverages to make sure your new hard-earned dream never goes unprotected.

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    What Is the Ideal Humidity for a Basement?

    The humidity levels in your basement can impact your home and everyone living inside. It can also affect your valuables, electronics and appliances. In this article, we'll discuss ideal basement humidity levels. We'll also give tips to help you address, monitor and manage moisture in your basement.

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    Normal Basement Humidity Levels

    Ideal basement moisture levels are between 30 - 50%. Anything below 30% is too low and can lead to structural changes in your home, causing gaps between windows and doors. Aside from health issues, insufficient moisture levels can also cause wood floors to creak and damage your belongings.

    Moisture levels above 50% can lead to mildew, mold and bacteria growth. That environment can cause serious health issues. Excessive moisture can also damage walls and carpets, causing your home and belongings to rot.

    Locating Your Basement Humidity Source

    One of the best ways to address basement humidity levels is to manage the moisture at its source. While consulting with a professional is always helpful, you can start your search using the following methods.

    Seal Off Drafts

    Gaps and cracks in windows, doorways and walls can cause excess moisture to collect in your basement. Sealants like caulking and weatherstripping can help close the gaps and fix the issue.

    Maintain Your Sump Pump and Vents

    If your sump pits and drains are not airtight, the excess moisture from the pipes can create a humid environment. Maintaining your basement's vents and sump pump can help you manage moisture levels. Consider getting it checked by a professional once every three to four months for optimal performance. 

    Repair Leaks

    Leaking pipes, washing machines and water heaters can affect your basement's humidity. They can also cause other issues, such as a spike in your utility bills.

    To spot them, look for wet spots, rust or condensation around these areas. Beyond helping you maintain healthy basement humidity levels, it helps you catch costly leaks early.

    Clean Gutters

    Clogged gutters can pool rainwater and melting snow around your home’s foundation. Consider positioning gutter spouts to draw water away from your home. Additional outside water can saturate your basement floors and walls, increasing moisture levels.

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    Managing Your Basement Humidity Levels

    Some humidity issues are more severe than others. However, there are several accessible tools you can use to maintain appropriate moisture levels in your basement and home. Consider the following tips.

    Dehumidifiers

    Several dehumidifier types, such as refrigerant, desiccant and whole-house ventilation systems, are available. They can help you manage moisture levels in your entire home, a single room or a crawlspace. All serve one purpose: To remove excess moisture from the area.   

    Before purchasing yours, consult an expert. They can help you find a suitable model and size that best addresses the humidity in your basement.

    Exhaust Fan

    Another excellent way to manage your basement's humidity levels is to keep it well-ventilated. Installing an exhaust fan is a great option if you can't accomplish that naturally.

    An exhaust fan should be installed in a window or exterior-facing wall to draw the moist air away from your basement. As a bonus, exhaust fans can circulate the air, which helps control unwanted odors.

    Chemical Absorbents

    If you need a fast-acting, inexpensive, moisture-removing option, chemical absorbers, such as silica gel, may be able to help. They're typically sold in home improvement stores and can be placed in other parts of your home as well.

    Humidity Monitor

    A humidity monitor can help you track your basement's humidity levels. Some dehumidifiers and exhaust fans come with them built in. You can also buy a stand-alone model that hangs on your wall.

    Water Leak Detector

    Water leak detectors help you catch leaks early and boast a variety of capabilities, such as sending real-time alerts to your phone.

    You can install them on sinks, appliances and water heaters. Getting one may also qualify you for our smart home discount.

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    How American Family Insurance Can Help Protect Your Home

    Our standard home insurance may help protect you from sudden, accidental water damage. Qualifying events may include burst pipes or broken-down appliances.**

    If you want more protection from unexpected losses, talk to your American Family agent about the following coverages:

    • Hidden Water coverageProvides a broader net of protection for leaks you can’t see within the walls, floors, ceilings, cabinets or anywhere else that isn’t visible in your home.***
    • Inland Flood coverage: Helps you recover after a flash flood or other qualifying event.*** 
    • Flood insurance: With the National Flood Insurance Program, we offer flood damage protection for your home and possessions.†
    • Water back-up coverage: Helps mitigate the cost of repairs caused by water coming back into a home due to a backed-up drain or an overflowing sump.* 

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    *Coverage provided by adding the Inland Flood optional endorsement. This endorsement does not satisfy mandatory flood insurance coverage should it be required by your federally regulated lender for your home mortgage or loan. This insurance product is not affiliated with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Please check with your agent and read the policy and endorsements for exact details on coverage limits and exclusions. Coverage applies after the property deductible has been met.

    *This information represents only a brief description of coverages, is not part of your policy, and is not a promise or guarantee of coverage. If there is any conflict between this information and your policy, the provisions of the policy will prevail. Insurance policy terms and conditions may apply. Exclusions may apply to policies, endorsements, or riders. Coverage may vary by state and may be subject to change. Some products are not available in every state. Please read your policy and contact your agent for

    **Hidden Water Damage coverage is an optional coverage. May not be available in all states. Some restrictions apply to seasonal homes and manufactured homes. The leak must occur from within a plumbing, heating, A/C, fire sprinkler or a home appliance. Refer to your policy documents for coverage limit details. Coverage applies after the property deductible has been met. Mold damage limited to coverage limits provided by your homeowners policy.

    †American Family Insurance is a participating company in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). NFIP is managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Flood insurance is a separate policy underwritten by NFIP.

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    How to Winterize a House

     

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    How to Winterize Your House’s Interior

    Install Safety Alarms

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    Update Heating Systems

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    20 Questions to Ask When Renting an Apartment

    Choosing your new apartment isn’t an impulse decision. The choice you make will have an impact for a long time. There are many different things to consider as you tour one possible home after another. On top of that, landlords and management companies work hard to make them all seem perfect.

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    How Much is Rent & the Security Deposit?

    Any apartment hunter should ask themself this crucial question: “How much should I spend on rent?” Setting a budget ahead of the search helps narrow the possibilities. You’ll save time by eliminating options that are too expensive.

    Still, relying on online listings alone may not be enough. It’s better to personally ask the landlord, whether by calling, emailing, or visiting. Make sure to also bring up the security deposit, as well as any other upfront costs they may ask of you. This will save you from unpleasant surprises before you sign anything.

    How Much are Utilities and What Do I Cover?

    Every apartment complex handles utilities differently. Water, electricity, air conditioning, heating, gas, and more may be split between landlord and tenant. Then there is the matter of which ones you’ll need to get yourself. Your apartment may come with cable and wi-fi, but you may be responsible for them on your own.

    Only your landlord will know for sure, and they should be clear about what’s expected of you. Before leasing an apartment, you should ask what utilities are available and which ones are covered. Record the answers, factor the costs into your budget, and look for the place that offers the most for the least.

    How Does Parking Work?

    Some apartment complexes have their own parking lots, with many spaces reserved for tenants and a few set aside for guests. Others may give residents access to a dedicated structure, providing greater security — but possibly at a higher cost. Others still may only offer street parking, which can be expensive to maintain.

    In short, parking may be a complex situation involving specific locations and extra costs. If you have a car, don’t just ask if parking is available. Get the details. As you weigh your options, consider what’s best for your car as well.

    What’s the Pet Policy & Is There a Deposit or Fee?

    The pet policy won’t matter to every apartment hunter. If you have a furry friend or might want one someday, make this one of their first questions to ask when touring an apartment. A “no” answer is no deal, no matter how great the other perks may be.

    Some landlords may allow pets if you pay a one-time deposit or additional monthly fees. Make sure to keep that in mind during your search.

    What Amenities are Included?

    Utilities cover the most vital parts of a home — the things that make living there comfortable. Amenities are the complex’s welcome bonuses — the things that make living there enjoyable. Common examples include clubhouses, swimming pools, public kitchens, communal laundry machines, and fitness rooms.

    Amenities are great for those who use them, but their presence can justify higher rent. As your landlord takes you through each selling point on your tour, ask them whether these perks are included with your price. Also, make sure to consider if you’ll even use them.

    Do I Need Renters Insurance?

    Home insurance is for houses. If you live in an apartment, you look for renters insurance instead. In fact, some places make it mandatory for all residents. Be sure to ask your landlord in advance so you can make any arrangements you need.

    This practice is all about liability. Landlords have their own insurance, but it’s based on their duties and would only cover their share of the damages. Renters insurance offers protection for your living space and your belongings. Even if it’s not required, getting your own policy could bring you peace of mind.

    Can You Describe the Application Process?

    Applying for an apartment can be complicated and time-consuming. You might have to pay fees, undergo background checks and other screenings, and more just to see if you qualify. This may be preferable to the alternative: apartment listings that promise no credit check may be scams.

    You could always learn about each step of the application process as you go. Still, it never hurts to know ahead of time, especially if there are any fees and risks. If anything is unclear, the landlord should explain it to you.

    What Should I Know About Rent Increases?

    A variety of factors can change the value of an apartment. Examples include market shifts, new installations, repairs and replacements of fixtures. Your rent will likely not change for the duration of your lease. Once the time comes to sign again, though, your monthly payments may very well go up.

    This may not seem like a pertinent question when starting a lease. Still, making it one of your questions to ask when touring an apartment could be useful. How your potential future landlord approaches the matter can tell you what to expect. At the very least, it can help you choose whether to look for a new place well before your lease ends.

    What are the Lease Length Options?

    How long are you looking to stay at your next apartment? One year, two years, longer, less? Not everyone has a plan in mind, which means the apartment’s available options may give you an idea of what to expect in the future.

    Landlords always inform apartment hunters about the duration of their lease. However, you might need to probe them for other available options. Be sure to make this one of your questions to ask before leasing an apartment, even if they only mention one length that sounds good. They might have something better.

    Can I Make Changes to the Rental Unit?

    Your apartment may come pre-furnished, but it’s unlikely to be pre-decorated. Few people are content with blank walls and sparse spaces. Most prefer to personalize and beautify their home with art, decorations and other belongings.

    Unlike houses, apartments usually only have temporary residents. The building’s owner may not allow certain kinds of changes, believing they may hurt the unit’s future value. Take the time to go over policies. That way, you can get a better idea of how you’ll make your space feel like a home.

    How Do Maintenance Requests Work?

    Besides rent, tenants might only interact with their landlord through maintenance requests. After all, it’s the complex owner’s duty to keep everything in their apartments running smoothly. If your shower stops pumping heated water or your lock gets sticky, maintenance will get it fixed.

    Asking about the process of filing maintenance requests can give insights to how landlords view this responsibility. Does the process seem straightforward or complicated? Are approvals easy, or do they require a great deal of evidence and demonstration? The answers may reveal how long this landlord will let you live with inconvenience. Few questions to ask about apartments are more revealing than this.

    What’s the Guest Policy?

    In most cases, a guest policy doesn’t apply to someone who’s just visiting for a few hours. It covers situations where someone might want to stay at a tenant’s apartment for a few days or longer. Depending on the terms of the policy, you might even need permission for someone to spend the night.

    Don’t just assume that any landlord would be okay with your best friend crashing on your couch for a while. Get the details on the guest policy before moving in. They’ll tell you what permissions they’d grant and how you can get them granted.

    What’s the Neighborhood Like?

    The oldest real estate myth holds that three factors must guide where you choose to live: “location, location, location.” There’s more to it than that, as this list of questions to ask when renting an apartment should make clear. Still, the area around the complex is important to consider.

    Getting info on the neighborhood is valuable to any apartment hunt. Try to get your landlord’s perspective about any areas of concern. We also recommend exploring on your own, both by car and on foot. See if any useful places are close by, such as grocery stores.

    How Soon are You Looking to Fill the Unit?

    In most cases, you won’t be the only person viewing an apartment. Others have likely received a grand tour, and others may be waiting in line to see the place as well. Landlords might be screening you as much as you’re screening them.

    Landlords are also usually interested in starting a new lease as soon as the current one ends. One way to get noticed is to strike quickly: ask when they’d want you to move in. You should still weigh your options, but don’t procrastinate.

    Do I Need a Cosigner?

    People with rental history have a record that landlords can review. If this is your first time paying rent, they won’t know if they can trust you to make payments on time and consistently. Adding a cosigner to the contract can make it easier. Their signature promises that even if you can’t pay rent, someone else can pay for you.

    Many renters with no history may worry about background checks and credit checks. However, there are some landlords who won’t ask for them. While the answer will likely be a yes, it doesn’t hurt to have it on a list of first-time renter questions.

    What Payment Methods are Accepted?

    Rent payments can take a variety of forms. Before you make any assumptions, though, you should double-check what’s allowed. Each place will have its own policies. Some offer more payment method options than others.

    You might be able to set up a regular automatic withdrawal from your bank account. You might have to do it online. The landlord might accept checks or cards (warning: anyone who only takes cash is likely a scammer). There’s only one way to know for sure.

    What Furnishings & Appliances are Included?

    Preparing for the big move is a big task. It’s not just deciding what to take, but also figuring out what you need to get. Each apartment is different: some come fully furnished with appliances, while others only have a bed.

    Asking this question is important because the answer can impact your budget. It can even make or break your apartment options. Ask about beds and bedding, chairs, sofas, tables, kitchen appliances, TV sets and anything else that matters to you in a home.

    How Much Notice Do You Give Before You or a Representative Shows Up at the Property?

    An interesting agreement comes with living in an apartment. It’s your home, and you pay to stay there. But someone else owns it and covers many responsibilities related to it. Technically, they have at least some right to enter at any time for any reason.

    Even so, many building owners respect their tenants by giving them advance notice. Depending on the person and situation, you may have days or hours or minutes to prepare. We recommend asking how much notice they usually give. It could save you some major headaches.

    What’s Your Late Fee Policy?

    Accidents can happen. Paychecks can come late. You might have temporary money problems. Most apartment contracts provide some leeway for late rent payments. But they might charge a late fee.

    Given that it’s so common, there’s no problem with asking about late fee policies. You’ll want to know the terms just in case anything happens. You’ll also want to know the limits according to state law, so you can see if the fee is fair. Just try not to seem too eager, and don’t count on being able to do it often.

    What’s Your Subletting Policy?

    Subletting is when a renter temporarily moves out and lets someone else cover their lease. A landlord may refuse to rent to your candidate if they don’t meet their requirements.

    Even if you don’t plan to leave during your lease, you may still want to know your apartment’s subletting policy. Life may surprise you. Being aware can save you some time and trouble in looking for someone to take over.

    Know the Best Questions to Ask When Renting an Apartment

    Any of these questions to ask when renting an apartment can help decide your future home. Having so many factors to consider may seem intimidating at first. As you gather information, though, you may find that each new detail narrows down the options. Soon enough, a few apartments will rise above the rest. No matter which of them you pick, you benefit. Ask away.

    Renters Insurance from American Family Insurance

    Even while you’re still apartment-hunting, it’s never too early to start thinking about renters insurance. If you have any questions about that, feel free to contact an American Family Insurance agent. Once you’ve learned what we have to offer, you can get a quote online and get protection for your next home.