My favourite sector of Vancouver Real Estate are the houses and we have an interesting selection of styles and construction throughout the city. Most of our housing stock is older which means every Buyer and Home Owner has to be aware of the regular maintenance and upkeep required. When you’re in the process of purchasing a house, you need to remember that home inspections are of utmost importance in ensuring you understand the current quality of the original build (such as the exterior and foundation) as well as the quality of the renovations added over the years (such as the roof, electrical, decks, and basement suites). Below is a quick – and far from extensive – overview of some of the most common maintenance and repair found during an inspection of older houses.
A couple details to keep in mind:
- I am not a professional home inspector and neither are you – get a certified home inspection! I must state the obvious – this post is not a replacement for specific and professional advice from a home inspector. The home inspector will go through all the details I mention below, and much, much more including maintenance tips.
- This post is referring to older houses. Houses built in the last few decades have had to follow a specific building code and use different materials, construction and systems. You should still get a home inspection done on a newer house to ensure the work was done well and to code.
- Houses built during different eras have different inherent defects due to materials used and the style of construction. Early 1900’s homes may have lead based paint, oil tanks, and knob and tube wiring, whereas 1970s homes may have asbestos.
- Older homes are also typically a mix of permitted work and handyman work done at various times and often without much history as to when or why. Ensure you call the City to determine if any of the work was done with permits and get as much history of the house from the Seller as possible.
Every roof has a life span, so you need to know where yours sits on the spectrum. The house inspector will get on top of your roof to look for signs of issues. What material is the roof? Is there wear and tear, indication of animals or pests, incorrect flashing or gutter issues? Not only can an old roof lead to leaks in your property, but an incorrectly installed gutter or flashing can lead to moisture damage. Are the gutters cleaned or blocked? Does the attic have adequate ventilation? Is the chimney structurally sound?
The exterior of every home and garage is so important, and there are quite a few things to consider:
Does the house have proper drainage with a drain tile system, and if so, how old is the current system? Does the property slope away from the house? Is there vegetation or potential roots touching the house? Do the gutters drain away from the house?
How does the current exterior look and what product is it made from? Is the paint missing or peeling? Is the exterior buckling or cracking? Is there any damage from rot, mould, pests or wind? Do the windows look like they have proper and consistent sealant? Is there appropriate flashing? Are the transitions between materials properly sealed? Does the wood trim look like it was recently painted? Is there any cracking on the foundation? Is the house on proper footings?
Are the retaining walls structurally sound? Do the fences look deteriorated and damaged?
Are the decks built appropriately? Has the wood been well maintained? Does the deck have any safety concerns with its design and are the railings sturdy?
The electrical work is one of the biggest questions for any potential house owners, only because it can be a big job if it needs to be replaced. Since most of the electrical is not visible to the inspector, try to find out the history of the electrical work from the Seller (and potentially, the City if permits were pulled) since electrical is often done in portions, rather than all at once. What kind of electrical does the house currently have? Was the panel updated and does it overheat? Do plugs near water sources have GFCI breakers?
The potential issues with electrical can be a blog post in its own right, so ensure you understand the type of wiring the home has and how much it could be to update, if needed.
There are a variety of heating options in any house, so pose bigger potential maintenance and cost issues that others. Homes generally older then the 1960’s may have had an oil tank installed at one point in time, providing fuel for the furnace. These oil tanks have all been de-commissioned but they can pose a significant and expensive risk to the soil so they need to be removed if discovered. Ensure you do an oil tank scan to verify the existence (or lack thereof) of an oil tank so that the removal can be done by the current Seller. The potential issue with oil tanks is a huge concern and should be dealt with both in the contract and during your due diligence.
Ensure you understand the type of heating in the house. Keep in mind that it may be different in various parts of the house due to previous additions and renovations. Observe the furnace. When was it installed? How is it powered? Is there any indication of recent maintenance?
Have a look at the plumbing that is visible in the house. What type of plumbing does the house have and what condition are the pipes (that are visible)? Where are the water shut-offs? Have braided hoses been installed on appliances and fixtures? Observe the hot water system. Is it a tank or on demand system? How old is it? Has it been secured in case of an earthquake? Is it easily accessible? Is there a sump pump? Has the main supply line from the city been replaced? Were any bathrooms added over the years?
There are so many details in the interior to consider. Is there a fireplace? When was the last time is was maintained? Are the windows functional? Do the windows show any signs of age or issue? Is there any indication of mould or dampness in the kitchen or bathrooms? Are the bathrooms caulked appropriately? Is the tile grout in good condition and sealed? Is the laundry hooked up properly with appropriate venting and hoses? Are there any cracks in the walls indicating structural movement? Are the stairs to code? Is there a crawlspace or access to the attic? Is there any evidence of rodent activity in the attic? Is the attic insulation in good condition? Does the attic have good ventilatioN?
The chance to own a house is a blessing, but make sure you have as good an understanding of the house as possible so you can be prepared for the regular and potential maintenance you’ll need to do to keep the house in good shape. Be prepared to do regular reviews of your home to ensure you’re staying on top of maintenance (consider getting another home inspection does if it’s been a few years and you’ve done a few upgrades since you bought). You can create a yearly check-list so nothing gets missed. Ask your realtor for recommendations on service providers and solutions for odd issues. As with any purchase, ensure you have some money set aside for unexpected issues – they can be costly for a house, but it’s worth it!