Buying a house, whether old or new, is most probably the largest purchase you’ll ever make in life, and so, you should never be afraid to ask questions that will help you in making the right decision.

Older homes, in particular, can be luring due to the character, history, special personality, and charm they possess. Some even have exceptional architectural details and other features not present in modern homes, and this makes them a huge attraction.

However, it’s never wise to stop your assessment at these enticing details and decide right away that you want to purchase the older home. Instead, go ahead and ask these following five questions as this is a sure way to ensure the older house is worth your hard-earned money.


The type of pipes used in the plumbing system dictate how long the it can last. Galvanized steel/iron pipes have the least lifespan; i.e., 20-50 years. Cast iron pipes, on the other hand, last the longest, at 75-100 years.

Therefore, find out from the owner about the pipes used and also carry out thorough investigation to evaluate the status of the entire plumbing system. Ask specifically about the materials used. PVC pipes, brass pipes, genuine copper, and cast iron are some of the quality materials known to offer good service, and thus, they can be trusted in the event the plumbing system has not reached its lifetime yet.

However, that will also depend on the location of the house. Areas with cold winters aren’t friendly to steel or copper pipes. And where the weather is hot, any plumbing system is at risk of ground settling and UV rays damage, both of which often lead to leaks and breakages.

If it turns out that you have to re-pipe the house, go ahead and factor in the costs involved. Usually, the cost will vary based on the size of the house, its location, and the plumbing company or individual. When calculating how much the house will cost to be ready for occupation, such costs must be considered.


Even though you can find information about the roof from a building report, that alone is not enough. Physical inspection, in addition to asking the owner or agent a few questions about it ,will leave you with a more solid report.

First off, find out from the owner or agent if the roof is original, especially if the house is older than 30 years. Genuine roofs such as tile/concrete, slate, metal/steel are known to last over 50 years. Asphalt shingle, wood shake, and the like last between 15 and 30 years. Thus, knowing the type of material used will assist you to correctly determine the roof’s lifespan.

In the event the roof is not original or has been replaced to a roof type that doesn’t meet the required standards, it would be best to keep off. But if it is genuine or was replaced to be something better, let a roofer asses it and, if necessary, state how much it will cost to carry out repairs or have it replaced.

Wood shingles, slate, and thatch cost a lot to replace. Besides, a thorough investigation has to be done, both from outside and inside by a roofer to evaluate the status of the roof.

Note that in some places, roofs are protected by grade listings that indicate their historical value. To restore them, you will have to abide by strict regulations, which could eventually mean setting aside a huge budget.


Bear in mind that buildings older than 40 years are likely to contain hazardous materials, which could be detrimental to your health.

Some of the dangerous elements to look out for include historical plaster, a lime-based plaster strengthened with animal hair. There’s a risk that the animal hair that was reinforced into the plaster, mixed around 1900, might have been contaminated with anthrax and this could be present in walls and ceilings.

Then there’s lead, which was mostly used within plumbing systems and in interior and exterior paint until 1978 when it was prohibited. Some buildings still have traces of it and if it leaks into the environment or the water system, it could result in serious health issues.

Another serious material is asbestos, which could be really hard to recognize if the building is in great condition and protected with painted coatings. Even though this material has been prohibited due to the health risks it poses, it would be great to commission a survey by a hazardous material specialist to be sure that such hazardous materials are not present.


The majority of older homes stand on thick stone foundations, which is no doubt a powerful foundation except for the mortar used among the stones. Mortar usually deteriorates with time, and oftentimes, this causes potential leaks and leads to structural problems.

On top of that, old stone foundations lack waterproofing, and so, they are at risk of water damage. The same applies to homes built on concrete block foundations.

Generally, cracks and unevenness are pretty common in the foundation of older homes. Therefore, it’s best to ask the owner or the agent about the type of foundation the house is built on. Let them share the details and reveal any serious issues you should be aware of.

Nevertheless, if you observe cracks, that could be a sign of water damage and it could mean that the home is at risk of corrosion, moisture damage, or dry rot. Uneven floors, cracked tiles, and visible wall cracks are other signs you should watch out for as they point to foundation problems.


It’s recommended that you take a trip to the local authority’s offices and find out from them if there are any laws to be followed in relation to buying an older home. This will be helpful, especially if you plan to make extensions, alterations, or change the property type, say from residential to commercial, and so on.

Nearly all buildings require a planning permission and, for older buildings, you might need this in addition to several other permissions. For instance, if the property is a listed building, you will require a listed building consent before proceeding with any work that will interfere with its character.

Also, if the home is in a conservation area, you may be subject to specific controls. Generally, different places may have different laws that apply to older homes. So, once again, make an effort to check with the local authorities.


Once you have satisfactory answers to these five questions, you can go ahead and begin to weigh your decisions. Combine what you have gathered with the building report in order to strengthen your results. Also, pay attention to every detail as this will assist you to achieve accuracy and thoroughness in your evaluation of the home. However, in the event you feel what you have isn’t enough or you need help figuring out some of the details, talk to a real estate agent. Their knowledge and experience in handling such transactions could be really helpful in perfecting your journey to buying the right older home.


Sabine Ghali is Director at Buttonwood Property Management, a property management company in Toronto. She is an entrepreneur at heart who endeavors to help investors create real estate wealth over time in the Greater Toronto Area. Sabine is published in a number of media outlets, including Toronto Sun and Gulf News, among many others.