We've been considering some historic homes as a future residence, but one of our concerns is how much to budget annually for long-term maintenance and repairs. Let's use this late 1800's Victorian with about 3,700 finished square feet as an example:

Assume there are presently no major repairs needed or pending and that it has been very well maintained. For more details about the home, see here. enter image description here

  • Do you gain monetarily in any way by the sale of this home (e.g. are you the Realtor, owner, broker, etc.)?
    – Tester101
    Apr 16 '14 at 14:20
  • @Tester101 No, I'm using this home as an example of the type of home we're considering (to live in). Apr 16 '14 at 14:23
  • I think it depends on the condition of the home and your skill level or if you are even expecting to do most of the things yourself. From rehabbing a few older homes I have found that generally the price of materials is less or the same as doing an updated house but it is much harder to find someone skilled enough to put the materials in the house. The wood craftsman in my area are very hard to come by and obviously the good ones are more expensive than your general contractor. The rest depends on condition of house, plumbing, electric.
    – DMoore
    Apr 16 '14 at 17:11
  • @dmoore " Assume there are presently no major repairs needed or pending and that it has been very well maintained. " I'm mainly interested in the cost in sustaining the condition, not a rehab. And assume repairs will be performed by appropriately skilled professionals. Apr 16 '14 at 17:25

As someone with a relatively newer house (1930s), and have experience in dealing with issues of an 1800s home (my grandmother's), there are a few things to consider which can dramatically affect your annual expenses:

When (if ever) were the following replaced or upgraded:

  • Attic insulation
  • Wall insulation
  • Heating system
  • Air conditioning (if present)
  • Roof
  • Exterior painted
  • Septic system (if present)
  • Well pump (if present)
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • Windows
  • Drainage
  • Fence
  • Deck

In my house, I had the seller convert all of the electrical outlets to three prong / grounded, but the cast iron pipes started giving up the ghost a few yers back and started springing pinhole leaks that required replumbing the whole basement.

I'm currently in the situation where I've been dragging my feet on getting the walls insulated; all of the places I've contacted want to cut a slot from the inside to inject the insulation, but I've got older wallpaper a room that I actually like, and plaster walls which I know are a pain the patch properly. (none wanted to pull off the top row of wooden siding and inject from the outside). Lack of wall insulation and single-paned windows, combined with an old oil burner means that I'm easily paying 2-3x as much to heat my house in the winter as compared to similar sized houses in my area.

I wouldn't recommend anyone buy an older home unless they're prepared to work on it themselves. You'll have odd things come up as things just start showing their age (eg, boards on the porch that lose strength from age), stuff that needs to be modernized (replace older bathroom fans or light fixtures). I'd also recommend putting away money for a housing fund every month, so that should something significant need replacing, you've got a few thousand saved that you can tap into. My neighbors recently had to replace their fuel oil tanks, which was a couple of thousand dollars; my mom had to have their septic tank dug up. Most of my emergencies have been plumbing related. You may not be able to do all of these items yourself, so will want to have enough of a cushion to call in professionals if necessary.

update: added 'fence' and 'deck' to the list ... my neighbor's fence had a section rip out in a high wind about a week or two ago (4x4 was set straight into the dirt, and had rotted at the base); had to redo my mom's deck last summer as it seems that whoever set it had dropped cinderblocks in a hole, then set the pillars on top, so it was only latterally supported by dirt).

  • Thanks so much for all of the detailed information. You've raised some great points about things I should investigate that I hadn't considered. Replacing the heating/AC with geothermal in this home is pretty much a given to me with ~$700 heating bills in colder months and ~$300 AC bills in warmer months. This house has aluminum siding for much of it, but wood scalloped siding for the remainder and as you can see, much detail as well as a porch and large deck. I'm clueless about how frequently and cost to repaint. Apr 17 '14 at 14:19
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    @glenviewjeff : frequency of the painting depends on lots of things; the north side will take less wear from sunlight, but could run into issues of mold developing in wet weather. It's possible that better quality paint will last longer; I'm not an expert on that one. I'm overdue for painting my garage (painted in a hurry 14 years ago to meet the 'continuous surface of paint' for the mortgage company), so 10-15 years might be a fair estimate. (and painting it BEFORE you need to scrape / sand means a lot less work)
    – Joe
    Apr 17 '14 at 15:37

Given the house in good condition and has had electric and plumbing done in the past 20 years then I would say that your average maintenance costs would be about 1.5 times a newer home - I would increase this a bit if plumbing/electric were unknown and if walls are plaster. You will pay your professionals a little more and it will take them more time to do a similar task on a new home (do it right).

On the flip side, an old house has been there a long time. If there was a flaw in the house - drainage, foundation, whatever - it should be known by now or found during inspection. I can tell you that the riskiest homes are new homes.

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