By Lauri Gross
Many home buyers are drawn to beautiful historic homes for their plentiful charm and character. However, sometimes charm and character are code words for things like uneven floors or creaky doors. Taking the right steps before purchasing an older home can ensure buyers make the best choice.
“There are some hidden things that can go wrong,” said Karen Eagle, lead of the Karen Eagle Group, which operates under the Howard Hanna brokerage. “Every house is different,” she continued, “There are some things you can’t get around. On plaster walls, you can’t just hang a picture. You have to embrace what you have and know how to work within the confines. Get used to the charm. Some people have a higher tolerance for it.”
Michelle McQuade, Realtor with Howard Hanna also sells many historic homes. She said, “Listing agents may provide information regarding the history of the home.  The buyer’s agent should also have a wealth of knowledge to share regarding the historic context of the home and surrounding neighborhood and community.  However, I encourage the buyers to also call the local historical society to find out any details pertaining to the home they are considering purchasing.”
Many areas of Northeast Ohio feature beautiful historic homes including Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, Chagrin Falls, Gates Mills, and Bratenahl. In addition to the charm and character, Karen said people are drawn by the quality of construction. “Homes just are not built like that anymore,” she said. “To replicate some of those historic homes from scratch would be cost prohibitive.” For instance, a lot of older homes have slate roofs, arched doorways, ironwork, leaded glass windows, and other sought-after features. “There are new construction builders who do those types of things but the patina of the aging process just makes it have so much more character,” she said.
Older homes might also include now-useless features of a bygone era that add some quaint intrigue, such as a chute that used to be a dumb waiter. Or, there might be remnants of a defunct doorbell system that a homeowner used to summon the help to bring dinner, for instance.
Michelle said buyers appreciate, “the architectural lines on both exterior and interior that give the home its unique character.  For example, buyers who are looking for that perfect Victorian style home will be looking for decorative woodwork both inside and out, rounded angles, specialty bay windows, and roof lines that may be steep or gabled.”
Karen suggests that sellers of older homes get a home inspection prior to putting the house on the market. She said, “It gives the buyer a sense of comfort knowing at least a home inspector has been through the house to point out any significant issues.”
Karen explained that some inspectors specialize in older home and can prepare the buyer for what they’re getting themselves into. She suggested the buyer hang onto the inspector’s report as a to-do list. “Not everything has to be done before they purchase, but they’re things to address in the future. As you do other projects, you can check the home inspection report and if you have a trades-person at the house for one thing, see if they can address something in the report at same time,” she added.
Michelle said, “The electrical and mechanicals were very different during the times century homes were built.  It’s typical to find knob and tube (wiring) in plaster walls, radiant heat fueled by a boiler verses a gas furnace, and expect to find some sloping in the floors as the house may have settled over the past 100-plus years.”
Also, she said homes were not waterproofed a century ago and wet basements were acceptable. “Yet today we now are aware of the environmental effects that mold may have which is typically found in a wet basement.”
When considering renovations, Michelle said, “Usually the Architectural Review Board in each city will need to approve additions, siding replacement and in some communities even the type of window replacement.”
Michelle said the quality of her own home, built in 1877, is superior to many homes built today. “Once a century home has been updated,” she said, “the maintenance is very similar to any other home.”