Buying An Old House: How To Avoid Costly Repairs

When buying an old house, you can practically bet there will be hidden surprises. Knowing what you’re getting into before closing the sale gives you leverage to negotiate a lower price, or even the chance to walk away from a deal that smells like trouble. Here are some tips and real life stories that can help you purchase a dream home that won’t turn into a nightmare.

What can go wrong after you sign the dotted line? More often than not, there could be hidden deficiencies in the home’s plumbing or electrical systems that impact your insurability and hit your budget.

  • For example, newlyweds Mike and Katie bought a semi-detached house in Etobicoke. One of the previous home owners was a handyman who did plumbing and electrical work by himself. Breakers were overloaded; hidden knob and tube wires were behind the walls; drain pipes were plugged often because they were not properly connected. Guess who had to spend their honeymoon fixing these issues?

Some of these situations can make your home insurance premiums go up significantly. In the worst case scenario, insurance companies may decline insuring you and you may lose your deposit. In the best case scenario, some of them will agree to insure your home with the condition that you fix those systems immediately and present the proof to them.

Issues Home Inspection Doesn't Uncover

Even worse are so called “latent” conditions. Say, you invited a home inspector and he did not find any plumbing issues. You think everything is fine, and insurance is available. When all of a sudden your sewer bursts, and you are on the hook for a costly cleanout and replacement, you start wondering whether this was a pre-existing condition. Now you realize that the inspector cannot check everything. He cannot get behind your walls and look into your pipes. He can only do so much.

Steps to avoiding costly repairs

Unexpected repairs can double or even triple your renovation budget and make you a slave of the banks issuing the renovation loans. To avoid costly repairs, follow these rules:

1. Always make your offer conditional upon home inspection. Your agent may tell you otherwise, as in an overheated market you have better chances of buying a home if you place an unconditional offer. Just because a home looks well taken care of from the outside, it doesn’t mean that the same beauty is in its pipes.

2. Have a home inspection done by a reputable company.

3. Invite an electrician and a plumber along with the home inspector.

4. Walk with the inspector and look for the following signs:

a. Smell of mold/mist/sewage in the basement

b. Wet basement

c. Run the water and see if it goes down the drain fast enough.

5. Inspection doesn’t show everything

a. Your best bet in saving on plumbing repairs is to have a plumbing inspection including sewer and drain camera inspection done by a certified plumber. Immediately, it will reveal what your pipes are made of, and whether there are tree roots grown into them. This will cost you around $120 and can save you up to $20K.

6. If the inspection does show some signs that raise suspicions, follow up on them. Ask the seller direct questions or request permission for more tests. If the seller is not cooperating, it could be a sign to move on and find another property.

7. If you did find issues with plumbing or electrical systems, first call insurance companies and ask them whether they would insure your home.

8. Check on the city of Toronto website to see if your future home is located in one of Toronto's 32 ( soon to be 33) frequently flooded areas. Check my article on backwater valves to understand why.

9. And, lastly, consider walking away from the property if the cost of reno exceeds your budget.

Avoiding costly repairs can be as simple as asking the seller to fix the issue before selling or lower the price. Even better, choosing another property over the one that can blow your budget. The key to doing so is awareness about common issues and your options in the process of buying a home. Fixing plumbing issues can be very, very expensive. Get a plumber’s opinion before you buy.

I am Dmitry Monastirsky, a Master plumber certified by the City of Toronto and the founder of A to Z Plumbing & Drain. A mechanical engineer in the past, I pride myself in being able to diagnose and find solutions to complex plumbing issues. I believe in prevention and awareness. Give me a call so that I can help you avoid costly repairs when buying your next home.

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Jason from Toronto:
"I would strongly recommend Dmitry and A to Z Pluming & Drain to anyone who needs a job completed on time, with market competitive prices and friendly service. A truly professional service provider. "

Taras from High Park:
"We have a tenant in our basement appartment and have previously done extensive work with other drain companies. I called one of the companies up and they wanted too much for just coming out and inspecting. I remembered Dmitry because he did a few other plumbing jobs for me very well. I was pleased to hear that he also does camera inspections. Dmitry removed the toilet and pulled out a mass of roots the size of a 20 pound salmon! Dmitry did the camera inspection which revealed that the pipes were absolutely clean and clear of all roots. So where did the roots come from?..." Click to continue reading this and other clients' testimonials

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