Buying an old house…

Owning an old house can be a joy – they are often full of features you wouldn’t get in a newer build (I’m thinking high ceilings, fireplaces and rooms which aren’t a plain rectangle shape) and structurally solid.  People are often drawn to older houses because of the character these features lend.   Also, older houses are often more spacious, particularly in cities where new developments seem to focus on maximising the overall number of properties not the space within each.   So older houses can represent better value for money.


I wouldn’t argue with any of the above (and in fact, it pretty much sums up our reasons for buying the Cloud) but would caution that in many cases old houses require a lot of work and when that work is done, a lot of maintenance.

In the 4 years that we have owned the Cloud we’ve encountered and had to fix:

  •  the lack of a damp proof course
  • a broken toilet overflow which caused a leak into the kitchen ceiling
  • a leaking / broken chimney stack on the back part of the roof
  • old/worn flashing & guttering causing a leak into the bathroom ceiling
  • leaky pipework under the bath which caused the second leak into the kitchen ceiling
  • bowed floorboards in the back of the living room (a remnant from the damp problem)
  • persistent condensation

And currently being fixed…

  • a leaking roof at the lower part of the join with the neighbouring terrace

There’s an entry to come with some fascinating pictures of the state of the roof!

I definitely recommend getting a full structural survey when buying an older home but be aware even this isn’t going to catch everything.  In our case, we knew about the damp thanks to our suvey and negotiated the price of the house bearing in mind the cost of repairing it.  The bowed floorboards were apparent from walking on them.  However, although common sense will tell you that elements of the house are old and will need repair/replacement – there’s usually no accurate way to predict when this will occur.  Nearly every surveyor will tell you the roof will need replacing during your ownership of the property, but who really thinks they are going to need to do this?  After all, when you’re walking around your neighbourhood, it’s not like you routinely see houses having their roofs stripped back and replaced!

At present, though we are trying to save to renovate the Cloud, we very much feel like the house itself is dictating what to focus on next by its timely leaks/cracks/odd sounds.   It’s a struggle to do even the (previously thought) simple thing of keeping the place watertight.   My heart sinks when I hear the telltale tiny tap of a drip in the attic as I’m drifting off to sleep (this has happened more than once now!).   There are times when owning this old place is emotionally draining, so much time and money spent on the basics and we’re not even close to beginning on the aesthetics.

house pic

Now, don’t get me wrong – we knew that the high cost of houses in London was always going to mean a compromise, and in our case we got space at the cost of condition.  We really didn’t know what we were letting ourselves in for and with our limited knowledge and skill at all things home repair related, it would be fair to say the Cloud might not have been the best choice for us.   If we didn’t love the place so much, we might say the same!   We’re convinced it will all be worth it in the end though.

I think that’s the point I’m trying to make with this post.  You have to love the benefits that an old house brings in order for the drawbacks to be bearable.   Looking after an old house is a responsibility, as well as an investment that could take years to mature.  Every time I walk into my living room I can see in my mind what it will be like when we’re finally able to move on to decorative work and it gives me a great feeling.   That’s what keeps me smiling (despite the massive bill for repairing the hole in the roof…) and I know the journey will lead to a lovely house that we cherish.


Useful Links:

Good article in the Telegraph about the hidden costs of new and old homes – here

Overview of the vital considerations when buying an old building – here


4 thoughts on “Buying an old house…

  1. Hello! Great to ‘meet’ another UK Victorian renovation blogger. I’m looking forward to following your progress – and picking your brain for info on breathable insulation, lime plaster, cellar tanking etc 🙂 We’ve got a few suspicious damp patches on various ceilings, really need to go into the loft and check it out but am adopting a fingers in ears la la la attitude at the thought of replacing the roof!

    • Hello!
      ‘Roof’ is a bad word in this house at the moment as we’ve just had to do an expensive set of chimney and roof ridge repairs. Fortunately, the job was completed just before a 3-day downpour, so that made me feel a little better knowing the rain wasn’t getting into the attic. I’m beginning to despair of getting the house watertight though and this feeling isn’t helped by the fact the neighbouring house’s owner isn’t interested in maintaining her roof at all!
      I was so glad I found your blog, your house is amazing and what you’ve achieved really inspires me and makes me hopeful that no matter what state our place is in now, it will be lovely in the future. Plus it’s nice to have a little insight into Manchester again – I lived there between 1999-2004 while I was at university and I miss the place!

  2. We have just had our roof done, at the same time as adding an attic extension, which I guess is the most cost effective way of doing it all. The great / slightly weird thing is that the tiles were removed, membrane and insulation added, and then the same tiles were replaced back – from the ground, the roof looks no different from before.

    I don’t have an exact figure, but very few new tiles were needed. So, in the end, is it less about “replacing” a roof, more about renovation and recycling, which is a good thing!?

    • That sounds like a big job! Have you ended up with a lot of extra space?

      I like your take on the work involved and it sounds sensible that any materials that could be reused, were. Hopefully brought down the cost for you, as well as the planet! We found the same with what the guys said about our roof – the tiles themselves were fine – it was just the structure they are on and surrounded by had degraded. FIngers crossed that’s the last we’ll (both) have to do up there for a while!

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