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