Perhaps the resale home that interests you is not a 3 year old preowned home but a 110 year old Victorian house, or a 126 year old farmhouse: in other words, not just an older house, but an old house. Especially in a newer town, homes that date back to the 1930s are also old enough to consider “old”.
It is certainly true that not all old houses are glorious examples of their particular architectural style. Some do not appear to have any particular style. However, one thing you can say for even nondescript oldies is that they are solid. After all, they are still here, aren’t they, after all these years? And while not all of them have stained-glass windows, medallion ceilings, and other grand touches, many of even the simpler ones have little nooks and crannies and design features that are just not that common in newer houses.
Some houses are just old: others are officially designated “historic”. In the latter case, the house may have been named by the local, provincial or federal government as a Historic Place and have architectural or historic significance. Frequently, they do not stand by themselves but are part of a historic district. Some old houses have historic status, and others are local landmarks.
Do these homes intrique you? Do you want on of your own? If so, there are some important points to consider. For example, don’t let your love for old houses lead you to buy a withering but charming wreck of a structure that is far beyond your financial capabilities for “fixing it up”. Mortgage payments, real estate taxes, fuel bills, plus a hefty home-improvement loan could be far too much debt for you to handle, especially if you are a first time home buyer and home ownership is new to you. Better look for a home that is old but in need of a smaller infusion of funds. Find a house inspector familiar with old, possibly historic, house construction. That should not be difficult in a town with a sizeable inventory of older residential properties.
Be very sure you know if the house that interests you has any historic designation: local, provincial, or federal. That can affect how much, or how little, hacking away you will be able to do with repairs or installations. This designation affects how you can treat the outside of the house – setback, paint colours, surface materials, and so forth. Inside, you are on your own, although an addition or bumping out a wall to create a bay window may have to be approved by the government who designated the home as historic.
Contact your provincial historical society or local landmarks preservation commission for more information. These offices are likely to offer preservation project guidelines that you can apply to your old house. In the main, they will help show you what is worth preserving and what can be seriously altered. You will find, and learn as you go along, that distinctive stylistic features should be treated carefully and sensitively.
Give yourself time to get acquainted with your house before you start any serious work on it. Most homeowners find that they change their minds several times about how they want the kitchen remodelled or whether they want that dining room wall knocked out. One of the advantages of not being able to afford to do everything at once is that you can alter plans mentally without making serious financial and/or design mistakes by moving too quickly.
You should think not only of remodelling or preservation but also of the market value of your place. Future buyers will not appreciate a dropped ceiling, for example, no matter how much you spent to put it in. However, they will appreciate the house’s original eleven-foot-high ceiling with handsome mouldings. You would be wise to keep the older ceiling, repairing the plasterwork if necessary. It may cost more to heat those high-ceilinged rooms, but you need to protect your investment in that house. “Wear sweaters” is the advice from old-house mavens!