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Anyone here ever owned a really old cottage?

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Anyone here ever owned a really old cottage?

edited 30 November -1 at 1:00AM in House Buying, Renting & Selling
37 replies 3.5K views
AmarnaAmarna Forumite
10 posts
edited 30 November -1 at 1:00AM in House Buying, Renting & Selling
I've just bought my first property which is 19th century cottage. As a first time buyer it was maybe a bit brave or stupid of me (!) but I wasn't naive, I realised there would be quirks and constant upkeep on a property of such an age.
What I wasn't prepared for was the paranoia (perhaps as a ftb) of everything needing work or going wrong. Random cracks appearing everywhere, doors fitting one day and not the next, patches of damp etc. I seem to be finding lots of little things that need repair, that I never noticed on the two viewings I had. Ive had three surveys done (One buildings survey prior to buying, one for the damp and wood and another by a family friend) and everyone has a different opinion on the severity and the options to repair! It's driving me mad.
What I'm asking really is, what is it like to live in such an old property? Are the above things part of the course? Are there any money saving hacks I should know about when it comes to maintenance?
Thanks!
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  • AnotherJoeAnotherJoe Forumite
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    My first house was built in 1890. My next one was a new build as a direc reaction to the sort of issues you are talking about, bits and pieces constantly needing fixing. . It wasn't a "cottage" (which can mean many things) it was a terrace.
    However the new build wasn't all plain sailing either.
  • CakegutsCakeguts Forumite
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    19th century isn't "really old." There are lot of much older properties still around. Just be happy that it isn't "really old" and listed in which case all the little things that keep needing doing will cost twice as much.
  • AmarnaAmarna Forumite
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    I think 1830s is pretty old! It isn't listed but it is in a conservation area, which has shown some things, such as roofing for example, to be more expensive as it has to remain in keeping etc.
  • G_MG_M Forumite
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    The paranoia is normal. Especially for a FTB.

    Old properties do have quirks and issues, and telling the significant from the insignificant is a nightmare at first.

    My home is an 1851 ex village school (residential since around 1900 and extended several times).

    One issue is the porch. A major crack appears between the porch and the main house every summer, and closes up every winter. I now understand that the porch's foundations are very shallow and as the ground dries the porch moves more than the house.

    This summer, I've had more cracks than ever before, which freaked me out for a bit, but I know the ground will re-settle over the winter and the cracks close up. Whether I choose to re-plaster over the cracks is a decision I'll make sometime, but I no longer panic the way you probably would!
    ** If I include a blue link in my post, click and read it before posting a follow-up question. The answer may be in the link! **
  • DaftyDuckDaftyDuck Forumite
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    Oldest I've owned was mostly thirteenth century. It was falling down after the first five hundred years, and is (very, very, very slowly) still falling down.

    Older houses have passed the test of time. If you tend to their needs, which are not excessive, they will last hundreds of years. My current house needs plenty of remedial work on the sash windows, not surprising since they are mainly over a hundred years old. When done, they'll last another hundred of so. I doubt most uPVC ones will last half that time.
  • stuart45stuart45 Forumite
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    I've got an old stone walled thatched cottage (was the wifes idea). You need to look at owning an old property as a hobby.
    One of the problems with a lot of old houses is that they have been rendered and repointed in a strong cement mortar instead of lime. Cracks in lime built properties will often self heal.
    Learning some basic DIY skills will help keep the costs down.
  • EachPennyEachPenny Forumite
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    Amarna wrote: »
    ... and everyone has a different opinion on the severity and the options to repair! It's driving me mad.
    What I'm asking really is, what is it like to live in such an old property? Are the above things part of the course? Are there any money saving hacks I should know about when it comes to maintenance?
    Thanks!
    I didn't own it, but grew up in and have done a lot of maintenance work in a really old cottage.

    The key thing with any building is keeping water out of the structure - whether it is rain coming through the roof or walls, or damp coming up through the ground. So long as you keep the elements out, not much else matters that much.

    The main thing to remember with older buildings is they were built before people became obsessive about movement. They weren't designed to move as such, but their construction used materials and techniques which resulted in what you might call a 'living' building - they rarely keep completely still for long.

    The problems people usually have is when you try to apply modern techniques and materials to the old structure. Modern cements and plasters aren't formulated for flexibility, so when the building moves a bit they quickly crack. Likewise, people expect modern doors and windows to be near air-tight which is generally done by making them to tight tolerances. A very slight amount of movement then results in the door or window jamming. If you cure this by planing a bit off (assuming it is wood) when the building moves the other way or things dry out in the Summer, you find you have big gaps. With an old building you need to make things in a way which accommodates movement, hiding or disguising it if necessary.

    So the important thing to do is to have empathy with and understanding of your building - try and work with it, rather than against it. That doesn't mean you have to completely avoid modern stuff, you just need to be aware (and make sure people who are doing work for you are aware) that things work differently for your building compared to a new build.

    The most important money saving hack is learn to live with things not being perfect (even on new houses they very rarely are) and learn the difference between cosmetic defects and things which are significant. If it is only cosmetic then you can ignore it, which saves lots of money. ;)

    Your problem (if any) will come when you want to sell. When potential buyers will be looking at everything as a major fault. That means you will either need to put in a large investment (nearer the time) to make everything look perfect, or else be prepared to wait a bit longer than average for a buyer to come along who understands older buildings, and doesn't run a mile when they see a hairline crack in the plaster. :)

    Good luck, hope you really enjoy your new home. :)
    "In the future, everyone will be rich for 15 minutes"
  • edited 12 October 2018 at 10:27PM
    DigForVictoryDigForVictory Forumite
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    edited 12 October 2018 at 10:27PM
    +1 for this ^

    You try getting planning for double-glazing...

    Seriously old buildings - learn to love the creaks, have a stack of buckets for drips & have a ruthless approach to "start with a length of gaffer". Oh & always know where the matches, candle & candlesticks are. (My place is largely stone, I can afford to be a *bit* more casual about fire.)

    Don't be afraid of your fuse box - if you have to spend a night with the downstairs lights all out as for some reason that circuit is causing the heating circuit to go, prioritise!

    If you know where the previous owners have moved to, ask if you can photocopy their phone book, so you know who they have used and who knows where assorted wires & pipes go. Failing that, take up dowsing, and/or get a really reliable cable detector.

    If you aren't already a member of the National Trust, or English Heritage, consider it - they have a lot of people keen on & knowledgeable about old houses & they may be able to steer you in useful directions. (I had no idea what Welsh Vernacular was for years. One very rainy afternoons conversation, four reference books and a lot of doodles in a patch of mud & I learned loads as well as being able to place the cottage in its historical context & place a shrewd bet as to what various corners were originally intended for, and how they got repurposed.)

    As for doors fitting, regard then as a seasonal guide. Daylight in on all 4 sides? It's summer. Wedged tight unless you apply pretty much a flying tackle? It's winter, & try a door less in the line of windblown rain. Our front door is largely decorative in winter & the lads converse through the letterbox as a grownup sprints round the back & side of the house to sign for things. (*Always* improperly clad - our posties should be poker players! Alltime winner so date was bikini [I was bleaching the grout in the shower], waterproof [with bust zip so held together in one hand] & wellies, on a rainy November morning.) Invest in long trenchcoat that engulfs you & always have a pair of size 15 wellies near the door, so you can answer said door covered & reasonably waterproofed.

    I'll hope you have a working fireplace? Learn to love the burn. It makes the whistling draughts so much less irritating. You develop a whole new appreciation for wing-backed chairs, too....

    Migods yes on the difference between cosmetic & critical.

    Honest, an old place has Character. Noone says it is Good character, but just think - if you stub your toes, how much *more* pain it will inflict on the burglar.
  • TamsinCTamsinC Forumite
    625 posts
    Now living in our newly acquired mid seventeenth century cottage. Second one I've lived in of this age. I LOVE it.

    Join this forum loads of advice https://www.periodproperty.co.uk
    “Isn't this enough? Just this world? Just this beautiful, complex
    Wonderfully unfathomable, natural world” Tim Minchin
  • edited 12 October 2018 at 10:56PM
    EachPennyEachPenny Forumite
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    edited 12 October 2018 at 10:56PM
    G_M wrote: »
    One issue is the porch. A major crack appears between the porch and the main house every summer, and closes up every winter. I now understand that the porch's foundations are very shallow and as the ground dries the porch moves more than the house.

    This summer, I've had more cracks than ever before, which freaked me out for a bit, but I know the ground will re-settle over the winter and the cracks close up. Whether I choose to re-plaster over the cracks is a decision I'll make sometime, but I no longer panic the way you probably would!
    You'll only stop the cracks by making the porch foundations equal to the house foundations and ensuring the walls of the porch are properly tied in to the house walls. Not usually an economic solution. ;)

    Replastering over the cracks will only give the house a blank canvas to work on... a bit like the council applying a coat of white paint over a popular wall for graffiti.

    If the cracks are limited to the area where the porch and house meet, and the day arrives where they cause you so much distress you feel the urge to do something, then the best bet is to have them covered with a piece of wood attached firmly to one wall (probably the house) and not attached to the other. The wall can then move and crack in privacy, and you can be blissfully unaware of what it is getting up to this week. :)

    ETA: this is a good illustration of the 'cosmetic vs significant' for the OP. If the crack opens and closes with the seasons you can relax. It will go on doing that indefinitely. But if the crack gets a little bigger every year then you need to think about getting round to starting to worry... eventually. :D
    "In the future, everyone will be rich for 15 minutes"
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