Lookout For These 4 Problems When Buying an Old House in NJ

Buying an Old House

As a New Jersey real estate brokerage, we have helped our clients buy and sell many old houses. As you know, buying an old house in NJ risks a variety of problems that can occur during the transaction. Throughout our experience, there are certain problems that are more common then others. This article discuses some of the most common problems that can arise. Read on to find out which 4 problems you should look out for when buying an old house in NJ.

1. Structural Issues

Our best advice for anyone buying an older home in New Jersey is to really look at the structure of the home. It is very important to verify that there are no issues with the overall structure. In a worst case scenario, structural problems can put big financial burdens on the home owner. They can even make the property unlivable. Some red flags for structural issues include a house that is sagging in the middle or to one side, floors that seem to bounce or move when you jump on them, and big cracks in the foundation (in the case of homes from the 1800’s many foundations will be made of rocks and mortar, make sure they are not loose).

If you think you see any of these red flags, decide if you still want to buy the home. If you still want to move forward, you will need to hire a structural engineer to fully evaluate the situation. The structural engineer will confirm any issues and advise as to what types of repairs are needed.

2. Dirt Floors

Many old houses in NJ contain crawl spaces and basements. These areas used to be built with dirt floors. If the home was never fully modernized, it could still contain some dirt flooring in a crawl space or basement section. Buying an old house in NJ with a dirt floor will not lead to the best situation as a homeowner. When viewing the home, make sure to open all crawl space access panels to check for dirt flooring. In the case of a basement, it may have a cement floor in the main area, but could have other sections that were not cemented. Open all visible doors to check for dirt sections. Dirt floors can cause a variety of problems, but the most common are mold and moisture. The moisture can cause issues with wood flooring, and mold can cause respiratory problems. Many home owners fix the dirt flooring problem by either putting down a vapor barrier or cement. Cement can be more expensive, but is the best fix for the long term.

3. Knob and Tube Wiring

The electrical system in an old house in NJ is another area where major problems can arise. One such problem is knob and tube wiring. Knob and tube wiring was used in homes and buildings from about 1880 until the 1930’s. This wiring system is now considered a fire hazard. It also lacks the capacity to handle modern electrical use. Additionally, many insurance companies will not insure a house if it has knob and tube wiring. You may be able to tell if the home has this wiring by looking in the basement, crawl spaces, or attic spaces. To see an example of what it looks like, google a picture of knob and tube wiring. As we mentioned before it is always best to bring in a specialist to confirm the issue. If you are looking at a home that you think contains knob and tube wiring, either prepare to have the entire electrical system replaced, or find a different NJ house to buy.

4. Cast Iron Sewage Pipe

The last but not least item on this list is plumbing. Many issues can arise with plumbing when buying an old house in NJ. However, one of the most common, is the sewage pipe running out of the house. Most homes built before the 1970’s were made with cast iron sewage pipes. Although cast iron lasts a long time, tree roots, rust, and other natural causes can deteriorate the pipes. In some cases the cast iron sewage pipe may contain a trap. An old trap can cause the pipe to get clogged with sewage. If the clog is severe enough, it can burst through the access point on the pipe. This will flood the house with sewage. If the house has a basement, you should be able to see the sewer pipe. It should be a large pipe that exits through the side of the foundation. Modern ones are PVC, which is what you want.

In either case, if you decide to move forward with the purchase of the house, you should get a sewer scope done. This is a service that is additional to the main home inspection. The sewer scope will tell you the condition of the sewage pipe, and if it needs to be replaced.


Buying an old house in New Jersey can sometimes be tricky. However, with the right deal, old houses can present some great opportunities. They even offer great investment potential for the buyer who is not afraid of renovations. Finding the right deals as buyer should not be hard, as long as you have the right New Jersey brokerage by your side. Click here to learn more about how we help our clients buy a home in New Jersey, or fill contact us on the form below.