Buying an old house: What to look out for in old properties

Buying an old property – look out for these seven hidden costs 

Affordable old buildings are highly sought after, but it is important to take a close look at older properties and not rush into signing a contract under time pressure. What you need to consider apart from location, price, and character when buying an old property – so you can turn an old house into your dream home.

1. Is the old building structurally sound?

A modern kitchen and lovely paint job are not much use if the structure of an older property isn't sound. Such a house can quickly turn into a nightmare and become very costly. Therefore, if you want to buy an old property, you should pay particular attention to the external walls and roof during the viewing.

Thin cracks in the plaster, for example, are normal and mostly harmless. However, deep cracks running through supporting walls or external walls can indicate that the house's structure is poor. This can happen if the ground underneath it moves. If an old property has wooden beams, you should check whether these are stable and not rotten or infested with pests. Considering such issues is especially important if you are intending to install a solar system on the roof, in which case, it must have the load capacity for the additional weight of the installation.

2. Do not buy if there are signs of moisture

Moisture is the worst enemy of old properties. The telltale signs are mold, crumbling plaster, and a musty smell. Water may have found its way into the house from above – for example, through a leaky roof or decayed seals. In some properties, moisture can also seep in from below, if no moisture barrier was installed.

If there are signs of moisture, it is important to find out the cause. Structural repairs due to leaks are time-consuming and expensive. The damage resulting from years of untreated moisture can be particularly problematic.

3. Old buildings often lack insulation

Old buildings are often poorly insulated and not very energy efficient, resulting in higher heating costs. It can therefore make sense to add extra insulation to the external walls. Sometimes the roof insulation and even the plaster are also insufficient and in need of improvement.

If oil or gas heating is still being used and the heating needs to be replaced anyway because of its age, it may be worth considering more environmentally friendly heating. When buying a house, you should ideally draw up a budget for energy-related renovation work.

Poor insulation is not just a problem in terms of energy efficiency: Old buildings often have poor sound insulation, meaning you can hear everything through the walls.

4. Inspect the electrical installations of the old property

In many old properties, it is not only the heating that is out of date, but also the electrical installations: old fuses, poor wiring, not enough plug sockets. You should check all of this when buying an older house. Find out about the state of the power supply system and, during the viewing, make a note of where you need to make adjustments. In old properties, TV and telephone sockets, for example, are often only available in one room.

5. Check the state of the water pipes 

Water pipes may also need to be replaced. Under normal circumstances, the pipes have a life cycle of up to 40 years. However, it may be shorter if the water is very hard, since limescale builds up in the pipes. This leads to reduced water pressure and blockages.


In Switzerland, it may be worth installing a water-softening system, depending on the regional water hardness. This is particularly the case if you plan to replace all the water pipes. Less limescale also increases the life cycle of appliances such as boilers, washing machines, and dishwashers.

6. Be wary of asbestos in old buildings

In Switzerland, asbestos was installed between approx. 1904 and 1990 in flooring, pipe insulation, and acoustic panels, for example. According to information from the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, materials containing asbestos are particularly common in properties built between the 1950s and the 1970s. Asbestos has only been banned since 1990.

If you want to buy an older property, you should address this issue. Although carcinogenic asbestos fibers are usually only released during processing, for example due to renovation work, it is expensive to remove asbestos. A laboratory analysis can reveal whether or not asbestos was used in a house.

7. Buy an old property, but plan for modernization 

If you are buying an old property, you should budget for modernization work. Perhaps the bathroom is old fashioned, the kitchen appliances are out of date, or the old flooring doesn't appeal to you? There is almost always something to renovate.

Old buildings are charming, especially when you can combine the old and the new. With the right conversions, extensions, and renovations, you can make your personal dream home a reality. It is best to think about what you will want to change while you are viewing the property. However, you will need to bear in mind historical monument protection. Depending on a property's age, requirements and restrictions can seriously hinder a conversion, or even renovations.

8. Renovation funds for old condominiums

If you buy a condominium, you become the owner of a commonhold property and thus a member of a condominium association. Such associations are responsible for renovations and restorations, and finance these using money from a renovation fund. All joint owners regularly pay a certain amount into the fund, based on the value ratio of the condominium. Generally, the property management company is responsible for managing the renovation fund and the related renovation plan.

If you buy a condominium in an old property, you may think you are getting a bargain, but you need to be careful. Find out how much money is already in the renovation fund and how much has been paid into it in recent years. After all, if rental apartments in the property have only recently been converted to condominiums, there may be very little money in the renovation fund. This will lead to condominium owners with high value ratios having to reach deep into their pockets to finance any repairs. Factors such as a renovation fund that doesn't contain much money should generally be reflected in the sale price. To make sure you don't face any nasty surprises, you should also find out about any upcoming work in the renovation plan.

Are you considering buying an old property? 

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