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I am looking at a new property with about 40 acres and an older farmhouse. It has two water sources and several outbuildings. The house is about 100 years old and I have had houses that age before. However, I'd really like the expertise of this forum to help me see things I might otherwise miss when looking over the property.

I consider myself somewhat experienced (meaning I've made mistakes in the past :D: ) at knowing what to look for, but just wanted to get some opinions and/or stories from others who might have overlooked something before a purchase of a rural property. Also, any positives you would value in such a property.
 

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If one of the water sources is a well, check on the well depth, the water table, and especially the age/condition of the well pump! Even with a well, if the pump goes out, you have no water. Additionally, how is it powered? Wind, solar, or "grid-tie" electric? If the later, if the power goes out, you have no water.

Check the condition of the buildings. Any rotten wood/insect damage? What condition is the roof in? How is the plumbing and electrical? When was it last updated? In a house that age, you may need a complete re-wire/re-plumb job.

What condition is the acreage in? How much of it is "arable" land, as opposed to wooded/overgrown? How is the soil fertility? Has it been lying "fallow" or over-farmed? How much work will be required to bring it back into production? What do you plan on doing with it? Growing crops, raising livestock, etc.?

The nice thing about that much land is that you CAN raise your own food...room for a garden, raising livestock, areas for pasture, growing some grain, etc.
 

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Electrical work is very important to check and update. When that house was built it may not have originally even had electricity. Even if built with electricity you want to make sure ALL the wiring is updated, even the hidden lines. Old wiring can be a deathtrap.

These old houses weren't built to accommodate all the things we have these days. If bedrooms had an outlet at all it was likely only one. The occupant needed a bedside lamp, and possibly a radio and that was it. Nobody expected anyone to plug in a curling iron, cell phone charger, a TV, a lap top or any of the things found just in a bedroom these days.

As for the land, find out the water flow patterns. Does this area flood or stay soggy? Does that area drain too fast? It's important to know before you build or plan to plant.
 

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Have the title history run. Make sure there are no limits, liens, right of way/access, or other clauses in the title. Make sure you have all the rights to the property, in Wisconsin the big two would be timber and mineral. Are there any leases on parts of the property and what are the renewal options? Are the property lines clearly marked and/or fenced?

What kind of neighbors will you have? Will you have to deal with drift or runoff from their property? Check with local law enforcement. Are they likely to call in on you or will you be calling in on them? Check for paths and trails going through your property.

Find out who has been doing termite and pest control on the buildings. Get two different companies to do an inspection. Meet the inspector that the general inspection and be ready to pay for a second inspection if anything seems 'off'. Find out who did the selling land survey, if there wasn't one, find out when and by whom the last survey was done.

Check the condition of any basements, shelters, or root cellars. Is the septic tank hooked up to field lines, or does it need to be pumped out, how often and how much. Any buried fuel tanks? Home heating source(s)?
 

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The house is about 100 years old and I have had houses that age before. However, I'd really like the expertise of this forum to help me see things I might otherwise miss when looking over the property
I strongly recommend you get a professional engineer to inspect the house from top to bottom. "Home Inspectors" are not qualified to judge the condition of "rubble" foundations, the future draw of wells, or the likelihood of splayed roof beams and other long-term degradation to wood structures.

Make a house diagram and go through the home with a level, a marble, and some way of checking airflow. If the level shows a wall out of plumb, or if the marble rolls too readily, or if any of the windows or doors can't be opened or closed with the force of two fingers, or if there's too much air current (drafts), it's best to assume that you'll need to pay for very expensive replacements or repairs. Don't accept any excuses, or claims that "any old house is like this" or similar salesdroid nonsense: you'll be living there, not them.

I'll "+1" what others wrote about checking surveys, and don't hesitate to get your own if there's any doubt about the survey that's on file. Beware of "plot plans" or other drawings not done by a licensed surveyor, and don't even think of buying the "title insurance" that attorneys offer at closings as a profit-pack. If you bank requires it, get it yourself and be sure it doesn't exclude errors due to legal or surveying incompetence, or unrecorded takings by force majeure.

Last, do some research on living in homes like this one in the "good old days": heating a home from a fireplace is next to impossible, and most stoves or other metal heating devices from 100 years ago are no better than an open pit. Most importantly, don't have any illusions about how much work it is to heat with wood, or coal, or other manually-fed flame! If you're used to central heat and having a thermostat to set, you're in for a brutal first winter - hell, you're in for a brutal first year.

I wish you luck, and a great home to live in.

William Warren
 

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Check for old dump sites too. My dad has pulled several old car bodies off a piece of property he owns. Many loads of metal and scrap to clean it up. Grandpa did the same thing on his farm. All the rusted fence and assorted junk just went into a gully behind the barn.
 

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Definitely check for the dump sites, 100 years ago everybody burned or buried their trash. Every thing within 100 yards of my house grows, bottles, cans, nails, antique car parts, you name it. If i try to dig i spend hours cleaning junk out of the dirt
 

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If you can find where the old privies were check those areas. Often there were night time 'personal bank deposits' made one shovel handle length from the privy. A metal detector could easily pay for itself. Old coins, bottles, and anything else that fell in the privy during use was not recovered. A couple of decades after they were back filled, the contents are not much different than the soil around it and could be run through a sifter to recover the lost items.
 

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What most houses need to have inspected...

- Wiring: Sounds like your house may be old enough for post and tube. Even old Romex I would not trust, the old Romex looked like an extension cord with gauze wrapped around it. Terrible stuff. I always work with Metal Shielded. DO NOT live in a house with post and tube. Get it replaced before you move in.

- Plumbing: Lead. As in lead poisoning. Need I say more?

- Wood: Go around the house with a screwdriver. Poke it into everything. Holes or soft spots in wood can mean carpenter ants, termites, or just plain old rot.

- Septic: Many old septic systems were laid-up stone where the black water just settled and the effluent had to be pumped out occasionally. Then came iron tanks, which rotted into the surrounding soil and eventually collapsed. The general rule is 1,000 gallons tank for a typical three bedroom house. If the pipe is the old Orangeburg, it can collapse or have roots grow through it.

- Attic: go in the attic during a rain. Look around carefully for dripping. Inspect the roof for divots that indicate the plywood (or wainscotting) is drooping between the rafters.

- Basement: check the underside of the main floor from the basement. Much of your wiring that will power your laundry, kitchen and entertainment center will be here. As will your plumbing. Check the foundation, have a bubble level with you. Check everything with the bubble level. The house will have settled, but you want to know how much, and what problems that may cause.

What is holding the main floor up? Is it a brand new steel I-beam held up by steel columns or is it old tree trunks standing vertically, holding up old tree trunks laying horizontally. No kidding, I have seen that.

What type of service do you have? 100 Amps is slim but you can get by, 150 or 200 is preferred. Breakers or old fuses? How old is the box and how messy are the wires?

Also know that old houses are much heavier than 2 by 4 houses. They may have been built with hand-hewn lumber, which is very heavy. If your sill plate is rotted or eaten, the house can literally 'crash' down the thickness of the sill plate.

Roof: What kind of roof, how many layers of old roof are on there already. The fire department will only allow two layers in most places.

Beware of old wells, old structures, old cars, outhouses, shooting ranges (lead), trees growing too close to the house (causes gutter backup and rot to the fascia boards)

Good luck.

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I strongly recommend you get a professional engineer to inspect the house from top to bottom. "Home Inspectors" are not qualified to judge the condition of "rubble" foundations, the future draw of wells, or the likelihood of splayed roof beams and other long-term degradation to wood structures.

Make a house diagram and go through the home with a level, a marble, and some way of checking airflow. If the level shows a wall out of plumb, or if the marble rolls too readily, or if any of the windows or doors can't be opened or closed with the force of two fingers, or if there's too much air current (drafts), it's best to assume that you'll need to pay for very expensive replacements or repairs. Don't accept any excuses, or claims that "any old house is like this" or similar salesdroid nonsense: you'll be living there, not them.

I'll "+1" what others wrote about checking surveys, and don't hesitate to get your own if there's any doubt about the survey that's on file. Beware of "plot plans" or other drawings not done by a licensed surveyor, and don't even think of buying the "title insurance" that attorneys offer at closings as a profit-pack. If you bank requires it, get it yourself and be sure it doesn't exclude errors due to legal or surveying incompetence, or unrecorded takings by force majeure.

Last, do some research on living in homes like this one in the "good old days": heating a home from a fireplace is next to impossible, and most stoves or other metal heating devices from 100 years ago are no better than an open pit. Most importantly, don't have any illusions about how much work it is to heat with wood, or coal, or other manually-fed flame! If you're used to central heat and having a thermostat to set, you're in for a brutal first winter - hell, you're in for a brutal first year.

I wish you luck, and a great home to live in.

William Warren
One hundred years is a long time. I'm with this guy.
 
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