george nicola

By George Nicola (Expert Stager)

This article is for people who are looking for tips on house viewing including first-time investors.
Read on to the practical steps you should take before and during viewing 20-30-year-old houses, their characteristics as well as estimated renovation costs.

What is House Viewing?

House viewing refers to an opportunity for interested buyers to inspect the property before purchasing it entirely. House viewing is an essential part of the buying strategy that can attract many potential buyers searching for an ideal property to buy.

House viewing etiquette refers to the process, and pref one does before physically or virtually viewing a house. If you get your house viewing etiquette right, your chances of negotiation go high in addition to obtaining better information about the property.

Some might argue that sellers do not care what buyers think or want, and all they care about is if you have got the money to pay the asking, regardless of your house viewing etiquette.

The below few tips will help you prepare for your house viewings.

Before arranging any viewings, go and see a property that “it’s not your type” to get used to the process.

Learn to ask questions.

How and what are two important ones to ask?

Gather data before you ask from postcode, google the house name or street for news, check neighbourhood social network apps or groups. You will be amazed at how much you can learn by doing that.

1. Show up on time and do not bring young children if possible. If you can’t show up at all, try not to cancel the viewing at the last minute.

2. As an interested buyer of old houses, one essential house viewing etiquette is to monitor the time allocated for your first viewing and avoid long conversations until you leave the property.

3. Always ask before you try or do anything while at the viewing

4. If possible, take your shoes off

5. Do not go off-track with talks; stay focused and on topic

6. When exiting a room, turn off the lights (or ask if you have to)

7. Gather data from the seller why they are selling or leaving the property

8. Afterwards, write down or record every bit of information that got your attention. If the property ticked at least 50% of the boxes in your list, start planning your second extended viewing.

9. Between the first and second viewings, look around the local neighbourhood and explore other old properties with similar features within the period.

10. Go on google maps and see if there is a record on “street view” mode and satellite mode; switch to every available year for a distinct change in the facade or surroundings; record every change.

10. Inspect their state and record anything that makes an interesting or prominent issue or feature.

11. Talk to their owners about potential problems they encountered if they have similar characteristics if possible.

12. Check local planning portals for past or expired applications

13. Check local government or news websites for future plans on the area

14. After doing all that due diligence, you’ll be ready to do the second viewing of the property

Characteristics of 20 and 30-Year Old Houses

Many people today have taken for granted some critical features of classic homes. However, decade-old houses have unique innovations that you should know before buying them. So as you conduct your due diligence of 20 and 30-year old houses, here’s what you should look into: 

Style of Architecture

Old houses were built from simple designs to sophisticated ones that maximized every conceivable detail. The following room designs emerged in the 1990s:

  • Living rooms – Impressive array of built-in shelving units, arched windows, wall-to-wall carpeting, bright primary colours, walls with animal prints, botanical wallpapers, etc.
  • Kitchens – More minimalist with light oak finishes, tile countertops, floral wallpaper, brass hardware, single overhead light, all-white appliances, etc.
  • Bathrooms – Minimal décor, corner baths, water jets, neutral colours for tiles and walls, natural elements, quartzite countertops, breezy white cabinets, beige porcelain floor, etc.
  • Bedrooms – Canopy beds, floral walls, beaded curtains, inflatable sofas, pine furniture, window drapery, etc.


Typically, old houses sell for considerably less than new houses, which come at an additional 10% to 20% premium. Also, you can get great value in buying an old home at a considerably lower price per square foot and sell it for more after upgrading it.

Old houses offer charm, but their value lies in the eye of the beholder. While you can renovate a 30-year old home to meet the standards of a new house, you will spend big on roofs, windows, siding, insulation, and HVAC.

Number of Listings

Older houses are more likely to be listed. In the US, provides an active listing index for an old house in all states, while in the UK, you can check the National Heritage List for England or the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Who Buys Them

Generally, many old houses don’t meet the needs of many buyers because they are functionally old-fashioned. However, specific buyers have a large appetite for such properties.

Always be on the lookout for flippers, deal hunters and remodelers because they usually see the ultimate potential of old houses after renovation rather than their perfection before buying them.

Advantages and Disadvantages of 20 to 30-Year Old Houses

While old houses can be a good investment, they also demand costly renovations for meeting modern-day standards and the needs of potential buyers. To decide the worth of an old house before buying them, it is important to consider their advantages and disadvantages:


Lower Buying Price and Less Property Tax

Irrespective of the location or condition, old houses will always cost less than new homes because they are less updated and less desirable in various real estate markets. In addition, you will pay fewer property taxes for an old house and even enjoy a property tax break.

Solid Construction

Old houses are usually constructed with durable high-quality materials that can withstand wear and tear for decades! The materials used are structurally sound and naturally rot-resistant, such as solid brick, concrete or stone and old-growth pine.

Spacious Property

Land was in plenty in the past decades, which means that old houses were generally constructed on larger yards. Compared to modern-day homes that sit on smaller lots, older homes have bigger rooms, expansive gardens as well as bigger front yards and backyards that increase the value of the properties.

Convenient Location

 Many old houses are usually located close to urban areas equipped with much-needed amenities. Even though they were built before their surrounding areas were developed, rapid urbanization over the years brought them closer to modern-day towns, local shopping centres, schools, hospitals, and other vital amenities.


Outdated Building Code Compliance

Apart from having outdated appliances, inefficient plumbing and HVAC systems that hike your utility bills, many old homes rarely abide by modern compliance codes. Before buying an old house, consider examining these systems because it is very costly to replace them.

Closed-off Floor Plans

Unlike modern-day houses, which are typically constructed with open and spacious floor plans, 20 to 30-year old houses mostly have demarcated spaces. This might suit some buyers’ specific styles but is generally inconvenient because the house will look cramped with less storage space.

Closed-off Floor Plans

Unlike modern-day houses, which are typically constructed with open and spacious floor plans, 20 to 30-year old houses mostly have demarcated spaces. This might suit some buyers’ specific styles but is generally inconvenient because the house will look cramped with less storage space.

Trouble Finding Buyers

After renovation, it is not guaranteed that you will find the right buyer willing to pay according to your listing price immediately. Since many listings are for newer homes, you may have trouble selling an old house in your local market because most buyers prefer modern houses.

Safety Concerns

Old houses come with safety hazards due to outdated features. For example, obsolete electrical wiring could cause fire, which means higher insurance premiums. In addition, tall trees with deep roots may weaken foundations and disrupt plumbing systems, leading to costly replacements.

Click here to read more about the things to consider when buying old derelict properties.

Buying an Old House with an Agent or at Auctions

Buying an old house comes with many risks and a fair share of what-ifs. To secure a good deal, you’ll need to hire an experienced local realtor and/or attend an auction. The below two steps outline the key tips and tricks of the trade:

Step 1: Research

To find the best realtor in your preferred area:

Look Up Potential Realtors Online

Before you enlist your preferred realtors, browse their websites and social media profiles along with customer reviews. A few negative reviews are okay, but too many is a red flag.

Also, search the website of your state’s real estate regulator to ensure that the realtors have an active licence and are free from any disciplinary actions or complaints. Then, pick the best three and interview them.

Request for a List of Homes

Before the appointment or interview, ask the agent to prepare a list of homes (preferably old houses) that they have been directly involved in buying or selling. During the appointment, ask about their experiences with old houses and later run their list through a multiple listing service website to validate their thoughts.

Ask for References Contacts

Contacting a few clients that the agents have worked with recently to buy homes is essential. The agents should willingly provide their contacts so that you can reach out to them for information on the kind of support the agent provided. Also, ask whether they would hire them again.

Use Your Network for Referrals

Your family and friends can recommend a competent agent especially if they had a great experience working with them. Ensure you ask for a buyer’s agent and not a seller’s agent. The former represents homebuyers, while the latter handles homeowners’ terms of sale.

To find the best auction for old properties in your preferred area, use:

Local Newspapers

Make it a daily or weekly habit to look for auction listings in the real estate section of the local newspaper. Some newspapers use headings such as “investment properties” or “commercial property” to publish legal notices of scheduled auctions.

Online Search

Visit auctioneers’ websites and online listing services as they are the best sources for property auctions. They usually include property location, bidding location, date, time, pricing, and any down payment where necessary. Also, check government websites for foreclosed properties.

Local Real Estate Brokers

If you need inside information about upcoming auctions, brokers can give you specific information about scheduled old properties. They can easily contact realtors to help you find auctions listed on the MLS.

Banks and Lenders

Visit local banks and ask whether they have any upcoming auction for REOs and foreclosures. You can also ask local realtors to call banks directly to know whether there are any old houses that they need to offload in an auction.

Step 2: Plan


You need enough upfront cash to hire a realtor or make payments at auctions. While there are numerous flexible financing options, cash, cashier’s check, or money order are common. You may be banned from future auctions if you fail to complete the payment.

Viewing Tips with an Agent

You can go for physical viewing or virtual viewing. Physical viewing is when you present yourself to a property to examine it face-to-face on certain days and for specific time intervals.

The first physical viewings are always shorter than the subsequent ones. Virtual viewing is when you have a computer-generated walkthrough of a property with the help of the agent or seller via digital services such as zoom, facetime, etc. Always be open-minded when viewing old houses as some may be appealing, but others can have many problems.

Below are the pros of both viewings:

While flipping houses may not be a long-term buy and hold strategy, you can earn a decent living through it, especially if you strictly follow the BRRRR method (buy, rehab, rent, refinance, repeat).

However, it is essential to note that house flipping involves substantial financial risks. This means that it is not guaranteed that you will always sell for profit.

This is where the 70% rule comes in handy! House flippers always try to find and buy below market value and use this rule to calculate the maximum amount to buy a distressed property for flipping. Essentially, you should spend 70% or less of the property’s after-repair value minus the renovation costs.

Physical Viewings

You can scrutinize the house conditions

You can explore the neighbourhood

Provides a better depiction of the house

More engaging on a face-to-face basis

Virtual Viewings

Saves time for buyers

You have unlimited time to view the house

More convenient for buying distant properties

You can purchase without viewing the unit

When viewing an old house with your agent, consider these tips:

  • Arrive on time for the house viewing appointment.
  • Keep track of the time allocated for viewing
  • Ask the homeowner whether you should take off your shoes or not
  • Ask the agent to test fittings and fixtures (taps, showerheads, windows, locks, etc.
  • Don’t use the property’s bathroom.
  • Take photos and videos
  • Ask the homeowner/tenant about any noteworthy problems.
  • Leave everything intact or as you found them
  • Avoid long conversations
  • Don’t criticise the property

Viewing Tips When Buying from Auction

It is important to view the property you are interested in before the auction. Consider these tips:

  • You can schedule viewings online
  • Viewing times are usually displayed on websites
  • There are 2-3 weekly viewings per property.
  • Go with a handyman to pinpoint repairs needed and their costs.

How to Prepare for Viewing an Old House (Checklist)

Before viewing an old house, you must prepare yourself to know as much as you can about the property before buying it. Here are key guidelines to follow:

History of the Old House (Who, When, What)

  1. Who is the current homeowner or who was the last occupant?
  2. Why did the homeowners/tenants move out?
  3. How old is the roof, the appliances and mechanical systems?
  4. Does the house have any safety or health hazards?
  5. How long has the house stayed on the market?
  6. How much do houses in the neighbourhood sell for?
  7. What’s the history of insurance claims?

Main Characteristics of the Old House + Estimated Cost of Repairs

  1. Foundation: Look for uneven floors, wall cracks, doors that won’t latch, and windows that won’t open.
    • Average repair cost is $4,500 (£3,350)
  1. Roofs: Look for leaks/moisture in the attic, bowing gutters, and absent shingles
    • Average repair cost is $8,000 (£6,000)
  1. Hazardous construction materials: Examine the house for lead-based paint and asbestos. Look for cracked paints, peeling wallboards and sidings
    • Average de-leading cost is $3,000 (£2,300)
    • Average asbestos removal cost is $2,000 (£1,500)
  1. Air quality: Look for cracks in the foundation and walls then test for radon and carbon monoxide gases since they are colourless, odourless and tasteless.
    • Average cost for radon mitigation is $1,000 (£750).
    • Average cost for carbon monoxide detection is $15 (£11).
  1. Outdated electricals: Look for frequent power outages, flickering/dim lighting, warm sockets/switches
    • Average rewiring costs is $1,350 (£1,000).
  1. Plumbing: Look for windows that won’t open or close easily, frost between glass layers as well as empty spaces in attics, wall cavities and between floorboards.
    • Average cost of repair is $450 (£350).
  1. Outdated Mechanical Equipment: Look for humidity in the house, unevenly heated rooms, noisy water heater, and sploshing around water heater
    • Average cost of a new furnace is $3,350 (£2,500).
    • Average cost of the air-conditioning unit is $4,600 (£3,500).
    • Average cost of a new water heater is $200-$1,500 (£150-£1,200).

Leave the inspections to pros like builders, architects, designers or handymen especially during the subsequent viewings.

Beware of Shady Seller’s Tactics

Buying a house is one of the most financially draining and complex processes, and many will try their luck in getting the most money for their property. If you are not careful, you could end up spending more than your budget or losing your house because the seller used underhand tactics to dupe you. 

It is best if you get yourself familiar with the law of the Property Misdescriptions Act or Caveat Emptor, at least on the surface. Unfortunately, around the £320,000 / $430,000 mark, most buyers experience caveat emptor on their back.

Caveat Emptor comes from a neo-Latin phrase meaning “let the buyer beware”. The whole concept behind this is that the buyer is responsible for doing their due diligence to discover the defects before committing to a purchase.

Be on the lookout for these shady seller tactics as explained here:

  1. They post exaggerated listings” in the MLS
  2. They push you to take predatory loans
  3. They facilitate wire transfer scams on down payments
  4. They practice title or deed fraud

How to Take a Decision after the Viewing (Key Takeaways)

Equipped with this information, buying 20 to 30-year old houses should be effortless. Some may come with many of the above-mentioned problems, but if the price fits your budget, buy it!

Below are the key takeaways:

  • Old houses are full of charm, character and investment potential.
  • Old houses sell for considerably less than new houses
  • In the US, provides an active listing index for old houses in all states
  • In the UK, you can check the National Heritage List for England or the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
  • You can buy an old house with an agent or at an auction
  • You need enough upfront cash to hire a realtor or to make payments at auctions
  • Shady sellers can make you lose money or your house
  • Irrespective of the defects buy an old house if the price fits your budget.

Main photo done by: Ismael Paramo on Unsplash