Looking at an older home in San Carlos? Here are 5 things to watch for…

October 8, 2008

While shopping for a home in San Carlos, you've undoubtedly come across some homes that are in their nearly-original 1940's condition.  This is especially true in the White Oaks and Howard Park neighborhoods, which were some of the first ones developed when San Carlos was incorporated as a city.  In an earlier post titled “Old World Charm, or Just Old?”  I touched on some factors to consider when deciding whether you're really OK with living in an older home or not.

If you've decided that one of these older homes is for you, I have outlined 5 things below that you should consider before you sit down and write up that offer.   What I hope you'll find valuable with these 5 tips is that they cover issues that you may not see in a property inspection report or a pest inspection report (Note:  Regardless of the age of the home, you should ABSOLUTELY read both of those reports from cover to cover.)   These are “characteristics” that are unique to the older homes in San Carlos, and can be costly to remedy.   They are also easy to overlook when you're overwhelmed with all of the other details when you first see the place.   So here's the list, along with its associate Nuisance Factor (1-10.)

    1.  Access to the Back Yard:    There was a particular floor-plan that was used for some 2BR/2BA and 2BR/1BA homes when they were built back in the 40's and 50's that had both bedrooms located at the very rear of the house, with the kitchen in the middle and the living area up front.   It was an efficient way to maximize the 1,110ish square feet, and gave the bedrooms some privacy.    The problem is that often times neither bedroom has access to the back yard.   In this particular layout, access is from a side door — either from the living room or from the garage.    You'll quickly find that having to use a side door to access your back yard is a pain in the rear, er..so to speak.   Is the problem fixable?  Certainly, but if you decide to put a door in one of the bedrooms keep in mind that you'll likely have to build a deck or some sort of a landing on the outside, especially if there's any downhill slope to your lot.    Nuisance Factor:  8
    2. Master Suite:    The term “master suite” is a fancy way of saying that the master bedroom has a full, private bathroom located within the confines of the bedroom.  In other words, you're not sharing the bathroom with the kids.   Most of the homes built in this era don't have a master suite, especially the 2/1's.   So the hallway bathroom is the one that everyone uses, including your guests.   This means it's more awkward to go from the shower to the bedroom in your birthday suit (or maybe it's not?) Fixing this issue is a significant remodel.   Nuisance Factor:  9
    3. Garage and Storage:  Most homes built in this era have a single-car garage…which in some cases seems to be stretching the truth.  Unless you own one of these…

you won't be parking a car in that garage.  But that's not out of the norm — many homes have two-car garages that have never seen the tread of a car tire.   So this area is often reverted to storage, and you may need it because the older homes are generally deficient on closets and storage space.  Most of these homes will have sparse cabinetry in the kitchen and perhaps a small coat closet.   We are a society of accumulators, so be sure that you understand where all of your stuff is going to go.  Nuisance factor:  5

  1. Floor Heaters:  The venerable floor heater, aka “gravity furnace” was the heating element of choice for these homes.    I had one in my original White Oaks home, and they generally work pretty well — if they're centrally located.  The problem with floor furnaces is that they are passive heating elements, so there's no forced air to move heat around.   They can certainly generate lots of heat, but the further you get away from the grating, the less heat you'll feel.  Be sure to scope out the home's extremities to ensure those rooms get adequate heat….or else face a chilly winter.   Nuisance factor:  4
  2. Water Pressure:    This is one of the items that you might see on a thorough property inspection report, but don't count on it.   It's a good idea if you're seriously considering a particular home to check the water pressure at your internal faucets.  If you have your own property inspection done, be sure to have your inspector check this.    If you're pressure is low, it's usually not the fault of the water pressure at your curb.   San Carlos has excellent public water service, and the pressure going into your home is usually 75-90 psi, which is actually so strong that it should be regulated downward.   So why do you get scalded when someone flushes the toilet while you're in the shower?  Chances are that the old galvanized water pipes that run throughout your home and out to the curb are as occluded as an artery after a Double/Double at In ‘N Out Burgers.     This is caused by years of mineral deposits and rust slowly blocking the passageways.   The remedy is to replace all of your water lines with copper piping.   Not a cheap endeavor,  and it's something that may get torn out again if you remodel.   Nuisance Factor:  8 (11 if you're the one in the shower.)

It's easy to overlook the functional deficiencies of a home when your senses are overwhelmed by the charm.  Hopefully this short list will help you focus on what's most important.  Happy house hunting!

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