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Old-House Inspectors

I will be looking at a rural Virginia property that is for sale and would like some advice for what to look for as far as structural integrity. The property consists of a hundred acres and a 200+ year old two story two over two frame house. The house is some distance from the road and from what I can tell, appears to be pretty stable (no sagging roof line or separating chimneys). What questions should I ask a potential home inspector to make sure they are properly qualified to analyze the condition of such an old house? –Kristin Worsham, Lynchburg, VA

Consider at least three inspectors. First, interview the inspectors. Ask them how many old houses they personally have worked on as a tradesperson or contractor. This experience is an absolute necessity. Ask what is the difference between a 200 year-old house and a 40 year old house. If an inspector says “not much” don’t use that inspector. Ask what publications they read. You should hear “Old House Journal”, it has helped set the standards for over 20 years. Ask if they have attended an old-house training session put on by one of the national inspection associations such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). I have taught such training sessions for ASHI. Ask what is the last technical article or book they have read on an historic building topic. If the inspector cannot remember one I would wonder if he was keeping up with new developments. Then ask each one for a list of 20 200+ year-old houses they have inspected at least two years ago, along with each owner’s name and phone number. Call every one of the owners and ask how long they have been in the house. If they have been there at least two years ask how many defects the inspector missed. Do this for all three inspectors and keep score.

John Leeke is a preservation consultant who helps homeowners, contractors and architects understand and maintain their historic buildings. You can contact him at 26 Higgins St., Portland, Maine, 04103; or by E-mail:; or log onto his website at:

© John Leeke

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