Five Perils to Buying “this Old House” as Your Vacation Rental

Wine Country Vacation Rental
Homeowner Photo


You know that darling Victorian in wine country that you’ve been dying to purchase? The one just off main street that you just know would be perfect to use as a vacation rental. You can almost imagine those long, lazy summer weekends, sipping chardonnay on the veranda.

They say real estate appreciates with age. While they may be right, older real estate can often hide structural and foundational issues previous owners overlooked.  Even if you do know to check for issues such as mold, mildew, termites, or plumbing, you should do your due diligence. Before you decide to swoop in on that charming place down the lane, make sure it’s worth the investment by answering these five questions: 

1. Is it in a historic district?

If so, you might face an uphill regulatory battle trying to update it to modern standards. Yes, it may make perfect sense to install double-pane windows for better energy efficiency. Local city requirements, however, may not allow any structural change that threaten the neighborhood’s historical integrity. Review all local ordinances before you turn your house into a vacation rental in a historical district!

2. Does it have electrical wiring?

If it was built between 1880-1950, it likely still has knob and tube wiring. This means electrical wires anchored by ceramic knobs pass through ceramic tubes that are attached to the joists of the house. This type of wiring is typically considered less reliable and more dangerous. Some insurers have special requirements for houses equipped with knob and tube wiring which can add additional financial  burden on a new homeowner. Make sure you determine the house’s electrical layout before you get too far into the process.

3. Is it secured?

If the home you’re eyeing is in an earthquake prone area, make sure it’s bolted to the foundation before you turn your house into a vacation rental. Many older houses are not anchor-bolted, or are only partially bolted.While the uniform building code required bolting in 1949, this code wasn’t uniformly required by local governments until 1958. Antiquated, unbolted homes can literally slide off their foundations if an earthquake hits.

4. Does it have lath and plaster?

Love those old houses, and they sure built them well.  Many walls and ceilings in older homes were constructed with laths, narrow strips of wood laths that span horizontally across wall studs or ceiling joists, and then covered in plaster. While exceptionally hale and hearty, they are often not well-insulated and can crack with house settling. Research restoration methods or talk to expert builders and contractors. They may identify ways you can mitigate the risks of lath and plaster in your potential ‘new’ old home.

5. Are there hazardous materials?

Historical buildings are often fraught with asbestos, lead, and other nasty things. Special permits may be required for asbestos removal or reconstruction. Replacing lead piping can break your checkbook, so don’t forge ahead with your vacation rental purchase before you get the cost.

If your vacation rental does meet all of the above requirements, jump in and enjoy the swim. These properties, if well-maintained, add unique historical color and heritage to their neighborhoods; your labor of love can be a treasured gift to the community.

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