Selling a worn house, knob and tube wiring


Dear David,

I’m not sure how are we ever going to sell our house. It’s looking worn but we don’t have the time or money for a major renovation right now. – OVERWHELMED

DEAR OVERWHELMED: Once you decide to sell, it’s often easier to see your home through a buyer’s eyes. Previously overlooked imperfections come into glaring focus. I often compare home buying to dating and by that measure, getting ready to sell is like bracing for the breakup.

You can reign in your spending by concentrating on visual improvements rather than structural changes. De-cluttering is a great first step. As you pack up lesser-used items, stow the boxes neatly in your basement or garage. Take down heavy or dated window treatments, especially if they interfere with views or block natural light. Repaint vibrant or worn walls in neutral tones. Shampoo the carpets and tackle those little repairs you’ve been putting off.

The goal here is to make what you have look as good as possible. I often recommend this over an actual renovation, since renovating one part of your home can make the surrounding areas look tired by comparison.  

Prior to listing, I always try to have the fresh, de-cluttered space staged by a professional. This final (and essential) step will show off each room in the best possible way. I provide staging services because they tend to generate stronger buyer interest and improved results, without the investment of a major renovation.

Dear David,

We fell in love with a beautiful historic home at an open house. The listing agent said it had some knob and tube wiring. Isn’t that dangerous? – WIRED

DEAR WIRED:  We do see knob and tube wiring from time to time, especially in areas like ours where there are a significant number of older homes. Knob and tube is the oldest type of residential electrical service and was standard prior to the 1940s. A tell-tale sign of its presence may be a combination of push-button style light switches and two-pronged wall outlets (instead of the usual three-pronged outlets).

Because this wiring system lacks a ground conductor, it can become hazardous. It’s common to find that the kitchen, bathroom, basement and outdoor receptacles have already been modernized in many historic homes. If that’s not the case, it’s time for an update and a licensed electrician can provide an estimate.

Insuring a home with knob and tube can be a challenge. Most insurance companies won’t cover it and the few who do will likely need confirmation that no exposed wires remain in the home. If your heart is set on a historic property, I suggest you leave a little space in your budget for possible electrical system updates.