Victorian, Mid-Century Modern, Art Deco, Colonial, you name it — buyers appreciate old houses with beautiful architecture and charm. But their love affair with history ends with outdated electrical systems still running on the original wiring. And an old fuse box, while it won’t technically prohibit you from selling a home, will hurt its value and raise other issues with the sale.
“In North Carolina, you can absolutely sell a house with an old fuse box,” explains Russell Wing, a top-selling real estate agent in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. “However, lenders and the insurance companies have a big problem with homes that have old fuse boxes instead of a modern breaker panel.”
Honestly, replacing your old fuse box is often the best option rather than trying to sell a house that isn’t up to today’s standards — and it might not cost as much as you think to make the swap depending on your home’s overall wiring. With this guide, you’ll get a little background on residential electrical systems, plus expert guidance on your options to move forward with a sale.
A brief history of electrical systems (and why it matters for your home sale)
Thomas Edison began illuminating the country in the 1880s, but by 1925, only half of all U.S. homes had electrical power. That early power wasn’t very robust at just 120-volts and 30Amps, a standard that stayed into the early 1950s.
As demand and usage of electricity expanded, so did the standard, increasing to 240 volts through a 60Amp fuse box during the 1950s and early 1960s. By the mid-1960s, early versions of the modern circuit breaker panel box became the electrical standard.
Like a ‘shut off’ valve for your electric
Fuse boxes and breaker panels serve the same purpose: to protect your electrical system by breaking the circuit if too much electrical current starts flowing through your system.
Functionally, the main difference is that with an old fuse box, the filament burns up when power surges, which is why you must replace blown fuses. With breaker boxes, an electromagnet breaks the circuit, which can easily be reset with the pull of a lever.
Increased electrical demands on the modern home
But replacing fuses isn’t the main inconvenience of an old fuse box; it’s that outdated fuse box systems aren’t designed to handle the electrical demands of the modern family.
When you add cellphones, televisions, computers, and other electronics on top of the lighting and appliances that electrical systems were originally designed to handle, an old 60Amp fuse box system cannot match the service provided by today’s modern 200Amp service in newer homes.
No buyer wants a house that will blow a fuse if you use the microwave while you’re charging your phone. Not to mention the safety hazards that arise.
FYI: safety hazards of a fuse box
Fuse boxes aren’t as reliable and efficient as breaker panel boxes, but contrary to popular belief, fuse boxes aren’t automatically unsafe. The danger arises when old fuse boxes are modified by homeowners to handle higher electrical usage.
This is most often done by putting bigger fuses into old fuse boxes than they were designed to handle. For example, forcing a 60Amp fuse into a fuse box rated for 30Amp fuses may prevent the fuses from blowing, but you’re overtaxing your outdated electrical system, which creates a fire hazard.
“Electrical fires kill multiple people across our country every year. If you’ve got an old fuse box, just put your hand on it and it’ll be warm,” advises Wing.
How do I sell a home that has an old fuse box in it?
You have three main options available if you’re selling a house that still has an old fuse box. You can replace it, lower your asking price, or sell it as-is — a label that will most likely appeal to cash buyers and investors.
Let’s review each option more in-depth:
1. Replace the fuse box with a modern breaker panel
The cost of updating electrical systems is the big reason why home sellers shy away from replacing old fuse boxes before selling. According to Fixr, rewiring a 2,000 square foot home averages around $8,500.
The good news is that a house doesn’t always need to be fully rewired when you swap out an old fuse box for a new breaker panel.
“Whether or not you need to rewire the house when you replace an old fuse box depends on the age of the home. If your historic home has the old knob and tube wiring that can short out and start a fire, it’ll need to be replaced,” explains Wing. “But in a lot of cases, you can just change out the fuse box itself for a circuit breaker box in homes built in the ‘60s, ‘50s, or even the late 1940s. If you’re just putting in a new fuse box, you’ll probably spend $1,500.”
2. Price the home to account for the dated system (and any other needed repairs)
Option two requires reducing your listing price to account for passing on the expense of updating the fuse box (and potentially your wiring) to your buyer.
If you’re selling in a seller’s market, or listing in a neighborhood filled with outdated electrical systems, you may be able to get by with reducing the price solely based on an estimate for fuse box replacement and rewiring costs from a licensed electrician.
However, if your home is one of the last ones around with an old fuse box, or your market is sluggish, then you’ll need to reduce your price even more to get an offer. In that case, your price reduction may cost you thousands more than the $1,500 to $8,000 that you’d spend updating your fuse box and wiring.
Even if you do get a decent offer on your house with an old fuse box, that doesn’t mean the sale will close.
The house is essentially a lender’s insurance policy against the potential for borrowers to default on their mortgage. Should the buyer fail to keep up payments, the bank can foreclose on the property and sell it to offset their losses. With so much at stake, mortgage companies are reluctant to lend out on homes with the fire hazard potential of an old fuse box.
“The last thing you want is to get close to closing on your home sale, and then boom, the appraiser says that we’ve got to replace the old fuse box before the sale can close,” explains Wing.
3. Sell your house as-is to a cash buyer
Options two and three may sound the same, but there’s one very big difference: a cash buyer isn’t going through a lender, so there’s no chance that an appraisal citing the old fuse box will kill the deal.
You’re also selling the property as-is, which means that you can avoid any post-inspection negotiations over the price or any repair requests. Cash buyers are most often investors planning to rent out or flip the property, so they’re going to replace main components anyway as part of their remodel plans.
You’ll also benefit from a quick closing timeline. While this can be a swift and easy way to unload your home without the hassle and expense of replacing the old fuse box, it also means you’ll probably receive less than the fair market value of the home in the form of a price discount.
You can request a cash offer through HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform, our network of nationwide verified real estate buyers who buy homes in any condition. Just tell us a little bit about the property, and we’ll tap into our pool of buyers and connect you with the highest bidder. We estimate a home’s “Simple Sale” price to be 90%-95% of market value on average, but it could be less depending on the buyer.
FAQs about selling homes with old fuse boxes
Buying an older home with an outdated electrical system is old hat for real estate investors, but for primary residence home buyers, the prospect of purchasing property with an old fuse box may have them worried. Put their minds at ease with these answers to their most pressing questions.
Is it illegal to have an old fuse box?
No, you’re not going to be hauled off to jail if your home has an old fuse box. It’s definitely legal to have one; however, your home may not be up to code.
The National Fire Protection Association publishes the National Electrical Code, which has been adopted by all 50 states. The NEC requires that panel breakers be installed on the outside of your home so that in the event of a fire, firefighters can immediately shut off the electrical system.
Historic homes may have their old fuse boxes mounted in the basement, garage, or even behind a panel inside the home. That’s not only a fire hazard, it may also make it difficult to get homeowners insurance.
Can you get homeowners insurance with a fuse box?
It’s difficult but not impossible to get insurance with an old fuse box. Some insurance companies won’t insure a house unless you replace the old fuse box, but other insurance companies will.
“You can always approach your current insurance company and chances are that your agent will re-insure the property,” suggests Wing.
While you’ll probably be able to find a company willing to insure a home with an old fuse box, it won’t be cheap. Most insurance companies will charge a premium to insure houses with higher risk fuse boxes over circuit breaker panel boxes.
Yes, you can sell a house with an old fuse box. But should you?
Selling an older home that still has its original wiring and an old fuse box may not be easy, but it’s definitely doable. Whether you simply list for less or seek out a cash buyer, you can sell a house with an old fuse box and save yourself the time, effort, and expense of replacing it with a modern breaker box.
However, if you want to sell your home fast and for the most amount of money, the smart move is to replace that fuse box before listing.