We often hear from people who profess their love for old homes, or a nostalgia for some Golden Age of Homebuilding, or an understandably warm feeling for features that remind them of the homes of their youth.
We sense a disconnect. What people really mean is that they value some combination of classic architecture, historic details, and traditional materials/finishes. Here's a partial list of things people do not like about old homes:
- Ye Olde wonky floor plans
- Small closets and tight kitchens
- Drafty windows
- Inadequate insulation
- Ancient mechanical systems
- Roosevelt-era electrical and plumbing
- Textured plaster, poorly lit rooms, crumbling mortar, leaky basements, sagging floors . . .
And so on. Some might appreciate the mahogany wood paneling in the original library, but they have no love for the shag green conversation pit in the family room that was added in 1969. Groovy no more, to say the least. Numerous homes now have reached 80-100 years of age, but they have been butchered and re-assembled like Frankenstein over the decades since they were built. A handful of charming details might remain, but much has been lost. Finally, some old homes are just . . . old. Not necessarily better or well-kept. Some did not have much charm when they were constructed, and they don't now. Even the word "charm" in a real estate listing is now often just a humorless code word for a house in desperate need of a big investment.
This is not a hearty endorsement of typical new construction. We'll reserve our comments on that topic for another day. The point is that the purchase of an older home should be a very careful one, with a list of the specific things they buyer wants to preserve and a clear-eyed view of what needs to be upgraded--ideally, before the purchase decision is made. The fantasy of an old home can be easily dashed by the reality of the cavernous hole into which many dollars will be poured. In these instances, one of the least recognized and most important virtues of a top real estate agent is his or her ability to size up the post-closing costs. A real estate agent earns a gold star when giving a potential buyer a reasonably accurate idea of the post-investment in the property, even when doing so might jeopardize the sale.
We think it's fine to celebrate classic architecture, historic details, and traditional materials/finishes wherever you find them. Just don't fall in love with an old house based on its advanced age alone.