The decline of today’s housing stock

by Dan Krell © 2013

Is the decline of today’s housing stock a concern or an opportunity?

new homeWhile taking part in a recent home inspection, the home inspector unexpectedly began to talk about the concern for today’s housing stock. After listening intently for a short time, I realized that his dissertation about the quality of existing homes was not just his opinion or home inspectors as a group, but rather a consensus of growing concern among housing experts of the condition of many older homes.

The issue that the home inspector pointed out is that much of the existing housing stock is aging without significant necessary maintenance or repair. Because the lifespan of many of home systems (including roofs and HVAC) range from 15 years to 30 years, as well as structural materials can have an average lifespan of 40 years; he surmised that homes that exceed thirty years of age are at significant risk.

As a home inspector, this gentleman has a unique perspective about how people take care of their homes; and unfortunately, many home owners have put off important and necessary maintenance and/or system replacements such that the home’s condition is considerably affected. And although he didn’t attribute the deteriorating housing stock with the recent recession, it is assumed that the recession contributed to the housing stock’s declining quality – if not accelerated it.

A February 2013 article by Kermit Baker for the Harvard Joint Center of Housing Studies entitled “The Return of Substandard Housing” highlighted the relative considerable reduction in maintenance spending by home owners during the Great Recession. He stated that “improvement spending” decreased 28% between 2007 and 2011, which essentially “erased” such spending during the housing boom (

Mr. Baker concluded that this crisis needs attention, stating; “The longer-term fate of the current slightly larger number of inadequate homes is unknown. Many of these homes likely will be renovated to provide affordable housing opportunities. However, many may not recover without extra help. Given the extraordinary circumstances that many homes have gone through in recent years, particularly foreclosed homes that often were vacant and undermaintained for extended periods of time as they worked their way through the foreclosure process, they may be more at risk than their inadequate predecessors…

Considering the number of re-sale contracts that are falling out because of home inspections, this all makes sense. New home sales aside, many home buyers want “turn-key” homes that are updated with relatively new systems. It seems as if that home buyers don’t want to be burdened with major maintenance costs for the first five years of ownership. Some of the costly considerations that can put off home buyers are replacing a roof, windows, siding, and/or HVAC. Additionally, hazardous materials that can be commonly found in older homes (such as asbestos and lead paint) are becoming an increasing concern with first time home buyers.

The reason is uncertain, but during the “go-go” market of 2004-2006, a home’s condition didn’t seem to be as much of a concern for home buyers as it is today. However, one reason may be that during that period home equity loans were relatively easier to obtain to finance renovation projects.

The result of the deteriorating quality of the existing home stock may be that we may see declining values in homes requiring the most attention; such homes may either be renovated by home buyers, or might be razed to make way for a new home.

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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published the week of June 10, 2013 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2013 Dan Krell.