How long before your home is obsolete?

home mainetanceHow long can your home remain livable? According to a study by the National Association of Home Builders / Bank of America Home Equity titled Study of Life Expectancy of Home Components (February 2007), “The life expectancies of the components of a home depend on the quality of installation, the level of maintenance, weather and climate conditions, and the intensity of use. Some components may remain functional but become obsolete due to changing styles and preferences or improvements in newer products while others may have a short life expectancy due to intensive use…The average life expectancy for some components has increased during the past 35 years because of new products and the introduction of new technologies, while the average life of others has declined…” (nahb.org).

Throughout a home’s lifespan, a home may be considered obsolete in a number of ways. A home is often considered functionally obsolete when it is deficient of items that are considered to be required in the present marketplace, and/or no longer conforms to modern building standards. Because building standards change over time, it is not uncommon for older homes to be considered functionally obsolete because it lacks up-to-date and/or enough amenities. Even modern homes can become functionally obsolete if maintenance issues deteriorated the home’s systems (such as during a fire, or severe hoarding cases).

The decrease in maintenance spending during the Great Recession has many wondering about today’s housing stock’s functional obsolescence. 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 (housingperspectives.blogspot.com). He stated that “improvement spending” decreased 28% between 2007 and 2011, and concluded that this “crisis” requires attention. He stated; “The longer-term fate of the current slightly larger number of inadequate homes [functionally obsolete] 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…

Economic or external obsolescence is often considered when influences, other than the structure, impact a home’s value. For example, the value of a well maintained home can be impacted when many community homes are vacant: due to foreclosure; or when there is a major relocation, such as when a small town’s manufacturing plant closes. Environmental issues can also be considered a factor in external obsolescence; you can bet that the homes around the Chernobyl nuclear plant were affected immediately following the 1986 disaster.

Although the remediation of external obsolescence is often complicated, the good news is that many functionally obsolete homes can be repaired extending their life; renovations are common, upgrading the homes to meet modern building codes and with modern amenities.   However, a restoration is sometimes completed to return a home to its original condition – but with modern conveniences; these homes typically have historic significance.

And of course, functionally obsolete homes are sometimes sold as a “tear down”; with the intention to replace the structure with a modern home that not only meets current building standards, but meets consumer trends in home design, size, and function.

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of June 2, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.