Reclaiming the charm and appeal of old homes

Old Home“They don’t build’em like they used to…”

is often heard by those who praise the virtues of an old home.  Many home buyers might talk about the character and charm that exudes from an old home, while others might point to the quality of materials and workmanship that cannot be matched by new homes built today.

In some respects, it’s good they don’t build homes the way they used to because some materials used in the past that were thought to be beneficial have been found to be toxic and/or hazardous.  Building materials have changed through the years and continue to evolve for safety, strength, durability, and environmental impact.  Many home components are engineered and prefabricated to make installation straight forward, as well as make the home increasingly efficient and environmentally friendly.  Floor joists and trusses are engineered to allow for larger and open home designs; while roof and siding components engineered to help reduce heating and cooling costs.  Foundation and basement construction techniques and components are designed to be effective in preventing water penetration.

Workmanship has also changed over the years as well.  Because engineered materials are typically prefabricated, onsite custom design and installation is not necessary; construction crews are basically required to know how to use and install the pre-manufactured components.

Hazardous materials aside, there is something about old homes that grabs our attention.  Because the building materials and components were not mass produced or prefabricated, perhaps it’s the workmanship of the construction that demonstrates that the on-site craftsmen were not just masters of their trade – but artisans.

Although new homes incorporate modern fixtures and appliances designed for comfort, functionality, and efficiency; many are drawn to the antique quality of the old home.  Old home parts are highly sought after items for modern homes too.  Many are lured by the appeal and personality of vintage home parts, but I also sense there is also something about the durability of the parts that lets them continue in service.  Vintage doorknobs, especially the crystal type, are collectible and sought after antique home parts.

Those who appreciate old homes talk about the hearty materials that were used in construction.  Compared to the new engineered components manufactured to an exact specification, the craftsmen who built the old home onsite appeared to use ample materials that made the construction feel sturdy and robust.  This “over-engineering” is typically frowned upon today; using too much raw materials is expensive and considered wasteful.

old homeAnother comparison between old vs. new homes is the lumber that is used in a home’s construction.  Some are keen on old homes because they were built from first generation lumber, compared to engineered composites typically used in modern homes.  Compared to the wood composites often comprised of glued wood pieces and fibers, first generation lumber is believed to be stronger and more durable.  Also known as old growth lumber, first generation lumber refers to lumber that was milled from virgin forests where trees were hundreds of years old.  Because of deforestation, old growth lumber is no longer harvested for construction materials.

To incorporate the virtues of vintage and old building materials in modern homes, many reclaim those resources from tear downs.  From classic fixtures and hardware to first generation wood, the reclaiming industry has become popular not only to be environmentally friendly – but to reclaim the charm and character of a bygone age.

by 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 February 3, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

Single Family Home vs. Townhome?

by Dan Krell

As list prices of many single family homes have been reduced, many home buyers find themselves weighing the option of purchasing a townhome versus purchasing a single family home. The numerous options create a dilemma for home buyers, requiring them to think twice about their home requirements, lifestyle and long term goals. When faced with such a decision, home buyers often need to clarify their beliefs and misconceptions between townhomes and single family homes.

Given the selection between a single family detached home versus a townhome, what would you choose? The answer may not be as easy as you may think. There are reasons why a single family home may be competing with a townhome. Often times, the single family homes may be in fair to poor condition, needing obvious repairs or requiring immediate attention from the home buyer. Sometimes the homes may be a pre-foreclosure or short sale requiring third party approval, which has its own subset of considerations (dealing with a third party and trying to keep your interest rate lock through the lengthy wait). However, some single family homes may be well cared for but have prices reduced because of an atypical floor plan or style that does not fit the typical home buyer’s lifestyle.

Is it about the size? One misconception that home buyers have is that townhomes are inherently smaller than single family homes. However, many townhomes have living areas that are comparable or superior to that of single family homes; many townhomes are built with over 2,000sf gross living area and have a 1 or 2 car garage! Of course, depending on your lifestyle, the size may be secondary to the floor plan or layout of the rooms and amenities. Although townhome living has been described as vertical living, larger townhome interiors have high ceilings and open floor plans making it feel like a single family home.

Another misconception that home buyers have is that single family homes are not bound by a Home Owners Association (HOA). Although the chances are very good that the townhome you are considering is governed by the rules, restrictions, and covenants of a Home Owners Association (HOA); however, many single family homes are also under the authority of a HOA. Additionally, there may be restrictions even if there is no HOA. A home that is located within a protection area, which is imposed by the county or locality, has land use restrictions that may prohibit building, additions and/or tree removal. If you would like to research land usage for a specific home, you can visit the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in Silver Spring (the staff is friendly, helpful and knowledgeable).

A common belief is that maintenance costs are higher for singe family homes than townhomes; when comparing homes, it is important to examine costs for upgrades as well as monthly operation costs. Repairs and maintenance vary on the home’s materials and systems. Additional maintenance considerations include painting, roof replacement, landscaping as well as daily expenses that include heating and cooling.

Home buyers will be surprised this spring as homes come to market; they will be surprised by their home buying options as well as prices.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of January 7, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.