Written by Blanche Evans
You’re ready to buy a home, but there hasn’t been a new home built in your area in 10 years, leaving you no choice but to buy an older home. You could appreciate older homes more if you know a little about their history and why they were designed the way they were at the time.
You can trace expansions and contractions in the economy easily by home sizes and standard features. In the 1950s, suburbs grew quickly because of new highway systems that allowed homeowners to commute to their jobs. Yards grew larger and homes sprawled on single-story foundations because land was cheap.
Post-war parents gave birth in record numbers to the baby boomers and decorated their homes with space-age Sputnik Formica, luxurious wall-to-wall carpeting, built-in cocktail bars, and furniture-quality black and white TV sets.
In the mid 1970s at the height of the oil embargo, new homes got smaller and closer together. They began to advertise innovations such as “zero-lot-lines” (which is a fancy way of saying land’s too expensive) over traditional homes with front, back and side yards.
Skylights helped get light from above as common townhome walls and lack of side yards in new communities limited natural light. “Great rooms” were introduced as a spacious but smaller square footage alternative to separate living and den areas. And the “Jack and Jill” bath became the norm to provide kids with some privacy while sharing a bathroom.
By the 1980s, the economy was moving from a single wage earner in the household to DINKS — dual income, no kids. As fortunes improved, McMansions grew like mushrooms, featuring third living areas, three-car garages and private en suite baths for every bedroom. Eat-in kitchens joined palatial dining rooms as must-haves for every homeowner.
By the 1990s, a strong movement in favor of natural materials crowned hardwood floors and granite countertops as the new luxury standard. In-home computers became more popular and affordable and the Internet changed reading and information access forever. Recessions were still six month affairs and CEO pay rose to several hundred times that of ordinary workers.
By 2005, McMansions were everywhere, boasting four or more bedrooms, media rooms, master living areas, private studies, flexspaces, island kitchens, mud rooms, and exercise rooms. Then the housing downturn hit, and very little new construction was being built.
Now it takes two incomes just to tread water, but hard-working families don’t want to compromise. They’re conscious of operating costs as well as purchase costs. Energy-efficiency has steadily moved up the ranks of most important considerations for homebuyers. Homes that have been well-maintained, regardless of age, are desirable.
When you look for an older home, consider the advantages. The neighborhood is established, so what you see is what you get. An older home might work best for a decorating style you love, like mid-century modern. You can get the same square footage as a new home for far less cost. And you can remodel the home to make it your own.