8 Things About Old Homes Real Estate Agents Say We Take for Granted

published Dec 17, 2019
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There’s a lot to love about old homes. Close your eyes, and it’s easy to picture those design relics of the past—crown moldings, wainscoting, arched doorways, stone fireplaces, beamed ceilings, stained glass windows—but it’s just as easy to see the not-so-great: worn-out systems, drafty windows, the roof that needs replacing. Sometimes it’s just easier to love a home that doesn’t need constant TLC.

But there are a lot of old world charms that a newly built house, or even a 30-year-old house, will never be able to replicate. We went to the pros to find the most under-appreciated features of old homes.

Credit: Emma Fiala

Nooks and crannies

“These pockets of unused space can be a great place for storage or for the kids to play in. In older architecture, there tend to be odd shaped rooms and underutilized spaces. With the right design, these spaces could be brought to life in very unique ways.” —Melanie Hartmann, owner of Creo Home Solutions in Baltimore

Superior structural materials

“Before 1948-ish, almost all single family homes in the East Bay were framed in redwood. Redwood, when dry, is unappealing to munching beetles and termites. It also contains a natural fire retardant not found in pine. And think about it this way: Almost all new construction requires the use of adhesives, polymers and other volatile organic compounds that off gas into the structure and the environment around it. These compounds aren’t good for us or the planet.” —Portia Pirnia, Red Oak Realty in San Francisco

Credit: Kevin O'Gara

Built-ins and charming details

“Older homes ooze charm and character via their unique molding profiles, thoughtful details such as built-in cabinets, creative tile installations and lighting. These types of features, often custom, are expensive to replicate and most newer homes do not offer such one of a kind items.” —Julie Goldman, a realtor at Compass in Los Angeles

Credit: Emma Fiala

A grand staircase

“An element I find charming about older homes and often miss in single story open floor plans is a master staircase. Even if it’s not very large, a unique staircase with a handmade banister and decorative balustrades always makes a statement and provides an ideal backdrop for holiday decorating.” —Elliott Ferrier, a real estate agent at Scope Realty in New York City

Credit: Minette Hand

Purposeful room sizes

“In old homes, the scale and separation of rooms is something that people now take for granted. The rooms were designed with a specific purpose and created more intimacy between people. It’s something new construction is swinging back to after years of open concept living. People are starting to appreciate having walls in their homes again. Not being able to hide a mess or have a private conversation in an open space concept are major reasons people are looking back to older home design.” —Rebecca Chambliss, a realtor at Compass in Los Angeles

Credit: Anna Spaller

An expansive front porch

“In America, the front porch began to shrink in size in the 1940s and ‘50s when suburban living expanded into what is now referred to as track housing. The charm and sense of an inviting and neighborly community has all but disappeared.” —Christopher Totaro, a realtor at Warburg Realty in New York City

Carefully crafted hardware

“Many old homes have amazing hardware. Often you will find hand-crafted back plates on doors and hinges and knobs that reflect careful design and craftsmanship. As shoes often speak to the style of a woman’s fashion sensibility, I see hardware as the same sort of finishing detail for a home.” —Robin Kencel, a broker at Compass in Greenwich, Connecticut

The history of the place

“Old homes come with the built-in magic of the past, which are often their pivotal selling point. The older they are, the more petite their scale may be. A Dutch-built home from a few centuries ago, for instance, may have stairs more befitting a child’s foot, or stairs uneven in width. Just merely navigating them can bring a sense of walking through history, as you imagine the generations who have grown up in the home, doing the same.” —Aleksandra Scepanovic, managing director of Ideal Properties Group in Brooklyn, New York