What is Considered an “Older” Home?

published Jul 10, 2017
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(Image credit: Lizzie Ford)

I distinctly remember during our home-buying journey when our real estate agent asked if we wanted new construction, something close to it, or if we’d be open to an “older” home. When we said yes, we knew that—in our budget—we would likely be looking at a few houses built in the early-to-mid 1900s. However, if we’d had a much larger budget, we could very well have wound up walking through (and legitimately considering) houses built in the early 1800s.

The house we ultimately decided to call home was built in 1969, which is often referred to as being an older home. Clearly, there’s a discrepancy between what actually is older and what is considered older, and that discrepancy undoubtedly varies depending on where you are geographically when you ask the question and even who is having the conversation with you.

Hailing from the city of Charleston, South Carolina, “older” homes can be, well, pretty damn old. Founded in 1670, Charleston boasts many historic homes and structures spanning from the 1600s to present day. Prior to buying our current home, in fact, we lived in a home built in 1885. So you can see how we hardly consider our humble little 1969 abode to fall under the older umbrella. Plus, it seems downright silly given that you could hop a flight to Switzerland right now and tour the 800-year-old Bethlehem House in Schwyz.

If you ask someone who lives in a more modern city or newer suburb, though, it’s possible they’d peg a ’60s-era house as older without hesitation. If you ask my younger cousin born in 1998, she might tell you a house built in the ’60s is practically ancient. You could ask 10 different housing industry experts—architects, builders, designers—whether a home built in the 60s is old and possibly get 10 different answers back. And if you spend enough time watching HGTV, you’ll see homes as new as 10 years old being referred to as old by fledgling homebuyers.

While it’s tempting to say defining a home as older is all relative, the answer could be hiding in plain sight: the National Register of Historic Places. As dictated in the NRHP fundamental criteria, a home must be at least 50 years old to be considered for inclusion on the registry. Since the NHRP is a respected authority on older homes, that benchmark seems like a logical place to start when trying to narrow the margins of classification. (Interestingly, that means my home will be considered older in a mere two years.)

Of course, there are other ways to approach the issue. One idea is to look at homes through the lens of other, more easily identified classifications. Per Merriam-Webster, the definition of an antique is “a work of art, piece of furniture, or decorative object made at an earlier period and, according to various customs laws, at least 100 years ago.” Using this definition and factoring in the colloquial consensus that antiques are old, we can extrapolate that homes built 100 years ago rest firmly in the “older” genus.

(Image credit: Sophie Timothy)

So, What’s an Older Home?

Long story short, there doesn’t appear to be a hard-and-fast rule readily available. If you’re a person who likes parameters, though, you probably want to focus on either 50 or 100 years as the answer to this tricky question. Despite the fact that I feel like a 50 year old house is still young in the grand scheme of modern history, I’ve gotta go with the National Register of Historic Places. I mean, older homes are their wheelhouse, right?

Antique-dating a house would classify a home aged 100 years or more as older. In casual conversation—or on HGTV—you’re likely to hear houses anywhere from 10 to 25 years called older. So, if you think about it, establishing 50 years as the line of demarcation for older homes is a logical compromise.

But now it’s your turn to weigh in. Take the poll below, and then share your thoughts in the comments.