I'm planning to a house in the price range of 200K to 280K.
Originally, I'm going to buy this 5 yr old semi-detached house that
includes appliances, ceramic and hardwood flooring, 3 bdrms, around 1750
square feet, 24 x 85 lot. Then I saw this 19yr old house for the same
price, around the same neigborhood that is 68x100 lot, 4 bedrooms,
approx 2700 square feet house, finished basement,
NO hardwood, NO ceramic, NO appliances, all brick
frontage house, no fence, has AC. I don't read the house being reroofed
or re-windowed over all those years.
19 year old house is not bad, is it? I just have to replace the
roof, windows maybe, and some other stuffs I can't think of. It's the
same price as this tiny semi-detached.
I went from a brand new townhouse with gas forced air heat to a 37 year
old single family home with the original oil burner. The new place is
3x the size of the old one and it's the same price to heat/cool.
The townhouse was built so poorly that I could feel the wind blow
through it. The 37 year old house was built better, but has had all
the windows and doors replaced with modern units which probably helps a
That depends on the builder. Many newer homes do not have any improvement,
insulation-wise, over many older homes. We had a home built in 1980 that
was extremely well insulated for a conventionally built home. Our new home
is MUCH better insulated because we built it ourselves; 6" exterior walls,
1" Thermax sheeting, Low-E windows, 2" Dow-Board insulation on the basement
walls, Energy roof trusses, etc. I do NOT see any of that on any new homes
around here. All the other homes built since building ours in 1990 are 4"
exterior walls, no extra exterior wall sheathing, no basement insulation,
and standard roof trusses. They are all built like our old house.
For the moment, put aside the "niceties" such as ceramic, hardwood, etc.
Which is the better house to live in as far as location, house layout, room
size, lot size and appliances.
What will you get in a 19 year old house? I'm going to use mine as an
example as it was built in 1978 and just a little older.
It has very good insulation as it was built shortly after the "energy
crisis" of the '70s. At 22 years, I put on a new roof. The old one was not
leaking, but it was getting close to time so I did it. My windows are very
good. I have no thoughts of replacing them ever in my life if they stay the
same. I did replace a glass slider that was crap from the builder.
I like good appliances. This house came with a DW and electric range. They
were still functioning when I tossed them as they were not the quality I
desired. How about the model you are looking at?
There have not been any serious plumbing issues. Ii replaced one toilet in
that time and the faucet in the kitchen. All others are still in place and
functioning. There are no structural or electrical issues either. I expect
the house will last many more decades
There was no hardwood flooring, but we've since put in new carpeting in some
rooms, put in a new kitchen floor and in my family room I put engineered
hardwood. Everything I added was what I wanted, not the previous owner.
So, what I'm getting at is tat you can, over time, add the goodies you wand
and the styles you like. What is important is that the house be otherwise
functional for you so you can decorate later. It may be the better buy in
the long run.
Most houses last 100 years, some are 200+ years old and are still standing,
but have been modernized. At 19 years, it should still be very sound and a
good buy if you like the basics of it. At 30 or more years, you may be in
for some extra work, at 40 or 50 years, you can count on needing some work.
Most of the building practices in effect now were in effect in 1987 so the
house should be of similar construction. Other than your "NO" items above
the items to consider are the efficiency of the HVAC system, the quality of
the windows and the condition of the roof.
HVAC improved a lot in those 14 years. But most builders only installed the
minimum equipment. More than likely the older systems will cost more to run
and are nearing the end of their life. The windows may be adequate or they
could be single glazed. Ten extra years of age on the roof means it is
nearing time for replacement. The insulation may or may not be as good.
That is easy to estimate. R values haven't change per inch of fiberglass in
that time period.
Considering the older home is a wise think to do, IF you take the time to
understand exactly what the risks and rewards are.
Be sure to find out what is NOT covered in a home inspection too. they miss
a lot of important stuff and have no liability if they do. They are not
required to do much probing around. IMO, if you know someone that is very
handy around the house they can do as good a job as some of the inspectors.
I guess "older" home has different meanings in different parts of the
country. Here in New England, 50 to 00 years is considered old, 200 years
still very common. My son's neighborhood is all 220+ year old homes. He is
right up the street from Benedict Arnold's place.
As an architect, I suggest you compare two aspects of the houses.
1. Arrangement of the spaces v how you expect to use them.
Moving partitions is very expensive & living with uncomfortable
arrangements is expensive in other ways.
2. Basic quality of construction.
Repairs can be made. Basic quality is for ever.
I suggest you start by getting a good professional home inspection.
That will tell you where the older home is.
There is little changed in basic construction since it was built, but
there can be great differences then and now in how much quality is built
into a home. The older home may be a far better deal or it may be a poor
choice. The inspector should be able to give you some guidance.
You must be a pretty young person to think that a house that is less
than twenty years old is an older home. Unless there were some major
problems it's unlikely that anyone would have replaced windows and
roofing within that amount of time.
Are these two houses in the same area with the same zoning? The older
house might be on two lots - is it off to one side? If it is, and the
zoning code allows it, you could possibly subdivide the land and spin
off another building lot. Not that you'd necessarily want to do that
while you're living there, but it's money in the bank if it's a
reasonable neighborhood. You should definitely check into the tax
assessments if you haven't done so already.
Is a larger piece of land attractive to you? Are there kids in the
picture who would enjoy having their own private playground? How about
maintenance? Does the idea of having to mow a larger lawn bring images
of lazy summer days and fresh air? Or more like sweaty, allergy-filled
hours of torture? That should help determine which lot size suits you
better. But there're more differences between the two houses you're
With attached or semi-detached housing, you're buying into your
neighbors as well as a piece of property. The number one complaint in
housing is not problems with your own house, but problems with what the
neighbor is doing. If your house is so close that you can tell what he
had for lunch when he burps, you'd better make damn sure that you can
Another thing to look at is comparable home costs. If you brought the
bigger house finish up to snuff, with improved flooring, tile, etc. it
would obviously be worth more money. How much more? That's a question
for your realtor.
The older house will nickel and dime you a bit, but sounds like a
better deal in the long run. You can add the flooring/appliances
later. You'll never be able to 'detach' the attached place from the
annoying neighbor or make the lot bigger.
I traded a new town house for a 37 year old single family home and do
not regret the decision at all.
what is the reason for selling? visit the neighbors and their barking
dogs. look up the sex offenders registry. talk to the local cops and
cab drivers and bartenders. and pizza delivery guys. you can fix the
house but it takes a lot to fix the neighborhood. sometimes the
troublemaker's house will be a better buy. look up the neighborhood
association or block club. look up homeowners on your block, the online
tax listings, and compare adjacent properties. lookup city property
information to confirm zoning, use, taxes. how much are the taxes,
utilities, school taxes. does the train or airplane runway or highway
noise affect you?
what goes on sunday morning at 8am? friday night at 11pm? after school
dismissal? look at nearby rundown properties, vacant properties, vacant
No matter which you buy, you'll wind up spending money to personalize it --
carpet or tile, drapes, shelves, etc. For either house, you'll need an
allowance for appliances (the appliances in the semi-detached have already
passed 50% of their expected life so you need to be prepared to replace them
in the next few years). Ignore the age and decide which house you'll be
most comfortable in, then get a good home inspection.
Also, keep in mind that eventually you'll probably want to sell this house
and move on. As a rule of thumb, houses are appraised on condition and $/sq
ft, so by that rule, of two equally-priced houses, the one with the most
floorspace is potentially the better buy, the larger house may have a better
potential for future price appreciation and a stand-alone unit is
potentially more desireable than a semi-detached.
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