In the new homebuying paradigm, old equals problems and new equals luxury. Sprawl has become tempered by higher building costs and traffic problems, which have driven homebuyers back toward community cores and older homes, but they don't necessarily like what they see - smaller square footage, outdated floor plans, and the previous owner's imprint.
This situation has real estate agents acting more as apologists than salespeople. As agents list older homes, they downplay the age of the home, which is a losing strategy, say some experts.
"The age of the home is the first thing the buyer wants to know and the last thing the listing agent wants them to know," says Dave Burrell, president and CEO of Historical Insights, Inc. "To you, it's a regular old house, but look at it from the buyer's perspective. That's not how people buy homes. It's much better to create an emotional connection with the house."
Historical homes prove that a property can bring more if buyers can connect with the past.
"If you found out you wanted a house where someone lived who was in politics or changed aviation," suggests Burrell, "it's more important to you, so people do care. You want to present the home so that the buyer can relate to what's it like to live in the house, and feel more important because of it."
In Denver, Colorado, where Burrell provides leather-bound histories for local homes, there are more than 93,000 pre-1950 homes (2000 Census,) and over 1000 are for sale in an average month, he says.
"It's clear how large this potential market really is," suggests Burrell.
Histories can include everything from the type of home - ranch, how that type of home served society at that time, to who lived there to what changes were made to the home over the years.
Getting histories can be a challenge, but there are ways that don't take a lot of time. "A couple of starting points would be city directories that go by street names or addresses and you can find out who lived in that house and from what dates. Second is to go to Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps which you can find at local archives like the public library. They go from the late 19th century to about 1970. This company created maps for insurance companies and they would create maps and streets and show what buildings were there, they'd show the exits, doors and windows. You can see the house change from when it had a stable to when it acquired a garage. You can see if they had an outhouse and when it was torn down. You can get them from various years. In Denver you can get them from 1893, 1903, 1905, 1925. One problem is if your house was built in 1911, you can't confirm much between 1905 and 1925."
Burrell points to his own home as an example. "In my personal house, there was a small porch in 1925, but a large porch was added by 1929," says Burrell. "It's the little things that are interesting and it personalizes the home to the seller or the buyer because they know something no one else knows."
You can go to the public records, but approximately 30 to 40 percent of homes in Denver are incorrectly dated, says Burrell. "I found my house was incorrectly dated," he says. "My house was supposed to be built in 1900, but it wasn't in the 1903 or 1905 maps, but it was in the 1907 map."
Another way to assign a date to an older home is to look at the local "TAP" records - when the house was connected to the local water system for running water.
Or you can commission a home history, such as Burrell provides, for as little as a report fee to as much as $400 for a leather-bound copy. Home histories can be a great listing tool, a great closing gift, and a great legacy for referrals.
"When everyone is looking to find a Realtor," says Burrell, "caring about the history of homes is something that can differentiate one Realtor from another. Most Realtors aren't going to think about how to market the home. By getting a book likes this, you are going to give a physical manifestation of the house that helps them enjoy their home. When they resell, they have a collection of information with the Realtor's name and information. They won't throw this away. They will show it to all their frineds, and it has your name on it.
"The underlying principle is simple," says Burrell. "Since so much of the mystery of old homes lies in their connection with the past, a home history can highlight that connection very vividly. This is especially the case today, with so many transplants seeking to grow roots within their communities. And because emotions are such a key part of the homebuying process, helping buyers make a personal leap into the living experience of the home quickens the purchasing decision."
It's well worth it. Not only are older homes a tangible record of cultural changes, old homes in Denver sell for 8.9 percent more than their more modern counterparts, says Burrell.