Buyers Eye Older Homes for Affordability, Historic Charm

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Home buyers are showing a renewed interest in older properties not only for affordability but also for an appreciation for the traditional elements of century-old spaces. The trend is particularly noticeable in San Francisco, typically a mecca for modern architecture where older Victorians are now making a comeback. More home buyers are looking to restore these historic properties.

Views of Victorian and Edwardian properties in San Francisco climbed 80% year over year. The median price per square foot of such properties was $1,050 in January—up 8.7% from a year ago, according to® data. For comparison, views per property of modern single-family homes in the city were down 5.7% over the same period, and the price per square foot of these properties was $831.

“For the last 10 to 12 years during the massive economic boom here, houses were in such demand that you had people buying Victorians, painting them a solid dark gray, and stripping out the interiors in an effort to modernize the appearance of a house that they obviously didn’t like that much,” Lynne Rutter, president of Artistic License, a coalition of local artisans dedicated to period revival work, told The Wall Street Journal. “Recently, I have seen far more thoughtful restoration happening and younger homeowners who are doing more considerate work. They are eager to know more about their homes and will ask a lot of questions.”

Also, open floor plans, which have dominated newer home designs, may be losing appeal because of noise as more people work from home. Victorian homes’ original floor plans with separate rooms may offer greater appeal in today’s work-from-home culture.

In the Philadelphia area, older homes are growing in popularity, too. In 2020, 14,093 homes built between 1800 and 1921 were sold in the metro area—up from 9,266 in 2019, according to Bright MLS data. During the pandemic, “I found that my historic listings were not only going under contract much more quickly but these very specific old homes were even garnering multiple offers,” Trish Keegan, a real estate pro with Styer Real Estate in Chester County, Pa., told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Keegan says she believes part of the appeal of older homes is the desire for more individual spaces and separate rooms that cater better to home offices or remote learning spaces for children. Also, “people are beginning to value unique and handmade versus a big white box with empty spaces that don’t really support how we used to live and how we’re evolving in the time of the pandemic,” she told the Inquirer.

Homeowners Paul and Karen Chung said they were willing to travel farther outside Philadelphia to find an older home that didn't have an open floor plan. They settled on a four-acre property in Chester Springs, Pa., with parts of its stone facade dating back to 1850. “A historic home is like living in art,” Paul Chung told the Inquirer.