The line between retro and outdated in real estate

When looking back on design and styles of decades past, it’s hard to believe people bought into the way things were. But then again, our kids will one day check out our iPhone photo albums and think the same thing. When it comes to real estate, homes that have not been updated in many decades are often marketed with slogans like “original condition” or “Grandma’s dream home,” which are not usually compliments. However, some buyers actually prefer a “vintage / retro” feel and value a more dated design – particularly with Mid-Century Modern (MCM) homes.

Check out the following pictures and tell me if you think any of these features are desirable. Are you ready to bring back some of the older styles?

Sacramento Appraisal Blog - Retro Pic

This is a Streng home with a terrarium, which means plants can grow in soil inside. Mid-Century Modern homes have somewhat of a cult following in the Sacramento area, and some buyers prefer them (while other buyers purchase them not even realizing there is a sub-group of buyers who love them). Read more about Streng homes and check out more photos of River City Commons (a Streng neighborhood).

Sacramento Appraisal Blog - Retro Pic

Sacramento Appraisal Blog - Retro Pic

I haven’t seen too many builders install green carpet lately. My house had shag green carpet while growing up. Did yours?

Sacramento Appraisal Blog - Retro Pic

Sacramento Appraisal Blog - Retro Pic

Ah, vintage wallpaper. If you had to take one of these, which would it be?

Sacramento Appraisal Blog - Retro Pic

Sacramento Appraisal Blog - Retro Pic

Sacramento Appraisal Blog - Retro Pic

Does this house need a remodel or does the older vibe carry a value premium? How do you like the fur toilet seat cover?

Sacramento Appraisal Blog - Retro Pic

I still see wood paneling from the 60s and 70s all the time on appraisal inspections.

My take on vintage/retro vs. outdated: The bulk of buyers prefer recent updates instead of styles from decades past. When a house is totally outdated, it usually means buyers will pay less in light of the huge cost to bring the home up-to-date. However, one man’s retro is another man’s treasure (I don’t know if anyone really says that). While most of the photos above rank high on the ugly scale for many buyers, it’s important to keep in mind that some buyers prefer “vintage” or “retro” elements in certain neighborhoods or with an older style of architecture. There are actually some quite stunning examples of vintage homes out there. This is why it’s important to really know a neighborhood, and for appraisers to suspend personal preferences to uncover the way buyers see the market. What original elements do buyers prefer? What dated features help increase a sense of “charm”? Is there anything an owner should not change about the house if selling?

Questions: What do you think of the pictures? Where is the line between “retro” and “outdated” in your book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

If you have any questions or Sacramento home appraisal or property tax appeal needs, let’s connect by phone 916-595-3735, email, Twitter, subscribe to posts by email (or RSS) or “like” my page on Facebook

Comments

  1. says

    Oh my gosh the carpet on the toilet is priceless (but I imagine, possibly quite smelly). I think some of the features are kind of cool, if they’re in good shape and don’t affect the visual desirability, whether visually, in good condition, still holding a good appearance, and don’t carry an off odor due to age. Wood paneling though, always is a hard pill to swallow and to me, risks the assumption that this house needs work to be “live-in” ready or hasn’t been updated in awhile (not always true, I realize, but first impressions I imagine for many). Or at least you’ll be limiting to your buyer audience by not modifying or updating certain items. Structural and architectural details, IMO – are sometimes very cool. 🙂

    • says

      The fur would definitely need to be washed regularly. On a similar note, I’m not a fan of carpet in bathrooms. It just gets too smelly. Great commentary. I think some older design features tend to hold their weight, but I agree with you on wood paneling. Low-grade paneling like this just doesn’t feel fresh. I’d be curious to hear from any buyers who prefer it though (and anyone who has sought out a vintage property or made a property “retro”). Thanks Heather.

  2. Greg S says

    We recently bought a 1952 beauty in Land Park. If had recently been refurbished, but not updated, which suited us perfectly. The original formaica counters, the ruffled aluminum edges in the kitchen, the scalloped edges on the cupboards (all arctic white). The living room had a gorgeous wood panel on one wall only just screaming for a sunburst. The bathroom was yellow and black with vintage fixtures and lighting, in fact all of the light fixtures were original. The place was perfect. And obviously well-maintained. I don’t think I’d be crazy with the “retro” feel of the place above because things like wallpaper and shag carpet don’t exactly keep up well and get a bit ratty. If I’m looking for a retro house, I’m probably more interested in the big stuff though: walls, fixtures, countertops.
    The worst is when you see the boiler plate, lower-end Home Depot light fixtures stuck in a vintage house. Also, there is no place for granite countertops in most older homes, especially when matched with rose-stained cabinets and stainless steel appliances. It just screams of temporary current design preferences, and has no staying power. Basically plain is better and allows more room for the owner to put their stamp on it.

    • says

      Greg, I really appreciate your story and insight. I agree with you about low-grade fixtures and contemporary “upgrades”. Sometimes these things can really destroy the charm of an older home.

  3. says

    As a huge mid-century modern enthusiast, and a renter of a Streng home, I can see some confusion on what would be desirable from the above. First and foremost, fans of Streng or Eichler homes are really fans of modernism and its simple, clean lines: no ruffles, floral wall paper, scrolled-edge cabinetry, lacy curtains, etc. They like the clean lines of modern art and architecture and likely already have a household’s worth of furniture and decor (new and vintage) that would fit that style. They’re looking specifically for the original bones of the home and will look past cosmetic changes.

    With the first photo above, the original bones are still there – but perhaps tile or wood flooring was replaced or covered and the partial wall separating the kitchen may not have been there in the form seen now. The other photos below it are mostly remodels or show the taste of decor from those who may have bought modern, but really wanted something more traditional or contemporary to the funky ’70s. Luckily, even when buyers of the 1970s Strengs put their own, more-cluttered design stamp on the home,, the modern lines with clean walls and open rooms remained. The faux-wood paneling is not MSM style, but the original real stained-wood solid panels (no grooves) in some MSM homes is very desirable. The green carpeting, floral or mirrored wall coverings or busy patterns seen in the other photos are also cosmetic scars placed on a lovely bone structure. Time for cosmetic surgery.

    I still believe MSM and contemporary modernist fans are willing to spend more on these homes than on a traditional style home. The popularity of well-maintained or restored MSM homes has continued to grow, as far as I can see, perhaps more so in higher-end markets like Palm Springs and the SF Bay Area. Unfortunately, when the basic structures are gutted, like kitchens and fireplaces, and replaced with traditional or rustic cottage-style Home Depot stuff, it really reduces the appeal of these architectural gems.

    • says

      Great stuff, Sarah. In retrospect, I should have used some better examples of the desirable images. I think the first image is the best one in terms of showing “good bones” as you said. I think your last paragraph is particularly well said. It’s easy to gloss over a “plain” Streng house because it does not look like a Home Depot commercial, but the Home Depot remodel could really damage the appeal of the house (to the MCM enthusiast at least). I like your statement, “Time for cosmetic surgery.”

      Nice Etsy shop too. You know your stuff.

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