• DC neighbors fight to keep a 1920s home from getting replaced with a McMansion
  • A rebuild can be done tastefully to keep a neighborhood's charm
  • It's good to weigh the pros and cons of old versus new when it comes to appreciation values

The Washington Post recently ran a front page article about neighbors combining resources to buy and renovate a 1920s home, rather than allowing it to become a McMansion.

The coverage is testimony to the number of people who have strong feelings about old homes being torn down and newer, large homes going up in their place.

This is extremely common in the closer-in neighborhoods in the D.C. area, and I assume this is true in many other metropolitan areas around the country. Most of the strong feelings seem to come from people who dislike this process (especially if the home in question is next door to theirs), but there are also those who support it — as long as the end result is tasteful.

In this case, there is one builder who does most of the tear downs in the neighborhood — and I don’t think anyone was suggesting that she doesn’t build a quality product. The neighbors sought to maintain the character of the street and felt another large house was not in line with that goal.

But, the other side of the coin is: what do buyers want?

Clients of mine appreciated the property, but commented on the low ceilings throughout, and especially in the basement. I personally believe that upgrading the property instead of rebuilding will cost more money in the long run.

Three things to keep in mind:

  1. More and more people want to live in older neighborhoods that are closer to shops, restaurants and jobs — and these neighborhoods tend to be made up of housing stock from more than 50 years ago.
  2. Some of these homes are charming, but not all of them support the modern lifestyle. Specifically, they tend to be lacking high ceilings, open living plans, large closets and garages. Some of these you can change by working with the current structure — but many you can’t.
  3. It is oftentimes more expensive to update a home — think  insulation, plumbing and electric — than it is to deconstruct and start over.

I do think that when homeowners and builders make the choice to build an “infill” in an older neighborhood, they should be courteous to neighbors. Not every new home in an older, established neighborhood has to be a McMansion.

Gretchen Koitz is Principal at The Koitz Group.

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