Clicks & Mortar

A Real Estate Blog - Est. 2009

The Intown Buyer's Dilemma: Older Home or Newer Condo?

One of the beautiful Victorians on St. Charles Avenue in Midtown Atlanta

I’ve always fancied myself an old-house person.  Growing up, I had subscriptions to This Old House and Old House Journal magazines, and I would spend hours drafting plans for what my ideal vintage house would look like.  I had dreams of mellowed woodwork, wavy glass windows, plaster walls with charming imperfections, and that all important old house smell.  I dreamt of finishing out the attic for a little rainy afternoon reading nook, reached by a set of narrow, steep stairs.  And if there were a few ghosts hanging around, I’d more than enough room to share.

Growing up changes things.  Seeing as the home I was raised in was a only a few decades young, it was probably a case of the grass being greener on the other side.  I say this because after looking at a few old homes for actual living purposes, I came away not so enthralled.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still have the historic preservation license plate, and my heart still bleeds when a good historic home meets the wrecking ball, but I’m not so sure that I still desire the house I used to obsess over.

Of course, if I had seven figures to remodel something into my own personal showplace, it might be a different story.  But at this point, I want my big closets, modern master bathroom, garage, and open floorplan, without the sawdust and “Money Pit” nightmares.  To all those home restorers that have revived the showstoppers I admire in Ansley, Inman, and Grant Park, God bless you.  I’ll live vicariously through you during each annual home tour I attend.

Especially if you’re searching in intown Atlanta, making the decision between new and old can mean single family house versus a townhome/condo.  The price of a fixer upper in one of the more desired neighborhoods will buy you a pretty swell condo, but each option has its plusses and minuses.  If you have an unlimited budget, many of these worries won’t concern you.  But if you’re working with more modest numbers, be ready for some give and take.

“This home is so cute!  It reminds me of Grandma’s house!”

With an older home, you get the character that few newer houses can match.  There’s also the architectural features that would be astronomically expensive, or near impossible, to reproduce today.  Think leaded glass windows, wide plank floors, ornate  moldings, and real plaster walls, just to name a few.   Many people are drawn to the established feeling of many intown neighborhoods, where there’s a steady network of eyes on the street.  Trees and vegetation have had decades to grow, making the surroundings feel lush and cool.  Sure the majority of homes in urban Atlanta are on the smaller side, but downsizing is the latest trend these days.  Intown houses tend to have some kind of yard or outdoor living space, even if it’s not gargantuan.  And therein lies the charm of Atlanta neighborhoods:  you can have a cozy cottage with a yard, but it’s in the middle of the city and often within walking distance of some pretty cool businesses.

“Can we just burn this thing down yet?”

Credit: http://www.marchandmeffre.com

Of course, there are some downsides when considering an older home.  The first word that comes to mind is maintenance.  Like a Real Housewife, houses require some upkeep as they age to keep them looking presentable. The lack of standardization that gives vintage abodes their charms can also can present some headaches.  A house that’s 50+ years old has often been remodeled and remuddled, and the results usually aren’t always pretty or up to code.  And while original light fixtures and claw foot tubs are neat features, ancient wiring and plumbing are not.  Many people expect new(er) kitchens and baths, and figuring out practical solutions for their addition requires creativity and patience.  Not to mention the lack of storage.  And until you have a throrough inspection completed, it’s hard to tell what’s lurking beneath the surface.  Some vintage building techniques, like the use of lead paint and asbestos, are downright dangerous. Spoiled by a two car garage?  Good luck finding even off street parking in some Atlanta neighborhoods.

“I don’t know if I could live with someone right next to/on top of me.”

If you’re shopping for a home in Atlanta and the oldies aren’t looking so great, your next option might be to consider a townhome or condo.  New = problem solved, right?  Not necessarily.  Some people don’t desire to be too close to their neighbors.  If you own a condo or townhome, chances are you’ll be paying HOA fees.  Do the math, and you might be looking at affording less home than you initially thought. The tradeoff is that you get amenities you might not have had with a house, such as a pool, clubroom, and/or extra storage.  Also, goodbye grass, which may or may not be good news.  If you’re going with a new condo, and unless you live in the Manhattan building with “Sky Garages,” getting in and out your front door will probably require navigating a parking deck.  And then there’s the element of selling your soul, forsaking the old and quirky for the shiny and mass produced.

“Wow, we’re just like the people in (insert name of sitcom with urban setting here)!”

Townhomes on Dekalb Avenue

There’s greater benefits to new construction besides that wonderful plasticy smell.  You might love the exterior aesthetic of that 1909 Craftsman bungalow, but who are you kidding?  You live for a master bath that evokes a spa, and closets you can get lost in.  Besides, a floorplan that resembles a mouse maze just doesn’t jibe for a lot of people.  And if you get in soon enough, you have the option of picking your finishes.  Point to flooring and granite samples, and let someone else worry about the rest.  There’s little maintenance worries with townhomes and condos, and the most recently built ones can be extremely energy efficient.  With condos, you’re getting a lock and leave lifestyle where remembering to lock all the windows isn’t lurking on your mind.  And since most townhomes in Atlanta are recent construction, some provision for parking usually exists, whether it’s a spot right outside the door or your own garage.

Hopefully I’ve brought up some points you might not have thought about; it’s entirely possible that I’ve given you even more reasons to lose sleep at night.  The most important thing is figuring out what your key priorities are, and what will be most practical for your lifestyle.  Do a little soul searching, and we’re ready to look when you are.