A Love Hate Relationship With An Older Home

This wood frame home in Florida is old enough that it’s probably gone through many of the same frustrations we have.

For where we live, our house is considered old. Built in the 80’s (that’s 1980’s, not 1880’s!), we know that compared to many parts of the country our house is a spring chicken. But around here, it’s old enough that it actually can be a bit of a headache at times.


Headaches From Older Homes

Construction Standards Have Changed

Anyone who has ever hired someone or done DIY work on a house that’s more than a few years old will probably be able to commiserate here. Did you know:

  • standard sizes for bathroom cabinets have shrunk by ~2inches over the last 25 years?
  • exhaust fans in the bathroom have also undergone a lot of changes and can be tough to replace individual parts on
  • bathtubs and showers all seem to have super-sized to accomodate our super-sized frames – but that can be tough when the actual square footage in your bathroom hasn’t increased.

These are actually just small potatoes compared to the changes that have taken place in the Florida Building Code covering roofing and exterior construction. If you’re in Florida and your house was built before 2002, there’s a good chance you’re going to have to constantly defend it because…

Insurance Companies Want Nothing To Do With You

Florida is a highly regulated state when it comes to homeowner’s insurance as rate increases need to be approved by the Florida State legislature. I’m not sure if this train-wreck of public/private interaction pervades in every state, but here it means that if you have an older home – that’s older than 2002! – the insurers probably don’t want you on their rolls. But why?

  1. Your home might not be worth enough to make it worth their while. When we recently gathered quotes in deciding to self-insure part of our home this summer, we were told by some companies that they would only insure us if we wanted to buy $400K worth of coverage. Seeing as our house is worth ~$170K these days, the only thing that buying $400K worth of coverage would do is increase our hurricane deductible to $8000 from $3300 while paying higher premiums for that luxury. Thanks, but no thanks.
  2. Your home looks riskier on paper. Hip roofs and wood frame construction have been made so passe by the building code changes that older homes (which have these styles of construction) get lumped into a different baseline risk calculation. What does that mean?

It means that we have to defend our home. We get letters demanding a certification of the remaining “roof life”, and can only qualify for discounts on our premiums after we submit to yet another wind mitigation inspection that proves the staples attaching our roof sheathing are conforming to modern standards.

Ours conform to modern standards, but we’ve paid over $600 in inspections to certify that (and qualify for insurance premium deductions) on our home and our duplex over the past 3 years. The premium discounts we’ve received covered those inspection costs and then some with the savings, but the sheer number of inspections gets a bit ridiculous.

Honestly, dealing with the insurance company can be exhausting. Our most recent renewal on the duplex the insurance company waited until the last minute to approve our most recent roof life certification to even accept that they would insure the property. Period.


But even with all of that, there’s still a LOT that we love about our older home.


The Best Parts About An Older Home

You Get More of a Yard

Older homes generally come with older lots, which tend to have a greater proportion of outdoor space. For example, our 1,100 sqft home sits on a lake where the lot we’re on is about 1/4 of an acre. Not too far from us, a newer development squeezed 1700+ sqft homes on lots that are less than 1/10 of an acre so they could have as many “waterview” lots as possible. There’s barely a walkway between the homes in that neighborhood, and the front and back yards are barely there as well.

You Have More Old Growth

So many new homes are built on lots that were completely razed, so the trees end up being tiny saplings that will take decades to grow in properly. In contrast, we’ve got The Tree – a 50+ year old live oak tree that our house was built around, not vice versa. We love the tree and the charm and shade it brings to our front yard.

Imperfection Causes Less Stress Than Perfection

Our house has so many tiny (and not so tiny – like our cookie problem) imperfections, that when something small like a ding or a scratch happens it doesn’t really phase me. But I were in a big beautiful brand new house like Crystal at Budgeting In The Fun Stuff, you can bet I’d probably be stressing out about damage to the perfect new stove top as well.


So there you have it. While there are a few days where I get annoyed with insurers, there are so many more when I love the space, the layout, feeling like we’re a part of the land rather than part of a development. In balance, there is much more love for our home’s age than disdain.


Do you have an older home? What are some of the things you love and hate about your home’s age?

44 comments to A Love Hate Relationship With An Older Home

  • I wish we had more yard despite hating having to mowing our small yard, I really like the idea of having a large enough yard to play in with the kids. Our new house barely has enough room to do anything, we will have to go to the park down the road if we want to play any serious backyard games :(
    Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted..Making it through the month – $100 Cash GiveawayMy Profile

  • I haven’t purchased a house yet, but I’ve lived in a lot of older houses and apartments and love that character that comes from an older home. At the same time I’m totally jealous of people who have new everything from top to bottom. My boyfriend really wants to build his own house, which will come with its very own list of challenges. It’s going to be a really tough call when the time comes to commit to something, but keeping the pros and cons in mind is important.

    As a (former) Floridian, I know it’s a total bummer when someone purchases one of those older houses (60s to 70s) on a big lot with lots of grass and trees, and tears it down to build a huge mansion that pushes into the street. So ugly, and they do it ALL the time.
    Lyn @ Pretty Frugal recently posted..Bookmarks – 12.16.12My Profile

    • Total bummer. Homes just like the one I posted get torn down for a 3 or 4 story McMansion on the beach… I get not wanting to live in a cracker shack, but wow.

  • Brian

    Our house was built in 1957. That thin is built like a tank. When the home inspector went through the house his only suggestion was to add more insulation and put a little extra caulk around the chimney to make sure we didn’t have any leaks (he didn’t see any). He just kept saying, man they just don’t build them like this anymore (in a good way).

    The only thing we don’t like is that we only have 1 full bathroom and it is stuck in the 1950s (think pink tile everywhere). We are in the process of having my father in law come up with a couple of drawing to to turn the formal living room into another bedroom and convert two of the old bedrooms into a master bedroom with walking closet and master bath. We will then price that out versus adding a bathroom and finishing the basement. Then we will talk to a realtor and see which one they think would be better for resale.

    • A lot of the things in our homes today are the same way – new is just not built to the same standards as they used to be.

      As for the pink tile – I love it! My old apartment has a pink tile bathroom and I loved the old school charm of it.

  • Our house is roughly 15 years old. It seems to be fine, but we did have a run of things breaking on us over the summer. We’re getting ready to have our master bath redone in a few weeks thanks to the tile in the shower starting to fall off.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Taking The Plunge is Not Just For Polar Bears – Part 1My Profile

  • I guess you could call our home an “older” home, built in 1973, but it is actually a fairly standard age for our neighborhood and city (of course it depends on what part of the city, but overall it is pretty standard). We definitely have some interesting features, like our outdated bathroom and kitchen we plan on redoing, as well as some very outdated fixtures! But focusing on the big things, we do have some very large Oak and Pine trees, as well as a pretty good-sized yard that will be perfect when we get our dog in a few months.

    An old home in our metro area could go as far back as the early 1900s. These homes are difficult because the basement is not really usable. Thankfully, we have some great space in our basement and it was built late enough that they made it a very functional space (with two walk out doors).
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..When There Is Not Enough Money – $100 GiveawayMy Profile

  • LOL, yeah, we rarely freaked out about little stuff in the last house since it wasn’t new and shiny. I figure we’ll stop freaking out in this house pretty soon too since it is feeling more like home and less like that new and shiny trophy I was treating is as for the last 2 months, hahaha.
    Crystal recently posted..Crystal Light Challenge for the Holidays 2012 – Third Week UpdateMy Profile

    • I rescued you from the spam folder! Yay!

      Glad to know the need for perfection starts to wear off pretty quickly. Two months doesn’t seem too bad =)

  • Karen

    Was it hard to change from fluorescent lighting? I’ve got 2 room with it that I really need to change (I have a cookie problem, too).
    I believe that the State is involved in our insurance due to the hurricanes and the damages. Do you have to defend your home every year? I do not but I don’t know if it’s because I have Citizens or because my roof is brand new.

    Also, older homes don’t tend to have HOA’s which I love.

    • Fabulous point on the HOAs. We love not having one!

      The fluorescent lighting change worked out amazingly well. Ours was recessed fluorescent lighting in the kitchen and bathrooms, which we removed entirely. Then Mr. PoP cleaned up the recessed area, and installed crown moulding around the bottom of the recessed part. In the kitchen we have a main light in the center, and then hidden inside the crown moulding is flexible track lighting that isn’t very bright, but is nice accent lighting, or just enough when you get up in the middle of the night and want a glass of water but don’t want to blind yourself with the overhead lights.

      If that description didn’t make any sense, let me know and I can snap some pictures. It looks WAY harder to do than it actually was.

      We have Citizens, too… until they kick us off their rolls, which they’re trying to do. So far on our main house, we did a wind mitigation when we bought it. Then about 18 months later we needed a roof life certification. Then when we were shopping for coverage this summer with other carriers they demanded a more recent wind mitigation since we had replaced part of the roof since then. The duplex has had a wind mitigation and 2 roof life certifications. But we’re probably good on that for now since the certification should last until we plan to replace the whole roof on it in 4 years or so.

      Citizens seems to think that shingle roofs need to be replaced every 15 years. And they won’t insure you unless there are a minimum of 3 years of remaining life on the roof. So even if your roof is brand new, they will bug you in 12 years for certifications. It’s crazy because shingles are now designed to last 25-30 years. Not 12. Just nuts!

      • Karen

        Do post pictures! Sounds nice. I have a drop ceiling in the kitchen and then exposed, 8′ long tubes in the laundry room :( So noisy.
        I went with a white metal roof (I can’t think of the term but it reduces energy consumption. FPL gave me a rebate).
        I do have an odd floor plan. I’m pretty sure I have the typical converted-garage-into-a-bedroom. But I like my area. I have nice established landscaping (that’s a bit love/hate. I need help lol) and all of the house certainly don’t look the same – only one is Dolphins colored 😉

        • Alright – now I’ve just got to dig up the old “before” pics =) You’ve given me a task to do and a post to write when I’m off work next week!

          Someone’s house is colored like the Miami dolphins? Isn’t that teal and orange? Wow. That’s pretty amazing. =)

          • Karen

            OK, I walked by the house. It’s actually orange (terra cotta) tile with teal trim. Then there are “tents” (like the ones people take to the beach or park) that are Dolphins colored. There IS a peach house with dark green trim!

  • I love my garden and its old trees too, and the fact that the home is already there, instead of having to wait 18 months to build something new. I find old homes to have more space in general, especially the bedrooms, now they make much smaller rooms and I enjoy the space.
    Pauline recently posted..What to do if there isn’t enough money?My Profile

    • Oh I think it’s the total opposite in much of the US. The rooms in our house are TINY compared to the rooms in many of the brand new houses that are being built. Some have closets the size of our smaller bedrooms!

  • I know what you mean about older homes not being that old. Ours was built in the early 70’s and we’re running into similar problems.
    Our biggest problem right now is the driveway cracking because of ice. And we have to do concrete because asphalt doesn’t last up here. That one’s going to set us back a pretty penny.
    Justin@TheFrugalPath recently posted..Pay Yourself First: How to Save Money Without TryingMy Profile

    • Yeah, our concrete driveway is cracked from The Tree. But we’re just putting up with it. The quote for a replacement was insane ($12K!!!), so we can live with cracks in the driveway. =)

  • You guys have some funny definitions of “older” homes! My home was built in 1926! We have a lot of realllly old homes in this area and most of them have been kept up really well in the better parts of the city and first-ring suburbs.

    We don’t have the insurance problems around here in NY that you mentioned in FL. I wouldn’t even think about trading my old house in for a newer one. Old homes are a lot more appealing architecturally and there are so many unique finished you’ll find in an older home that you just don’t see anymore.
    The First Million is the Hardest recently posted..Lessons Learned From My First Year Of Home OwnershipMy Profile

    • Haha, yeah the definition of old is definitely relative depending on where you live. I’d be willing to bet that the average build year in our zip code is probably in the mid 1990’s.

  • My Mom and Dad’s house was built in the 80’s and when they replaced their original refrigerator a few years ago, they had to special order one because all the new ones were enormous.The installers wouldn’t install it because the ice maker water line was outdated. I think the older your home is the harder you have to look for replacement things, but like you said, the benefits are worthwhile. Our house is only about 9 years old and I really wish we had one of those older trees like you have.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Paycheck to Paycheck is No Way to Live/$100 GiveawayMy Profile

    • Yup! A lot of the new refrigerators don’t fit. We were lucky that we didn’t need a special order, but the newer style wide side by side fridges wouldn’t fit in our kitchen at all.

  • Our home is about 35 years old- not too old, not too new! I do love older homes, though. We have looked at many over the years.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Confessions of a Cheap-Ass SantaMy Profile

  • I actually moved from a new home (2004) to an older home (1973 – although I wanted something 30s-50s) and love it! Our new construction home was so poorly built, every thing was falling apart. The older home we have now had good, strong bones. It may be ugly, but it’s definitely better built. The only thing I hate is my small, poorly laid out kitchen, but we’re saving for that. Otherwise I love it and would never buy new again.

    • Tiny kitchens are definitely an annoyance, but I am amazed at some of the things people like Smitten Kitchen can manage to make happen in them!

  • CincyCat

    Our cape-cod style house was built in 1949, so I think it qualifies as “old”. :) We absolutely love it! It has its share of issues (original furnace, hot water heater, etc.), but generally, the construction is solid. We’ve heard the same (positive) comment that others have stated, “they don’t make them like this any more…”

    My biggest complaint are the tiny closet sizes, but there isn’t a thing we can do about that. (Our “master” bedroom closet is less than 4 feet across.) We’ve made them work by storing clothes that are out of season in our attics, which are easily accessible since someone had the foresight to install doors in the 2nd floor kick-walls.

    Oh, our bathroom tile is a lovely shade of lime green. 😉 The tub is original, but it has been re-enameled in white (you can see a hint of the original green along the edges). One of these days, we’ll probably update it, but the toilet and plumbing work just fine, so we see no reason to tear it up and throw it out just yet.

  • Ivy

    We bought a 1955 fixer upper and renovated it completely – that was BC (before children:-). Since we did custom things it didn’t matter whether the sizes had changed. However, for the guest bathroom we went with Bathfitter – they fit a new tub shell over your existing one, saving you money and effort and it ends up looking pretty decently. They had to come to our house more than 10 times, each time the guy was carrying 3-4 models to try, before they finally found something that fit our tub. It actually didn’t look that unusual in size to us, but I guess there has been some resizing or reshaping in bathtub models over the years.

    • Custom cabinets would have worked for us, but to get them built would have been ridiculously expensive for what we were trying to do. But it was one of those things that until you go looking you don’t even think that they might be a little smaller.

      I’ve never heard of bathfitter – is it mostly for porcelain tubs?

  • Our home is about 17 years old now and it’s on a medium sized lot. Sure we could have bought a bigger house on a bigger lot but in the Greater Toronto Area you are looking at near million dollars for a decent lot and house size. We love our house and the yard is perfect for us now with our busy lifestyle. Sure it takes me about 10 minutes to mow the lawn but the yard is pristine, which it should be for the size. If we ever moved to a smaller town we may look at a house on a bigger plot in the country but close enough to the city.
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..The Grocery Game Challenge Dec 17-23,2012 Hot Stuff That Tabasco!My Profile

  • CF

    I don’t own or live in an older house but I did notice that when I was a renter, older condos tended to be bigger and more spacious, but of course all the fixtures were crappy. We are living in a 15 year condo at the moment and it feels “just right” to us.
    CF recently posted..Seeing Berlin, Germany – Free!My Profile

  • Gosh. You need to move to Arizona, where anyone can get homeowner’s insurance…usually without much of a squabble.

    My house was built in 1971, and M’hito’s in 1951. Makes me feel like we’re living in houses built during the Middle Ages!
    Funny about Money recently posted..Planning to Live on Irregular PayMy Profile

    • It’s all relative. But in our zipcode, 1980’s is old. So old, some people call it quaint. =)

      Hopefully we’re done fighting the insurance company for a while. We always win, but starting from the inherent assumption that because your house is “old” it’ll blow over in a stiff breeze doesn’t make for a really healthy relationship with the insurance carrier.

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  • eemusings

    Old housescan be pretty solid and you’re right, with more land and character. Our rental hasn’t been well maintained though and is falling apart in places, but worst is the lack of insulation, which is pretty common here in older dwellings.
    eemusings recently posted..My non-negotiables in lifeMy Profile

    • Yeah, older houses can definitely lack insulation or be more prone to draft sometimes. Luckily for us, we live in a pretty temperate environment, so even though our house isn’t super well insulated, it doesn’t cost us much since we have the windows and doors open a lot of the time anyway.

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