Three houses with two modern homes on either side of a older home for sale
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

More homes are hitting middle age 

As the housing stock ages, agents should educate themselves about the features and occasional pitfalls of older homes.

March 3, 2023
4 minutes

Key points:

  • The median age of U.S. homes hit 40 in 2021, increasing at a faster rate in recent years due to a slowdown in new construction.
  • For the construction industry, that may mean a shift to more remodeling work in the coming years.
  • Agents can best serve their clients by knowing what to look for in older homes and communicating that information to buyers.

They say 40 is the new 30, but when it comes to homes, aging isn't always graceful. 

The median age of existing homes recently hit 40, and that could have some implications for how agents and the construction industry do business going forward.

A recent analysis by the National Association of Home Builders found the age of housing stock has been rising rapidly since the Great Recession of 2008. The median age of a home hit that 40-years milestone in 2021, up from 33 a decade earlier, according to the U.S. Census data. Between 2005 and 2011, the median age of homes only increased by two years.

One reason for this acceleration of aging is the lack of new construction, according to NAHB senior economist Na Zhao, who noted that rising home prices are also encouraging homeowners to spend more on home improvement projects.

"Over the long run, the aging of the housing stock implies that remodeling may grow faster than new construction," Zhao said.

The age of homes varies greatly across the U.S., Zhao said. New York has the oldest homes, with a median age of 62 years, followed by Rhode Island (58) and Massachusetts (57). States in the South and West tend to have the youngest housing stock, with Nevada having a median home age of only 23 years. Homes in South Carolina, Georgia and Arizona have a median age of 28.

Zhao said states experiencing significant population growth tend to have a younger housing stock because of new construction.

What new agents should watch for in old homes

Eileen McKeon, owner of The McKeon Group with Howard Hanna Real Estate in Cleveland, has a lot of love for older houses. She started in the real estate business in 2001, selling in the older neighborhoods of Cleveland and doing home renovation. 

"I adore the possibilities to make them look more updated [with] fresh colors, refinished wood floors, creature comfort updates — while still maintaining the arched doorways, plaster walls, amazing fireplace mantels and hearths," McKeon said in an email. "Block after block we have amazing housing stock."

While she's a fan of older homes, she makes sure her clients understand what they are getting into. Those homes can have great character — as well as asbestos, lead paint and settling floors that require maintenance. 

For new agents, the key to developing expertise around older homes is absorbing information and doing research. McKeon suggests touring as many homes as possible, reading about architects and architecture in the market, and exploring social media pages on older homes.

"Tour with a seasoned agent who can point out the typical features and not so typical features. Attend all your buyers' home inspections," McKeon said, adding that the hundreds she's attended have taught her how a house works.

The shortage of new single-family homes can make older homes more attractive

Not only is there a shortage of new construction in general, but as communities opt for more townhomes and cottages to increase density, there are also fewer traditional single-family detached homes being built. Single-family housing starts declined for the eighth straight month in January, while multifamily starts — specifically apartments — were at their highest level in 50 years, according to an NAHB report

That shortage can make older homes more appealing, particularly if they are in good locations in well established neighborhoods, said Windermere agent Max Rombakh of Kirkland, Washington, located just outside Seattle. 

Inspections are a must — and that holds true for any home, from historic properties to new construction, because even newly built homes can have issues, said Rombakh. With older homes, he advises agents to pay close attention to things like the foundation and framing.

He noted that Seattle has some of the oldest homes in the area, while Kirkland was largely built up after World War II. Homes in his market that are around 50 years old can have strong appeal because of location and layout, he said.

Get the latest real estate news delivered to your inbox.