Tearing Down the House

Like some of its inhabitants, my home is hurdling into middle-age. The classic signs are all there: Weak underfootings, a thinning roof, leaky plumbing, and the deluge of emotions when the basement floods. We’ve given it the requisite face-lifts, tummy-tucks with energy-efficient windows, new paint jobs and sump pumps to dry the tears. Nonetheless, my homes bones are creaking.

The house had some funky blemishes from the starting gate. We’ve learned to live without a bathroom in the master bedroom. The entrance welcomes visitors right into our kitchen (Oh, how I envy those enticing entranceways with mudrooms and vestibules), the basement is so low that if you don’t duck, you’ll surely get a concussion, and the garage is nowhere near a place someone would consider parking a car.

Our intimate, smallish house has been the subject of speculative discussions among our family and guests. One that is etched in my mind occurred when my son was in pre-school. He had a playdate with an adorable 4-year-old friend who marched into our house and exclaimed, “This is a little house, are you going to move when he gets bigger (one arm stretched high over her head and one pointing at my son)?”

We have no plans of moving from our home, even though my son is now well over 6 feet “big.” The house is on a few private acres of land in a desirable area. It still feeds our spirit and shelters our family. But if we did entertain the notion of selling, given all the imperfections and age-related crankiness of the house, I am not so sure a new owner wouldn’t just tear it down and start all over again.

There is a name for this: “Teardown Syndrome.” Who knew it would become a trend for builders and homebuyers? A New York Times article addresses this ailment. The writer laments, “This is the dispiriting realization that even in today’s deflated real estate market, many potential buyers would huff and puff and ’doze your wee house down to start all over again.”

Shouldn’t homes be preserved? How would you decide whether to tear down or not? I have seen an episode or two of Extreme Home Makeover and those homes are more than viable teardown candidates. The demise of unhealthy homes might be a blessing for many homeowners.

What happens to the integrity of communities when older homes of 1,500-2,000 square feet are torn down and replaced with 4,000- and 10,000-square-foot new homes? Communities have to grapple with a multitude of issues when the land these homes sit on are worth more than the houses. It becomes a complicated debate that clogs up zoning boards and rightfully upsets historic preservationists.

At my abode, we are readjusting, shifting and listening to the adult voice of our home. We continue to give it tune-ups like spa treatments. Eco-remodels and updates for efficiency top the list. Even after a recent natural disaster with snow and wind, my home stood tall and proud. Like middle-age baby boomers on passionate reinvention quests, we can’t recalibrate everything. At least my “mature” house has high ceilings on its smallish footprint to accommodate family growth spurts.

Ronnie Citron-Fink lives in New York with her husband, two children (when they come home to the nest), two dogs and a cat. Ronnie is a teacher and a writer. She has been a contributing writer for Family Fun magazine. She currently writes articles about education and home design. Her writings are in four books including Family Fun Home and Some Delights of the Hudson Valley.


Roney W.
Past Member 2 years ago

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Smith M.
.8 years ago

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Paula L.
Paula L8 years ago

Glad to hear you chose to preserve. I live in a home built in 1900 and is on a street that has 2 homes 25 yrs older than mine. B-u-t, from my front door we have sit and watched this week one of those old homes bulldozed to the ground, the more than 40 yr old stately trees uprooted and the land scraped clean of all it's grass and shrubs, all the fencing torn down. You see we have an urban CITY developer for a mayor, and we have battled for several years now to keep this section from being zoned heavy commercial. There are some beautiful old homes here and this mayor wants to bulldoze all our homes and bring in big business. Our neighborhood is being destroyed for the sake of city money. And they are not treating the homeowners fairly. They have already put in numerous strip malls and buildings in this city that are not even occupied. This is insane with our economy in the state it is in. This man and his yes man city council is going to be the death of this town. I don't see us being able to stay in our home much longer, what is going in right across the street is going to devaluate these old home properties as a residential investment and at the same time bring on the higher rating for this zone as a heavy commercial and send our tax base soaring out of our pocket book range. In my opionion, this is plain cruelty to the homeowners.

Alex R.
Alex R8 years ago

The U.S.'s mentality of wanting bigger, better, new...etc., is at the foundation of the housing and credit disaster! We Americans needed a slap upside our materialistic heads to become alerted to the problem. I only hope there will be widespread understanding of the underlying causes and a greater appreciation the character and sentimental and historic value of older homes is realized.

Barbara F.
Barbara F.8 years ago

I believe this the best way to save our cities - bring life or to maintain an old home.

Bonita Nelson
Bonita Bent8 years ago

I'm also glad you brought up this subject. As a person who just moved to the city, I have passed on my ca. 1845 farmhouse to my daughter and son-in-law in favor of a much more "modern" 1906 model in a wonderful historic neighborhood. South Bend, IN has a fantastic program of rehabilitating their older homes and making them shine like new. Many historic homes are moved to more suitable sites in older neighborhoods, if necessary, in order to preserve them. Often they are made available to new and first time home buyers at real bargains. In this day and age of downsizing and energy concerns, it makes no sense to tear down perfectly viable smaller homes to build huge new ones. Fix the old ones, make them more efficient and enjoy the character.

Our 1906, 2 1/2 story, move-in ready home with hardwood floors, new roof, updated electric and plumbing, full basement and 2 car garage only cost $34,000 and we bought the vacant lot next door with beautiful old growth trees for an additional $1,000! Far less than a comparable new home would cost. While ours was not part of the city historic homes program, many in our neighborhood are and they are increasing the value of our home in the process.

Lacy Loar
Lacy Loar8 years ago

Great article Ronnie! My home was built in 1925, and is part of a National Historic site in St. Petersburg, Fl. I purposely sought this warm, unique, fabulous place, despite the one bathroom (those ball and claw foot tubs are challenging with handheld showers!) and the garage that won't hold a modern car, plus lack of closet space. But the wood floors gleam, the fireplace is solid, and my step back in time is so tranquil. The very modern kitchen is my only concession to the 21st Century. An old house is....home.

Michele M.
Michele M8 years ago

More power to you! I am so happy that you are speaking out for the special value of lived-in homes. I feel that in the overall scheme of "reduce-reuse-recycle", moving into an existing home rather than developing previously unspoiled areas is a vital step. Moreover, I enjoy many of the little details of older homes, such as more substantial, beveled doors, etched privacy glass in bathroom windows, decorative molding and more. Thanks for letting me know that I'm not the only one who appreciates the unique character of older houses.

Joan M.
Joan M8 years ago

I grew up in a community in which many older homes are being torn down - really good ones - to make way for new, bigger ones. Since the yards are now so small, the yards are smaller - no place for the rainwater to run into - and the neighborhood basements are flooding when they never flooded before.

Money to build "bigger and better" houses is not always a good thing.