Older Houses are Hot Lots for New Development

By TC Brown 
As Published in Columbus Monthly 

“Functionally obsolete” homes in the inner suburbs are torn down to make room for new housing.

Matt Curtis’ family of three moved into a new Compass home in Arlington two years ago, built across the street from the 1951 house they had inhabited for 15 years.

“We had renovated every room in the house and we wanted to open it up and add on more, but that would have been a significant expense,” Curtis says.

Instead, the family presented a laundry list of needs to Compass Homes and got about 80 to 90 percent of what they desired.

“It was a big step for us; we had never built a house before,” Curtis says. “My wife would have never left this neighborhood where kids are running around and you can walk to places and now we have the luxury of having a brand-new house.”

“Downtowns all over the country are more attractive now and people want to live closer and commute less,” says Mark Braunsdorf, owner of Compass Homes. “New homes are typically built in the far fringes, but the edge keeps moving farther out.”

As the city of Columbus sprawls outward and housing availability remains scarce, more Central Ohioans seem drawn to the idea of building a new home closer to Downtown. That means looking in existing neighborhoods.

That might seem counterintuitive, though. Open space is much easier to find in communities farther away from the city’s center, but getting a new home closer in is not impossible. In fact, the suburb of Arlington may be the hub for infill housing.

Compass Homes has constructed 50 houses in the suburb; 40 were built in the last three-and-a half years, says Braunsdorf. While the company has built a few new homes in Worthington, too, this year it expects to build 14 in Arlington, up from the typical 10 to 12, he says.

“The housing stock in Arlington, by and large, is fairly old and some of the houses are functionally obsolete,” Braunsdorf says. “It can be cheaper to tear a house down and build a new one than remodel it, and that is driving the trend.”

Demand for housing, driven by continued growth and a shortage of available stock, also contributes to this movement. As of last spring, the market would have been depleted in less than a month and a half if no new inventory were added, according to the Columbus Board of Realtors.

“There’s an acute shortage of inventory of housing in Columbus and there’s not enough building to keep up with the demand,” Braunsdorf says. “We’re building at about 50 percent of the pace of the overall demand.”

Often real estate agents, homeowners or even neighbors call Compass with available lots or dilapidated houses to buy. In Arlington, land values are high, driven by demand, he says.

“If you put a house on the market and it is in bad condition, you will get a smaller pool of buyers and that means the price will be affected,” Braunsdorf says. “Sometimes people unlock more value by selling the land than the house on it.”

Typically, a new house will cost about 20 percent more than an existing residence, but homeowners save in the long run because of better energy efficiency and less maintenance.

“The more we do, the more people call us because people love living in old neighborhoods,” Braunsdorf adds.