Old World Charm, or just Old?

September 23, 2008

Here's an interesting paradox about homes in San Carlos and especially in White Oaks:

What's one of the best features of  homes in White Oaks?

  • Many of the homes were built in the 1940's and 1950's.

What's one of the worst features of homes in White Oaks?

  • Many of the homes were built in the 1940's and 1950's.

Hmmm.  Have you had this experience when shopping for homes in White Oaks?  We sure did…

When I first laid eyes on the White Oaks home that we ultimately bought 17 years ago, I was immediately enamored with the arched-doorways, the genuine plaster walls, the old-style wall telephone cutout in the hallway, and the random-plank hardwood floors.   It had a very good feel to it, probably because it reminded me of my late grandmother's home in San Francisco, where we spent lots of time at while growing up.  Many of the older homes in White Oaks share the same characteristics of those in the City…it's often referred to as “charm.”

After spending a few years in our home though, including a couple of cold winters (by California standards,)  the “old-world charm” of the house became, well….just old.   The single pane windows weren't much more effective in keeping in the heat than a screen door, the plumbing seemed like it might have actually seen duty in WWII, and the old knob & tube electrical system was no match for modern appliances.    On top of all that, the home was only 1,100 square feet — but that was a blessing because the squirrels that were running the single circa 1930's floor furnace would have died had they run any harder.

I know, I know….break out the violins.  🙁    But the point is that we had to make a decision — remodel, or move out.  We opted to stay put and remodel, and it killed me to rip out those cool hardwood floors and plaster walls, especially with all the history behind them.    Ultimately, the remodel turned out great, and it was a smart decision both practically and financially.

But many buyers face this very same challenge today when they're shopping for a home in White Oaks or Howard Park.  Because these areas were the first to be built in San Carlos, they're some of the oldest in the City.  While a significant number of these homes have been remodeled, the reality of home shopping today in these neighborhoods is that you may have to rationalize shelling out ~ $1M  for pink or green (sometimes both!) bathroom tile.


This is why remodeling contractors are still thriving here despite the horrendous real estate market.   The remodeling market in White Oaks is the subject of another post I wrote recently:

The Remodeling of White Oaks

So back to the original question — is it old world charm, or just old?   That all depends on your perspective, and how charming the “charmer” really is.   The good news in all of this is that San Carlos is one of the few communities on the Peninsula where remodeling still makes financial sense in most cases.  And I have seen lots of examples where owners have taken painstaking measures during a major remodel to maintain the best of that bygone feel of the old home.  So whether you decide to keep the charm or bring the home into the current century, you have lots of good options.

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