History, architecture, and character are fueling Hamilton buyers

Before people started flocking to Hamilton for our lower-than-Toronto real estate prices, our city offered a different kind of fuel for the buyer. History and architecture slice through the sea of sameness and add true heart to the house hunt. Older homes attract the attention of history aficionados and people who admire the unique architecture of ‘pre-war’ buildings, giving them an important market of their own.

Colette Cooper, local broker at Royal LePage State Realty, experienced this recently when a character laden listing of hers on Fairleigh Avenue South sold prior to the scheduled open house, fetching the highest recorded sale on that street. Cooper states, “Buyers love the historical significance of these properties such as who they were built for when they were built, the type of architecture, and the architect who designed them.”

Hamilton homeowner, Ian Fox, purchased his house in the north end nine years ago and was drawn to her 110-year-old features including stained glass, original hardwood, and arches. He jokes that it is their new home since they moved from an even older north end property built in the 1880s. All joking aside, Ian and his wife love the solid construction older homes offer.

The saying ‘they don’t build ’em like they used to’ is generally true. Established houses are built to last, and many aspects of the construction cannot be reproduced today, from triple brick construction to detailed millwork and artisanal glasswork. These character homes are also located in established locations which are highly attractive to today’s buyers for several reasons including walkability, lot size, and lot maturity. Ironically, after decades trying to build the idyllic suburbia, it turns out that early city planners were onto something 100 years ago.

And lasting construction is not the only benefit older home buyers will receive. According to an article published on the Ontario Real Estate Association website, two academic studies have shown that properties within Heritage Conservation District boundaries tend to hold their value better, even in depressed markets. Their timeless designs not only grow with the market but maintain their architectural appeal, unlike new builds whose craftsmanship and quality has become increasingly commoditized.

Cooper agrees that older homes offer the locations that buyers are looking for. “Our wonderful lower city neighbourhoods are dense with these ‘old beauties’. Buyers love the features of beautiful woodwork in flooring adorned with inlays, wooded trim and beams, leaded and sometimes curved windows, and plaster embellishments on ceilings and archways. These materials are not feasible in today’s construction of houses due to their costs and the fact that the artisans who created them are rare to find in order to replicate. Many of these features are a lost art appreciated by buyers of these fine old houses.”

All photos by Tom Vogel – vogelcreative.com

To quantify the phenomenon, I analyzed ‘past 90-day’ stats of nearly 50 homes located in Hamilton centre, west and mountain districts, all of which sold for over-asking (between $400,000 and $2,000,000). I then separated these by pre-war and post-war era homes. It was interesting to discover that the post-war homes averaged 2.8% over-asking, and the pre-war homes 1.9% over asking. This compared to earlier in 2017 where Cooper said houses were easily selling 20% or more over list price.

With the over-asking data not being as revealing as hoped for, I dug deeper and found some great stats to support ‘team pre-war’. These historic homes averaged 9% higher in sale price and sold 28% (or 3.2 days) faster than their post-war counterparts. And a pre-war construction home in Hamilton’s Westdale neighbourhood also garnered the highest cost per square foot amongst all the ‘sold over’ homes analyzed.

Steve Roblin, a broker with Judy Marsales Real Estate Ltd. has witnessed similar in his experience. According to Roblin, “If a particular buyer is attracted to an older Dundas, Hamilton, or Ancaster home, they are likely not alone. And if the character has been maintained or enhanced, it will help that home to sell quickly and for top dollar (often in competition). This contrasted to comparable homes where all the character has been stripped out, the interested pool of buyers and, ultimately, the sale price would be lower.”

Net-net, these storied homes dangle their ‘character carrots’ and emotionally allure, often preempting things such as undesirable condition or location that would normally prevent a sale.

All photos by Tom Vogel – vogelcreative.com

All photos by Tom Vogel – vogelcreative.com

Take a look at the ‘Bank of Montreal House’ on Ravenscliffe, for example, which had location on her side (for days) but required significant investment beyond her near $2.5 million asking price. Had it not been for her grand proportions, preserved character, and endearing appeal, she never would have sold so quickly, nullifying the home inspection and future work required.

Colette Cooper echoes that sentiment, stating, “Not all these houses come in ‘move in condition’ and thankfully there are buyers who have the energy and dollars to restore these old houses. Turn of the century properties can come with their own unique challenges such as knob and tube wiring, galvanized plumbing and painted over woodwork which becomes a buyers’ ‘labour of love’ to restore to their original beauty. These are costly items and can take time but in the end, the buyers have the satisfaction of having restored these houses to their original beauty.”

Another recent example of architecture ‘winning’ was an Edwardian semi on Charlton Avenue West which sold for a record (close to) $1.0 million on a stretch of the street more common for commercial businesses and midrise apartment buildings than residential residences. But all who toured the interior of this 1897 beauty would unabashedly agree the sale price didn’t even come close to matching the irreplaceable character value. Charlton awed in so many ways, from her original carved mahogany staircase which wrapped into a seated bench in the foyer, to the magnificent pair of 7.5’ foot McCausland of Toronto painted stained glass windows which graced the second-floor landing.

All photos by Tom Vogel – vogelcreative.com

All photos by Tom Vogel – vogelcreative.com

Clearly, Hamiltonians have an appetite for architecture and thank goodness our great city has a full menu of options to keep buyers licking their character chops.