House flipping is hot right now. It has been for the past decade, but why?
Let’s start out with some historical perspective. Why are so many of the homes in today’s market comprised of homes built from the mid 1930s all the way through to the 1970s?
If you’re anything like me, I have to know the whys and the hows behind things. Anything really, down to why a math problem is solved a certain way. Most of all, these days I am very curious about house flipping. Comparing things I’ve noticed growing up to today’s world, today there is an infinite number of homes prime for flipping (or just simply renovating) hanging out in every neighborhood across America. The homeowners of these iconic ‘mid-century’ homes are beginning to sell-everywhere. Recently, I’ve done some research and this is what I’ve come up with.
Architecturally, these homes are considered modern. This is why they all look the way they do.
While you may hear the term mid-century often, it’s a broad term that can describe not only architectural house details, but also the mid-century interior design movement. To clarify, homes of the (1935-1940s) & 50s were referred to as modern, more specifically, “Bankers Modern” styles. These styles were classified as “basic Minimal Traditionals and casual Ranch houses,” meaning modern on the inside, but traditional and ‘safe’ on the outside. The ranch style was deemed “middle-of-the-road modern,” more acceptable than the contemporary-styled home or an international-styled home at the time. Ranch, split-level and contemporary styles of house ranged in popularity from 1935-1975, 1935-1975, & 1945-1990 respectively. (McAlester)
Moreover, the FHAs (Federal Housing Administration) newly developed mortgage insurance program regulated the kind of ‘modern’ house that could be built in the new suburban neighborhoods of the time. Contemporary, a form of modern style, was all the rage abroad and can be credited to the ideas and designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, specifically his Usonian homes. American regulation feared this style of house would not be a suitable investment for a returning war veteran (or anyone for that matter) and thus regulated a ‘safer’ less stylized house style to be built en masse. Therefore, lenders primarily financed mortgages that followed the guidelines set forth by the FHA. (McAlester)
Another perspective offers more on the subject. The opportunity for vast majority of house flipping today can be attributed to homes built after WWII.
In addition, American GIs returned from WWII to find a severe housing shortage, the worst in U.S. history. Production in the 30s & early 40s focused on war materials and not much else. Not to mention, the Depression really took a toll on the whole economy and everything in between, including construction of homes. Furthermore, city housing was not kept up and maintained. This era didn’t make it terribly easy to do so. The role of the FHA was non-existent in this respect; subsidizing improvements to city living would not happen.
Most noteworthy however, the post WWII mentality of Americans became one of prosperity and optimism. The government wanted to reward its heroes and citizens with the American dream-a house complete with the white picket fence. Acquiring a mortgage (at the time, for primarily whites), either FHA or VA (Veterans Administration), was easy. To add, moving out of city living quarters and into the suburbs became a much easier decision at this point. This also meant, many qualified buyers did not need to provide a down payment. Each year from 1947-1957, the percentage of homes sold with FHA or VA mortgages ranged from just under 40%-50%. That’s a heck of a lot of houses! (Kunstler)
Let’s sum it all up.
Enter house flipping. Many houses on the market today are prime for flipping because of the house style popular of a time. The amount of houses constructed during this influential time outnumbered any other era. It was like they were coming off of an assembly line. Within these houses are the cosmetic wonders, or, ahem, faux pas we see in many pre-flipped homes today. In another regard, perhaps after the housing bust of the mid-2000s, large amounts of people began to flip or turn houses like these for profit. That’s not to say that houses even older than those constructed in 1935 wouldn’t be candidates for renovation. Simply put, most of the houses available to flip are those that stemmed from the baby-booming, suburban-forming age of the 40s & 50s.
To conclude, it’s not like we’re just going to bulldoze over all these homes and build new ones, right? That’s absurd, not to mention that no history of original suburban America would be kept in tact! There are many architectural and interior details seen throughout these homes that are worthy of maintaining. Yet, there are also ‘wonderful’ (cringe) cosmetic details that are not! Appropriately, here is a non-flip example: my husband and I live in a 1960s ranch. When we moved in, the first thing we did was remove all of the carpeting. In every. Single. Room! Go for a walk. In pretty much any neighborhood except for new construction. Pay attention to the types of houses, I guarantee you’ll see several that were built between 1935 & 1975.
Some information above courtesy of:
Kunstler, James Howard. (1993). The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape. New York: Touchstone, a registered trademark of Simon & Schuster Inc.
McAlester, Virginia Savage. (2013). A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, LLC. Toronto: Random House of Canada Limited.
Keep reading! In the next post, we’ll explore design trends & styles of each era and why some of them are trends of the past that were not meant to live on.