With Due Respect For The Home And Its Past

Buyers and Sellers, take note! Renovation money spent wisely now can reap big rewards in the future. As agents, we feel really lucky when a house presents nicely and has had the benefit of a proper architect or designer. However, there are good renovations and there are bad renovations.

good renovation
A renovation gone awry in Brookland. The house BEFORE (left) and AFTER (right)


For want of a nail…

We once had a seller who fondly spoke of a napkin he had framed with the initial sketch from a builder who put an addition on his house. Builders should not be confused with architects. You get what you pay for. That’s not to say that all design/build firms are hopeless. But in this case, it didn’t work out so well.  Other local homes with additions roughly the same size had reliably sold within a specific price range.  This particular house was such an oddball that buyers didn’t know how to react, and it sold for a good 25% less than counterparts. That’s some serious money. For what might have run @ $5,000- $10,000 at the time of construction (in architectural fees), these sellers sacrificed close to $200,000 25-years later.  For want of an architect, a fortune was lost.

Destroy Renovations

This is our term for “fixes” that sacrifice the charm of an original home. When solid wooden doors in a hundred-year old house are swapped for hollow Home Depot specials, or when original brass doorknobs and hinges are replaced with something shiny and cheap. You’ve seen the flips with plastic overhead fan/lights instead of the quaint lighting fixture that preceded it. Don’t get us started on the siding salesmen who, as kit house expert Rosemary Thornton likes to say, “had their way” with the exterior of an unsuspecting and taste-free homeowner’s abode. Examples are too numerous to cite, but maybe these photos will help illustrate our frustration.

Historic "Martha Washington" Sears house in Forest Hills, before and after
Expansion of historic “Martha Washington” Sears house in Forest Hills, BEFORE and AFTER. The architect was perhaps a little too creative as he designed the side addition with a two-story foyer, but there still a love for the preserved original house palpable


There are, on the other hand, numerous examples of beautiful expansions, renovations and even modernizations that work respectfully and often lovingly with the original character of the house. This recent addition to a home in the Takoma Park Historic District, done by a local design/build firm for instance, showcases this very well. (Click on the picture below for a description of the project.)

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We can help!

We don’t just sell houses.  We’re also passionate about architectural integrity and historic preservation, namely of our city’s homes, and are available for consultations (free!) if  you are trying to figure out what best to do (or avoid) when renovating or expanding your older home. We know what buyers are looking for and we know what sells. If you’re not sure that your home really needs an expensive X, Y or Z, we can certainly offer up an opinion.

The Sears Kit Houses Of Takoma Park

Kit House in Takoma Park MD
A perfectly preserved Sears “Westley” in Takoma Park, Maryland

Washington DC’s streetcar expansion years in the early 20th century went hand in hand with a construction boom and the development of the city’s first suburbs. The Palisades, Chevy Chase, Shepherd Park and Takoma Park were some of the more prominent ones, and they all have one thing in common: an abundance of Sears catalog homes and other kit houses (namely from Aladdin and Lewis Manufacturing Co.). An abundance in relative terms, that is, because so many of them turn out to be copies or look-alikes.

Others are authentic but might have been modified so much over the years that they will be hard to spot and thus will go unrecognized and forgotten. As sponsors of the Takoma Park House & Garden tour, we have been working together with Lorraine Pearsall and Diana Kohn, president and VP of Historic Takoma Inc.. Over the past couple of years, Marcie and I have started to put together a catalog (no pun intended) of mail-order homes in the Takoma Park Historic District. What could be more fun, and what could be a worse thief of sleep than poring over pictures, old listing records and piles of 1920s catalogs?

While we now a list of about five dozen candidates in North Takoma alone, only a fraction of them has been identified and authenticated beyond a reasonable doubt. There are some mysteries we have discovered together, as well as some amazing historic finds.

Historic Takoma will feature our work in a special section on their website once we feel we have enough solid information assembled.

If you think you own (or live in ) a Sears house or other kit home and would like some assistance in authenticating it, I’ll be happy to help! Just fill out this form and I’ll be in touch shortly.