real estate

What's the life span of a house?

One-third of U.S. homes built before 1960

While it's impossible to predict how long an entire house will stand, about one-third of the 124 million houses in the U.S. were built before 1960 and are thus now more than 50 years old, according to a 2005 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. This chart shows approximately what percentage of the housing stock was built in each decade:

Percentage of housing built by decade
Year builtPercent of U.S. homes
2000 to 20058%
1990s13%
1980s13%
1970s20%
1960s10%
Prior to 196036%
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The age of a house should be an important consideration for homebuyers because an older home typically will require more maintenance and replacement of worn-out components. Some of the most popular home repairs become necessary during those middle years when a house is no longer brand-new. For example, the NAHB study found that a wood deck can last about 20 to 25 years in a dry climate. A good-quality exterior or interior paint might have a lifespan of about 15-plus years. Rain gutters, lawn sprinklers and exterior wood shutters should last about 20 years. Many types of common roofing materials give out after about 25 to 30 years.

A new roof, replacement vinyl siding or replacement vinyl or wood windows can put quite a dent in a homeowner's budget. This chart shows the national average costs for midrange and upscale replacements of these components:

Average replacement cost
ProjectMidrange costUpscale cost
Roofing replacement$19,731$37,359
Vinyl siding replacement$10,607$13,287
Window replacement (vinyl)$10,728$13,862
Window replacement (wood)$11,700$17,816
Source: Remodeling Magazine 2009-10 Cost vs. Value Report

Date of manufacture may be marked on appliances

The expected remaining useful life of house components and appliances should be a consideration for homebuyers, though it's not always easy for them to get that information since sellers may profess ignorance or misremember how long ago they made various purchases. Receipts and user's manuals can be helpful resources if the seller has kept good records.

Another way to find out when an appliance was manufactured is to look for a nameplate or model and serial numbers on the appliance itself, according to Jill A. Notini, a spokeswoman for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers in Washington, D.C. The nameplate may display the month and year of manufacture, and if not, the model and serial numbers can be used to call the manufacturer and request the information or look up the information on the manufacturer's Web site.

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