In the Boston area there are significant numbers of both new and traditional housing. There is also a hybrid of the two – old houses that have been gut-rehabbed. Understanding the key differences is helpful to buyers, sellers, and owners alike. Buyers can use the understanding to evaluate the trade-offs between the different types of housing. Sellers gain insight into the competition. And owners can use the information to make informed decisions about when, if, and how to invest in upgrades and renovations to their home with an eye towards the ultimate resale value.

What are the big picture differences – old vs new vs gut rehabs?

Older housing in Boston tends to have “character”: moulding, high ceilings, carved mantels and staircases, etc. And character is considered very appealing to a significant portion of the market.  New construction has superior systems and structural elements and energy efficiency. And, gut-rehabs tend to have the best of both the old and the new because developers salvage the character as much as possible while upgrading everything else to new construction standards. The cost of salvaging the character makes this type of housing more expensive than ground-up new construction. In turn, new construction is more expensive than older housing, character notwithstanding.

What are the key design elements in old vs new housing

For the purposes of answering this question, we’ll lump new construction together with gut rehabs since they both tend to incorporate the same design elements that are generally lacking in new construction.  

1. Open floor-plans and kitchen islands

Modern lifestyle and entertainment has become more casual. Gone are the days of  formal, weekly Sunday dinners, and entertaining guests with sit-down meals. Guests like to help the hosts with making the salad or putting finishing touches on the pot-luck dishes they brought with them.  Conversations pop up around the kitchen island, by the table, and in the area of the couch. This lifestyle change fits extremely well with open floor plans and kitchen islands. In fact, both these elements have been around for a couple of decades now, and their desirability shows no signs of abating.    

2. Large closets and pantries

Perhaps the popularity of spending time and money in malls has led to the need for more – and more easily organizable – storage space.  The proliferation of professional closet organizers, and of chain stores dedicated to organization, shelving, and containers attests to this trend as well.  When it comes to the large closets, there is probably a connection between the trend towards minimalism and the desire for ever more and larger closets: less furniture and shelves in a minimalistic room means you need more closet space for your things.  In the kitchen, a trend towards open shelving means there is a need for a closet to hide all the foodstuff that used to be in kitchen cabinets.

3. Walk-in showers and soaking tubs.

Taking showers rather than baths has also become more prevalent over the last few decades.  Perhaps it goes together with the fact that everyone is always rushing these days! And given the greying of America, combined with a trend to have seniors live at home as long as possible, walk-in showers are even more important for accessibility.  People tend to be interested in tubs primarily for children and pets. And when they do want a tub, they want it without the hassles of cleaning and repairing a jacuzzi. So soaking tubs have come into favor.

Of course, we could make much longer and more detailed lists of the differences.  But with the few key elements highlighted above, you should be able to focus in on the issues and figure out how they affect you.   


Chris Kostopoulos can help you with buying and selling property.  He can answer your questions about renovations and their impact on sales value.  And he can refer you to contractors and tradespeople. You can contact Chris by phone at 857-829-0282 or email him at

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