This Old House

Contributing blogger Charlie Schwartz, II, shares real estate insight steeped in family tradition in the January 2021 Schwartz Report

My father was fond of dispensing real estate bromides in the form of little parables that more often than not had snappy punch lines.   They often left the receiver scratching their head trying to winnow out what he was intending.  For example, take these two which are particularly appropriate to today’s inventory starved seller’s market:  “You can’t sell fruit from an empty wagon”; or, “You wouldn’t go to Happy Harry’s if Happy Harry didn’t have anything on the shelf.”  By which he meant to charge us with the need to urge more sellers to put their homes on the market NOW! For a buyer’s market when prices were too high and showing activity stagnant, there was this one: “Too much weight stops the freight.” That generates images of a little steam engine struggling to pull a heavy load up an impossible incline much like a seller trying to get more for his property than the current market will bear.

To a buyer, most appropriately to a first time buyer, there’s this gem:  “Never buy a home on a road with a line down the middle of it.” This gets at the three most important things about residential real estate, location, location and location. Highway departments put lines on roads with significant traffic counts, don’t they? So stay away from them. Here’s one that will need some explaining. It gets to the subject at hand:  “Never buy a home that is older than you are.” This seems like the most improbable dictate of them all. It might be difficult to follow especially in our three state market area where many homes date well into the last century and beyond.

photo scanned from “Houses, The Illustrated Guide to Construction, Design and Systems” by Henry Harrison

Here he was advising that you not take on more of a fixer upper than your age, finances, temperament and or experience will allow. A historic home, one full of “character”, which may have been the former residence of some important family, might just be a project that you take on at your peril, a bridge too far. The illustration above is one of 56 that appear in the first reference book that I bought after starting in the business. Houses, The Illustrated Guide to Construction, Design and Systems by Henry Harrison was published in conjunction with the National Association of Realtors in 1973 and many sections, particularly those dealing with classic home architecture, are still valid today. Want to know the difference between a Cape Cod Colonial and a Cape Ann Colonial or a Dutch Colonial and a Salt Box Colonial; it’s in there. You will find a Swiss Chalet and a Spanish Villa as well.

When you consider that European settlers began constructing homes on the Atlantic Seaboard in the early 1600’s and that many of those dwellings survive in one state of repair or another to this day, it’s not difficult to fathom the appeal of owning such a place. Perhaps fond memories linger of the This Old House show on WHYY where the team came to the rescue of a historic treasure.

But remember the lighthouse keeper is also responsible for the light house’s upkeep.

You will also meet an interesting and interested group of people who may at any moment become your not-so-silent partners in the endeavor. This is especially true if you have any changes in mind.  Imagine something as simple as repainting the house in the exact same color that it has been for years and having to get someone’s approval to do it. A seller of mine who was the proud owner of a 200 plus year old farm house on the historical register referred to these preservationists as the “hysterical review committee”.  That farmhouse is still there but the new owners started with not just “wide pine floors and cast iron latch door handles, horsehair plaster walls and antique wallpaper.” They also got “…windows that won’t close, sagging rafters and old water stains on cracked ceilings…” and “…an electrical system that consists of well-fed rats physically carrying tiny baskets of electricity to the lamps and appliances…”  a reference no doubt to the knob and tube wiring. The preceding quotes are taken from Kris Frieswick’s “Historic Home Horror Show” that appeared in a MANSION section of the Wall Street Journal this past December.

Owning a historic home will make you proud but also be prepared to become the museum’s curator, the lighthouse’s keeper and as Kris Frieswich advises:  “Put the following professionals on retainer:  A master plumber, an electrician and a furnace specialist.” You might also throw in a master mechanic, carpenter and cabinet maker. And before you choose your team ask each of them, what is the oldest historic home they have ever worked on. If they can describe their experience positively and without breaking down they’re keepers.

About Patterson-Schwartz: A Sixty Year Legacy

Patterson-Schwartz Real Estate opened for business on December 1, 1961, when William D. Patterson, Charles E. Schwartz and a small group of associates left the firm of Hanby, Patterson-Schwartz, Inc., Realtors to form their own company. The fledgling group began business in a semi-detached house at 1013 Washington Street in Wilmington, Delaware, with a staff of just 10 people. Today Patterson-Schwartz has grown to a sales team and corporate staff of over 400 strong and has expanded to nine locations that stretch from Brandywine Hundred to the Delaware Beaches.

Read more

Content by Charlie Schwartz, II ©2021. Visit for more Schwartz Report content.