Is The Historic Look On A Home Worth A Premium Price?

While driving the other day, I kept thinking about why it is that we as homeowners tend to make decisions to invest a lot of money making  something new look like something old.  In my experience, this predisposition often heavily influences the purchasing decision in products such as siding, windows, doors, paint colors, and even furnishings and the way we decorate our homes.

At our company, United Home Experts, we go to great lengths with homes we work on to recreate siding and trim that looks like wood, but is made of composites, so there is no need for frequent repainting.  Many of our customers were very much against putting anything on or in their homes that appeared to be “fake”, “plastic” or appeared “inauthentic.”

But where does the fixation on traditional historic products come from?  In other words, why do we love these old things so much?  I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this at all. I’ve come to appreciate this, and have built a company that serves owners that love and want these very things.   My curiosity led me to research this behavior and has led me to propose a couple possible explanations for our actions.

1. The relationship of beauty and familiarity (What we are used to seeing on either our home, or homes like ours)

A study done by the Department of Psychology, Chungbuk National University, shed light on how familiarity with an object, like the exterior of a house, can affect whether a person thinks certain siding or colors are “beautiful.”  In this study fractal images were presented five times over 14 weeks. Fractal images are unfamiliar to people, hence used in this study to control their previous experience. A total of 800 fractal images were divided into five groups (160 images X 5 group), and three groups of images were presented to participants each time for five times. The results showed that beauty perception (do they think it’s good looking) increased considerably from the third to fifth time the image was shown.  These results suggest that a certain level of repeated exposure is necessary for subjects to become familiar, which in turn affect beauty perception.

In other words, if someone lives in a 2 story colonial with painted white cedar clapboards with 4.5” exposures (height between courses), and all of their neighbors have similar houses with similar clapboards, and possibly different colors, they are predisposed to think cedar clapboards  are beautiful.  Even if their clapboards are rotten and unsightly, they will most likely replace them with new cedar clapboards or have to see a different type of siding repeatedly before they would even consider changing the style on their home.  Any product they may look at will be judged against the appearance of these cedar clapboards as more or less beautiful and will come with the associated emotions to support or repel them.

2.  Fear of making a bad decision and devaluing what we already have. 

I tend to agree with the analysis found in a book written by American psychologist Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, ( New York: Harper Perennial, 2004)  where the author found that decision makers often find there to be a negative correlation between abundance of choices (like siding or color options) and our happiness.

Schwartz finds that when people are faced with having to choose one option out of many desirable choices, they will begin to consider hypothetical trade-offs (i.e. cost, maintenance, resale value, how long has this product has been around?, will I even like it a year from now?, etc.). Their options are evaluated in terms of missed opportunities instead of the opportunity’s potential (i.e. Am I missing an option that I don’t know about? What happens if something newer comes along?  What happens if I make a bad choice and the product fails?  Will I look like an idiot? Am I devaluing my home?).

Schwartz maintains that one of the downsides of making trade-offs is it alters how we feel about the decisions we face; afterwards, it affects the level of satisfaction we experience from our decision.  I agree, as I’ve seen many times homeowners considering new siding do multiple hours of research, meet with many different contractors and look at many very different siding options, yet still  end up choosing (settling)  with the same product they currently have on their home, often times with very little enthusiasm.  And when this decision is cedar clapboard or shingles, historically like it is in my part of the country, it comes at a premium cost.  It feels like they have resigned to what they hope is the “old faithful,” but at least it got done when it needed to.

I hope you’ve found my thoughts insightful.


Written by

2nd generation siding contractor with hands-on experience. Siding chief estimator and trainer for the company. A leader in the siding industry, John has been cited in several articles in multiple publications. John has also developed estimating, ordering, and installation procedures and has been involved in well over 5000 remodeling/replacement projects. He has been invited to many industry roundtables, and has received Awards of Excellence in 2010 & 2011, and also an award from Inc. Magazine for outstanding company growth.

1 Response to "Is The Historic Look On A Home Worth A Premium Price?"

  1. John Ellsworth says:

    I liked it. One consideration about choices and reasons you didn’t include was historical absolute. If one lives in a 180 year old house (me), cedar clapboards become almost a forced decision, expense not with standing. And we did got that way. The old ones lasted 165 years; if we paint well, these may also.


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