What is the best decade for quality of multifamily construction

16 Replies

I was recently having a debate with my friend @Ben Leybovich regarding the best decade for quality of construction. For these purposes lets disqualify anything 1990+ and limit it to the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Newer is not always automatically better and there will always be varying quality or workmanship.

So ... assuming constant quality of actual construction and buying a 50+ unit apartment complex with NO deferred maintenance (I know its not possible), what would you prefer and why? I definately have my own opinions and I will share those later so as not to influence the debate.

I guess nobody has an opinion here?? For me I like post late 70s. No lead paint, galvanized plumbing, or master meter nonsense.

@Serge S. Quality varies so widely and is mostly dependent on the builder's skill. The best quality construction of the apartments I have is a renovated school that was built in two phases, the first in 1899 and the second in 1929. They of course are all brick and will be around a lot longer than me.

Clearly the older (60's) are less desirable due to the age, the look, the materials, etc.

In the 70's, it varies as early 70's still has some of the 60's construction materials, and the later 70's gets better. The newer the better is it will retain value better based solely on age alone (with everything else being equal.

That's my $.015 cents

I'm trying to remember what materials would be in the 80s that would be so bad.....

Building codes never become less restrictive, that means standards should be higher in the 80s. I recall the hotel walkway falling in KC due to bad concrete, that isn't in all buildings. Engineering was better.

Economic life will be greater with an 80s, since we aren't talking deferred maintenance. That means the building will be more valuable.

Energy efficiency was around more in the 80s than earlier, double pane glazing, better insulation was available. HVAC was more efficient.

Same with roofing materials, rubber roofs were around in the 80s, prior seems like they were pouring tar.

Don't want to assume any 80s loan but that shouldn't be there anyway.

I recall 80s projects having metal doors, not so popular in prior years.

The nice projects we had in the housing authority, the crown jewel was built in the 80s, an atrium 8 stories up, still one of the nicest apt buildings in the area.

No idea, you tell me why the 80s would not be more desirable so long as you did your due diligence. :)

The aughts. Specifically the 19-aughts, 1900-1910.

I lived in a triple-decker built in 1904 with woodwork and finish detail you won't find in any non-custom home today.

Richard, from a tenant's point of view such antique amenities are very nice, from an owner's perspective it's a nightmare as it can't be replaced or it's very expensive to replace if there is damage.

The question is which decade mentioned would be the best for an investor.

IMO, newer that is a quality build will be the better investment, simply as to the physical structure and design as well as amenities that meet the market demand.

It's not to say that a unit built in 1900, that has been totally rehabbed, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, windows/glass, insulated and so on would not be a great investment, it may well be, but I don't think we're going there.

So, @Ben Leybovich you seem to have a preference, can you mention why? :)

As an owner, my ease of maintenance & utility affordability by tenants & I will only come from a modern newer build. Who wants to deal with the lead, asbestos, mold & God knows what else to come down the pike with older housing stock?

I have a couple places built in the 70's that have ok insulation & original double pane windows, but the new homes have even better insulation (R19)& windows (low E) & doors. My new house is twice the size of my old house, but my new house costs half to heat & cool, that makes a huge difference in the cost & ease of ownership.

For me I like the "bones" of a property to be of solid build. If I had to pick a decade I would say the 50's if you can get over the asbestos issues.

The worst is the early 1900's because of foundations and balloon framing used at that time.

The 80's just had poor construction unless you buy a builders constructed house. I grew up in the 80's, trust me the builders at the time used the "good stuff" on their properties and whatever cheapest material they could find at the time for the general public.

At the end of the day its all what you can buy and get from the property. Would I buy a 60s property at 4-6 cap hell no, but a 90s+ property I would consider.

Originally posted by @Ben Leybovich :
@Bill Gulley

I don't like the 80es - plumbing is always an issue. They half-assed it!

I will take a solidly built brick 60-70es in lieu :)

Supply or drain side? I'd think it would have to do with the plumber on the supply side. I do recall the PVC changes and folks using the wrong glue for the type. May have been a learning curve.

I can agree with that, so long as I'm not living in the 60/70s. I suppose it's preference and I'd still think the other advantages would out weigh fixing some joints.....if that's what the issue is/was. :)

I do not really have a preferred decade, but take each building on its own.

There are always trade offs. As you reach back in time there will be materials and technologies used that have since been found to be harmful (lead, asbestos, formaldehyde, etc).

The really old buildings (the oughts to 40s/50s) require a concerted effort to bring to "modern" energy efficiency standards and the ultimate level of retrofit is limited by the fact these buildings were never designed or constructed to be air tight.

The City core in our area has lots of brick multi-unit buildings from the 50s and 60s most of which have undergone one or two refits in their long service. This is where you begin to encounter the modern (post war) bloom of new building materials - many of which have since been discovered to be toxic. Our experience has been many of these buildings have good bones, but as many are in serious states of decay and failure due to poor maintenance practices. You may need a troupe of hazmat suites to perform a significant renovation, but the end product can have another 50years of operational life.

In our area, the disposable building trend began in the 1970s and 80s ... and continues to this day. In just the past month, I have looked at two 30-35 year old buildings which are cheap, stick-built, minimum code, buildings which appear as though they were designed to be discarded after 30 - 50 years service {a very Japanese approach to building}.

In this lot you will find well built buildings, but they seem to be the minority. We are presently looking at one built in the early 90s that was definitely better executed then the surrounding members of its cohort.

So, my preference is a well designed and built building - {it goes without saying} at the right price - modern if possible, but not necessarily.

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From a rehabber's perspective, the 30's-50's are when the some of the good older practices of construction were still in use (ie, "overbuilt"), but the materials were much more consistent than in the late 19th and early 10th century.

I have a coach house that was built in the 40's behind a 1880-built brick home; the latter is very solid, but the brick isn't nearly as strong as the '40's structure. The coach house is rock solid, with little degradation or signs of settling.

In my opinion, it doesn't matter when the building was built as it concerns renovation: you're still using the most-recent, up-to-code solutions in the job. But mid-century buildings are a nice compromise between strength & "character" (which I really think helps sell leases).

Older buildings have a higher possibility of deferred maintenance, of course, but it's really the maintenance or lack thereof, not so much the age, that makes the difference.

Originally posted by @Bill Gulley :
I'm trying to remember what materials would be in the 80s that would be so bad.....

Building codes never become less restrictive, that means standards should be higher in the 80s. I recall the hotel walkway falling in KC due to bad concrete, that isn't in all buildings. Engineering was better.

Just FYI, it wasn't bad concrete that caused the collapse at the Hyatt Regency in KC. There was a last minute design change on the hanging rods that was done to simplify construction but ended up doubling the load on the connectors, which they weren't designed to handle.

I'm a degreed Civil Engineer and we studied the Hyatt Regency collapse in college. 100% due to faulty design....in other words, human error, not material related.

Originally posted by @Wade Sikkink :
Originally posted by @Bill Gulley:
I'm trying to remember what materials would be in the 80s that would be so bad.....
Building codes never become less restrictive, that means standards should be higher in the 80s. I recall the hotel walkway falling in KC due to bad concrete, that isn't in all buildings. Engineering was better.

Just FYI, it wasn't bad concrete that caused the collapse at the Hyatt Regency in KC. There was a last minute design change on the hanging rods that was done to simplify construction but ended up doubling the load on the connectors, which they weren't designed to handle.

I'm a degreed Civil Engineer and we studied the Hyatt Regency collapse in college. 100% due to faulty design....in other words, human error, not material related.

Yes, I didn't follow it that closely, I'm sure you're right. I recall the investigators laying into the concrete supplier, reconstructing the mixture and running tests on samples, that kind of stuck with me, seems the engineering firm did take a hit on that.

Wade, do you know of any material related issues that would make an 80s project undesirable? I can't think of any, except possibly the PVC glue that plumbers mixed up using the wrong type. :)

No, nothing that comes to mind. Overall I think buildings from the 80's probably have pretty good bones for the most part.

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