Blog :: 11-2011

Ranch Dressing

The ranch home has a hard time in New England, primarily because it has no connection to the region's much-cherished Colonial past. But like the rest of the country, New England has its share of post-war ranch homes. Of the over 28,000 homes currently listed for sale in Massachusetts, 17% are identified as ranch style compared to 41% identified as Colonial style. Ranch homes were built in the late 1940s to the early 1970s. The style started in California, and by 1950 nine out of 10 newly built houses were "ranch-types."

Architectural historians have made jokes like, "I'll die if they start trying to preserve ranch-style homes." Well guess what? That day is here. Ranch homes are an American architectural form, and appreciation is growing. Check out Atomic Ranch magazine to see true fan enthusiasm.

The ranches generating negative reactions are likely the tiny post-war houses that many of us grew up in. Sometimes they are derogatively called Ranch Burgers. I was raised in a 980-square-foot, three-bedroom brick ranch in Michigan. Attention current real estate agents: try proposing that housing option to a family with four children. But our ranch-type house represented normal middle-class living in the 1960s. (My parents did add on in the 1970s, but just like many additions, the extra space was added after two kids had already left for college.)

So why the passions for and against the ranch? Like every other house style, ranches have good points and bad points but much of that depends on what you are used to and whether you are a first-time homebuyer or an empty nester.

A ranch is the perfect starter home for a young couple. Imagine coming from a city apartment and having your own beautiful, mature yard and efficient space to accommodate all of your activities, including a huge basement for hobbies or entertaining.

Older homebuyers, or those with disabilities, also appreciate ranches. First-floor bedrooms are essential for many people or simply sought after for their convenience. Affordability in a mature neighborhood has wonderful appeal to first-timer buyers as well as empty nesters.

The rambler is another name for a ranch and it connotes a sprawling custom ranch. The mid-century modern lovers like our California couple house hunting in the Boston area would gobble up a rambler. Because these ranches sprawl, they usually have a large lot to go with them. Lots of glass and retro features add modern appeal.

The large ranch or rambler is appealing to discerning buyers, if they either seek mid-century design or don't respond to "traditional" architecture. Many of these buyers would say that a Colonial is boring. And going up and down stairs is just a pain.

So give the ranch its due and take a fresh look. A open, airy rambler could be the answer to a family's dream. A neighborhood of small ranches could be just the thing for the cost-conscious buyer, proving the adage, "what's old is new again."