The first-time buyer: Brick vs frame

Hi again. I’ve always been a sucker for frame houses but as I continue my search for a home, everyone is urging me to consider brick. Then today, the Web site Chicago Metro Area Real Estate alerted me to a story in the Daily Herald about a University of Michigan study which concluded that homes with three sides of masonry sell at 2.5 percent higher than frame homes. The study, commissioned by some brick industry people (their Web site is Go Brick(!)), was based on home sales in Hoffman Estates, Streamwood, Orland Park and Tinley Park between 1978 and 2005.

Interestingly, the study found that masonry ordinances tend to close the gap in home prices between the north and south suburbs. Some of the community leaders quoted in the story said that they introduced brick ordinances in order to get some variety to the aesthetics of their neighborhoods. Ironically, brick has become the new bland in neighborhods in the city of Chicago. All these new condos and big-ass single-family homes look the same, which makes the old frame homes seem new again. But I’m going to consider the virtues of brick a little more closely in terms of resale and general quality. And there are some cute old brick houses around. What does everyone else think?


  • I will never forget shortly after moving here in 1999 from spending my entire life on the West Coast, laughing my ass off at a commmercial I saw from the Brick Council. Their slogan: “Brick, It’s just better” They showed examples of a kid hitting a baseball against aluminum siding vs. brick. I was waiting for them to use the example of a wood frame home vs. brick in the arson test.

    Too funny.

  • “Here, we poured gasoline over this frame house and lit a match and look how it went up in smoke, with our baseball-playing kid still inside.”

  • NSH 13 years

    Pre-EPA, brick home all the way. In the mid 70’s the EPA shut down all but three of the major suppliers of Brick in the United States leaving consumers with half a dozen styles of brick to choose from. Before the crack down there were hundreds of different styles from dozens of suppliers. This is also the reason all modern brick homes look so homogenized

  • That’s not really true. There’s only a limited number of styles kept in stock, but if you can accomodate the long lead time, you can get nearly anything. The one brick that isn’t made anymore is “chicago common” which is what you see on the interior of old lofts.

  • NSH 13 years

    pk, please let me know where I can get reproductions of yellow brick, A friend of mine is doing work on his his bungalow and the contractor told him the only way to get the brick was to tear it off someone else’s house. The previous owner removed the basement arch and replaced it with glass block. He is trying to recreate it but needs the matching brick. His home is similar to the middle pic

  • try
    call and talk to a salesman

  • one more thing. exact matches are problematic, but there are brick stains, and with some experimentation, you can maybe use stain to get close.

  • NSH 13 years

    Thanks PK I’ll pass the info on!

  • I’ve heard that a reason for fewer masonry buildings is also cost/shortage of masons.

  • Click for larger image

    Take a look at the photos of this recently-built home in Wilmette. Looks an awful lot like “Chicago common” brick to me. The architects will know where the brick came from.

    Twenty-five years ago I had a contractor who scoured up Chicago common yellow from a yard in northern Indiana to rebuild part of one of my rehab projects. I’ve long since forgotten where.

  • NSH 13 years

    Joe can you get me the name of the window manufacturer? If not I’ll give the architect a call. I NEED THOSE WINDOWS!

  • NSH,

    I don’t have any info – try the architects, Morgante-Wilson.

  • Joe 13 years

    Resale is much easier with brick. You have a large number of buyers that simply won’t consider frame. You can buy a lot more house if you are willing to sacrifice brick for frame, but it really is a sacrifice in terms of resale value (or at least how easy it is to sell). Ironically, in terms of what is most important, I’m not really sure how brick vs. frame stacks up performance-wise.

    As for the cookie-cutter look, you can always put siding on brick. It might even be a pretty good idea for older places–you can always have it removed for relatively cheap, and it will protect the brick while you are there.

  • The funny thing about this is that on the West Coast, it wouldn’t be a smart idea to buy brick.

    If a serious earthquake were to ever hit Chicago, the town would be leveled to a pile of bricks. The frame houses however, would fare much better.

  • anon 13 years

    Just curious…does anyone know someone who has used Amazing Siding, whose commercials run endlessly on certain radio stations? Is it really that good?

  • NSH 13 years

    I’ve used nailite siding with great results. about 3x the price of standard vinyl, but worth every penny.

  • Good post and topic… I read that story too.

    I’m rehabbing a brick bungalow for sale in North Mayfair and may run into the matching brick problem for the front exterior stairs.

    In the $350K to $500K price point, most of my home buyers want brick. I think it’s psychological… seems like it is more solid… looks better than worn wood or outdated siding.

    To get a big brick bungalow home for the least money in the nicest neighborhood… North Mayfair demands attention.

  • Devyn,

    Do you know Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo? It’s not all about brick vs frame.

  • anon 13 years

    And then of course there’s stucco, which still rules in many parts of California but never seemed to take hold in Illinois.

    Am I the only one familiar with the legendary Lustron (steel-sided) houses? There was one in the Joliet neighborhood where I grew up, and they were scattered among several other suburbs as well. Supposedly the powers-that-be (both contractors and unions) “conspired” to discourage the spread of these very practical living spaces.

  • Can you rustle up a picture of a steel-sided house Anon?

  • Anon, I featured a Lustron home in Dubuque on my blogs previous incarnation last year.

    Old Looper

    Joe, FLW’s Imperial Hotel was demolished in the name of progress before a big enough earthquake happened to to the dirty work.

  • Devyn,

    The Imperial Hotel actually survived the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 – the big one.

  • Alison, you can use the one from my site which I linked to above.

  • Joe,
    Goes to show how well FLW designed it then.

  • Japaul777 13 years

    Stucco, frame or brick. Stucco would not last in Illinois due to the weather conditions – it can only last for about 15 minutes in rain — hence all of the mold problems in the southwest when they do get heavy rains. (Been through it — had to do mold remediation on a stucco home in Vegas after the 2005 rains. It rained for a week straight and the water soaked right through causing mold issues. It was a vacation home so nobody was there during this time frame. It happened to a lot of homes in Vegas in January of ’05)

    Frame is cheaper to put up but has higher maintenance costs in the long run. The king is cut stone. Do a search in for a really good (Independent) study on appreciation values when it comes to brick, stucco or frame. 1) cut stone is tops, 2) Brick, 3) Frame and 4) Stucco. And of course, the price for these materials are in the same order. On top of that, It takes more skill to lay stone and brick… (higher cost) then framing. For stucco…well you can read the how to sign at Home Depot to learn how to stucco. The cost of hiring skilled tradesman goes up each year… it’s pretty much common sense what has the best appreciation values.