Every generation seems to say that the quality of home construction during the time they’re alive is the worst. Remember Malvina Richards and “little boxes of ticky tacky”? Those houses she was singing about in Daly City, California were built during the 1950s and 1960s, and most are doing quite well.
I’m working on a side project for one suburban community where the vast majority of housing was built in the 1950s. Their problem: the houses that were thought of as cheap at the time they were built are still structurally very sound. However, they’re functionally obsolete, with small rooms, limited closet space, only one bathroom, and so on. They’re basically like your grandmother’s 1972 Dodge Dart; pretty much indestructible, but they suck for typical day-to-day driving when compared to newer cars. Hard to justify getting rid of a car that still runs well, but what do you do with it?
Today, outside of the most libertarian frontier towns, houses in most of the US and Canada are built subject to strict building codes, and building permitting and inspection processes. Treated lumber that is more resistant to rot is the norm; even if they’re not “real two-by-fours” they’ll last much longer than old lumber if exposed to the elements. HVAC, electrical (outside of the aluminum wiring years of the late 1960s) and plumbing systems are all more robust than tract houses of old. Yes, houses have been mass-produced since the late 1800s, although some believe that everything before WWII is custom.
When I drive through the countryside, I see a lot of inhabited pre-WWII houses with sagging roofs, lopsided porches, old additions with floors that bend down at an angle from the main house, and so on. I almost never see such deterioration on postwar houses. When I was house-hunting in Denver a while back, looking at 1920s-era bungalows, a good number had doors that wouldn’t shut properly; a sign of severe structural settling.
How are older houses “better” than newer homes? They’re usually built with comfort in the local climate in mind, sans air conditioning. Windows are arranged to capture light and breezes more effectively than a new house, which might not even have any windows on side walls. Some of the craftsmanship is better; mainly molding, doors and tile detail. Few realize, though, that the “immigrant craftsmen who once helped build the great cathedrals of Europe” (as is so often claimed in the Rust Belt cities) that framed and finished houses of old earned just a few dollars a day, despite being skilled tradesmen. You can have the same woodwork found in a starter house of 1925 in a new build, but don’t expect to pay 1925-adjusted-for-inflation rates for such work.
The “older is better” sentiment when it comes to cars, houses, household appliances and so on is usually the result of survivor bias, plain and simple.