Last spring, I met with a real-estate agent and listened while she told me about the kind of house I should buy. A new house, she advised, with all new appliances and the latest innovations in wiring, plumbing, and heating -- maybe even a condo. My horrified expression stopped her mid-sentence. Actually, I explained dreamily, I'm looking for an older home with charm and quirky character. I want big windows, hardwood floors, and a garden.