Buying a Historic Home: What You Need to Know

5 May 2016 0


You’ve always dreamed of buying a historic home with 100-year-old hardwood floors and a hand-carved fireplace mantle. And if the property has a historically significant tie to the community, you’ll probably be even more in love with the idea of restoring its rich history. However, there are some regulations in regard to restoring historic homes. Before you buy one, here’s what you should know.

What Is a Historic Property?
A home may be deemed historical at a federal, state or city level based on the property itself, or because it’s located in a historical district.

Richard Wilcox from Petraglia Real Estate Services in Douglas, Massachusetts has worked with antique and historic properties for over 12 years. He says a home can be considered historic by its existence, and by its interior and exterior qualities. “I know of dozens of houses that have no such official designation and yet are each more than worthy of being lifted directly off of their foundations and lowered by helicopter into any museum of American history,” Wilcox commented.

However, there are official historical designations you should know about as you shop for a vintage home:

  • City: A city’s governing body may deem a home historical based on the community’s individual requirements.
  • State: State-level historical commissions and State Historic Preservation Officers maintain lists of historical homes in individual states.
  • Federal: On a national level, a historic home may be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but it can be a costly, involved process for the homeowner. Greg Hanson of Addison Wolfe Real Estate in Bucks County, Pennsylvania says this federal designation has three components, and to be deemed historical, a home may need to meet one of the following requirements:
    • The property must be over 50 years old.
    • The structure must still exhibit original attributes of a certain time period.
    • The property must be linked to a historical event or person.

What Ordinances Can Homeowners Expect?

Most city, state and federal regulations focus on the front of a historic home, so homeowners may have to adhere to guidelines in regard to parts of the property that are visible from the street or sidewalk. Often, interiors are not regulated.

Hanson explained, “The goal of the guidelines is to try and ensure that the properties within a historic district maintain as much of the original period aesthetic as possible. Restrictions can involve siding material, replacement windows, lighting or color.”

Potential buyers should also inquire about possible deed restrictions with historical covenants filed by a previous homeowner, Wilcox added. These ordinances may include both interior and exterior rules to maintain the integrity of the home.

Tips for Buying a Historic Home

Although there are many romantic notions of having a home with gas-powered sconces or a carriage house, historic homes often require more maintenance and care than more modern homes.

Michael Kelczewski, of Brandywine Fine Properties Sotheby’s International Realty in Wilmington, Delaware, says buyers should be aware of making necessary updates to keep the home safe. Don’t be surprised if the historic home you have your heart set on needs updating to the electrical wiring, plumbing hazards corrected, lead-based paint removed or asbestos mitigated before the home passes inspections that are required to secure financing.

“An antique/historic home offers a level of character, charm, warmth and quality of craftsmanship that most who love them feel is just not available in new construction or more recently built homes,” Wilcox elaborated. “Many of the features antique/historic homeowners enjoy are multiple fireplaces, moldings, window types, flooring and outbuildings such as barns and stables that are very hard or impossible to find in newer construction. Additionally, the landscape around a two- or three-hundred year home is usually much more mature, offering tall trees, interesting species, and more mature shrubbery, gardens and lawns.”

Before buying a historic home, be sure to familiarize yourself with these tips and research all specific requirements and regulations you should be aware of. Before you know it, you’ll be preserving and celebrating the past while you indulge in the features and character that only older homes can provide.

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