Owning a historic home certainly comes with its own set of benefits and challenges. You need to make sure that you are ready for the challenges and responsibilities—financially, emotionally, and even physically. Beyond its unique and charming characteristics, it is also important to determine whether the home meets your lifestyle and certain life choices.
Historic homes often close at higher sale prices because of their historical value, and many of these are in high demand in certain regions in the US. Once listings for historic homes become available, which only happens once in a while, you can be sure that there will be no shortage of buyers.
What’s the difference between an old house and a historic home?
The National Register of Historic Places, which is maintained by the National Park Service, gives historic homes their specific designation. Historic homes are included in an official list that differentiates them from ordinary old homes. These homes must also be at least 50 years old. They received their designation because of age, architectural style, and value, cultural significance, or if they were once the residence of a historically significant person. There are now over 90,000 listed historic properties in the National Register since its inception in 1966. Another organization that lists historical homes and celebrates their diverse history is the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
One of the most famous historic homes that are privately owned is The Painted Ladies in San Francisco, California, which features an iconic row of historical Victorian homes. Meanwhile, the French Quarter in New Orleans remains one of the most popular historic neighborhoods. Likewise, many famous historic homes now serve as museums and provide daily or weekly guided tours for locals and tourists alike.
Here are the pros and cons you need to weigh out before buying a historic home:
1. Exudes alluring beauty and charm
Have you always loved the feeling of going back in time? Historic homes will certainly transport you to a certain period or era through their stunning architectural styles and outstanding beauty and charm. This is true regardless of whatever style you love—Victorian, Colonial, a Queen Anne, or even a Gothic Revival.
From ornate stone fireplaces, balustrades, bay windows, vintage door knockers, and even arched doorways, to sturdy gables, turrets, and towers, there are so many intricate details to love in a historic home. They are unlike many contemporary homes, which are less distinctive. Their unique charm simply can’t be found in these modern properties. For many homeowners and enthusiasts, it may even take months or years before they notice all of the home’s striking features. Many historic homes also represent the best of a particular architectural style.
Historic homes maintain their charm and durability despite enduring years of hardships. This is one of the reasons why these dwellings still exist today and haven’t lost their appeal. Those intricate details, as well as the high level of craftsmanship, are often enough for aspiring buyers to seriously consider owning a historic home.
2. Overwhelming with history
Historic homes boast not only of charming characteristics but also their own interesting history. Aspiring historians, history buffs, or any “old soul” will love living in a historic home because it will let you connect with the town’s past and the unique stories of the people who lived there. These houses play an integral part in their town’s history and heritage.
3. Potential tax incentives and benefits
There are certain tax incentives or tax deductions available to owners of historic homes. The Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program, for an instance, offers a 20 percent federal tax credit specifically for the historic preservation and rehabilitation of properties listed in the National Register and used for income-producing purposes. Aside from federal programs, many states and local governments also offer financial incentives in the form of tax credits to those who want to purchase and preserve them. Lower interest loans are also available for renovation and preservation of historic homes that are otherwise not available to other homeowners.
Our modern tip: Do your research to find out if you are eligible for any of these tax abatements and loans. While these incentives won’t make you rich, they can significantly improve your financial standing after owning a historic home. Check into all the possibilities for a local or regional grant. Similarly, don’t be afraid to reach out to current owners of historic homes in your area to understand the local tax situation and potential financial grants.
4. You help protect and keep your town’s history alive
By purchasing a historic home and becoming an owner of a piece of history, you are helping to keep history alive. Even if you make the home your own by renovating its interior and keeping up with the necessary repairs and updates, you are preserving it while giving it a new life at the same time.
Many homeowners believe that restoring these historic treasures brings more value that can’t be measured in money. It is because they are also helping other people, past owners and locals alike, to retain their connection to the home and its history. You are encouraging them to continue loving and honoring their heritage. Think of it as a humble and exemplary contribution to the preservation of an important aspect of history. For many history buffs, it can be a dream come true and accomplishing one of their life’s missions as well.
5. Historic districts can protect your home’s value
If you’re the type of homeowner who has always been disappointed by your neighbor’s decision to paint his/her house in hideous colors or make any unsightly additions, then you must have longed for a law that would protect you from their bad choices. Well, you’ll probably be interested in owning a home located in a historic district. They have strict rules and standards on what renovations or additions can be made to the external appearance of the homes to protect the surrounding property values. Your home’s value will be worth more in a historic district.
Similarly, well-maintained historic homes are likely to hold on to their values even if an economic downturn hits the region. These dwellings are desirable since anyone can be assured that no more of them are being made. Many people also look to buy a historic home because the possibility of a financial windfall is strong when the owner is ready to sell.
1. May require costly repairs and renovations
One of the biggest challenges of owning a historic home is that it requires a lot of upkeep and repairs. Well, it may already be a given since most historic homes are at least 50 years old. If you decide to buy a historic home and take on this kind of responsibility, make sure that you have the finances to maintain and restore the property. There may be a need to replace the roof and plumbing or perform necessary electrical repairs. It’s especially crucial for historic homes that haven’t been properly preserved.
Our modern tip: Many homeowners start with a regular bank loan to fund most of the immediate repairs. Then they save up for additional costs for any custom-made renovations they want and can incorporate in parts of the home.
2. Could have potential structural issues
Old homes could present structural issues and damage often caused by rot and old age, damp problems, and even termites. These homes could also have cracked walls and sloping floors. For homes that are built before 1978, there’s the possible presence of lead paint or high level of asbestos.
Our modern tip: Get a formal home inspection conducted by a qualified home inspector or a structural engineer, especially those who have experience in dealing with issues of historic or older homes. Make sure that regardless of its charm, the house still meets safety and health standards especially if you will make it your primary residence.
However, if your dream house suffers from major structural problems, then perhaps it’s time to look at other historic homes on your list. The list of headaches the house could potentially bring you can surely outweigh all emotional attachments you may have.
3. It can be difficult to find contractors who will do the work
There may be plenty of trusted contractors in your area, but not all of them have the skills and expertise needed to help you with the necessary repairs for your historic home. Homeowners should seek out the help of a contractor who specializes in historic restorations because they can better assess the damage and the repairs required on certain features, rather than just replacing them with newer and substandard versions.
Our modern tip: Visit reliable historic home forums and websites to gain information on contractors and specialists that may be able to assist you better. After that, get a price estimate for all the necessary repair work from each contractor you’re considering.
4. You may have limited design choices
When you own a historic home there will be a constant need for upkeep and repairs. However, not all renovations can be done and you must adhere to certain rules and guidelines strictly imposed by local and state laws. Homeowners may not be able to do any changes, renovations, or alterations without special permits from the town or city. Some of the typical restrictions include home additions like adding extra footage or stories; replacing the windows, shutters, or roofs using a material different from their original architectural design and style, and even landscaping that may not match the property’s character.
These restrictions are frequently imposed to preserve the home’s true nature and original construction, as well as to protect the character of the property and the designated historic district. This is one of the main reasons why many choose not to live in a historic home. It is not for those who already have their dream renovations in mind like having a fully-equipped kitchen or painting the home in their personal color palette. If such renovations already exist in the home and sacrifice its integrity, or if you plan to make your own additions without consulting with your city development office, they can devalue your home.
Our modern tip: Your city’s local preservation commission will be responsible for issuing a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) to approve work on buildings in a historic district. While some districts are more lenient in issuing COAs, it’s good to research which restoration projects will require you to apply for one. Likewise, study the Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings that are imposed by your local/state laws so that you can carefully plot out and fulfill your remodeling plans after necessary adjustments.
5. Your home insurance can be more expensive
The homeowners’ insurance on historic homes is often more expensive because of certain factors, such as their size, age, and even their distinct architectural features that might be difficult to replace. Many personal insurance companies don’t offer the type of coverage needed to ensure these types of homes, so homeowners will have to obtain historic property insurance, which is definitely more expensive. Likewise, older homes often pose many structural issues so insurance rates could be increased.
Aside from that, because homes in local historic districts tend to have higher property values, it can also bring higher property taxes. It will be another burden if you decide to purchase a historic home without a good financial standing.
Seek help from a real estate agent – When house hunting, it’s advisable to seek help from a realtor who has experience with historic homes. Ask him or her whether or not you’re looking in a designated historic neighborhood. Your real estate agent can also educate you in advance regarding the costs and responsibilities associated with owning a historic home.
Contact your city’s development office – Before purchasing your own piece of history, do as much research as you can so that you’ll know exactly your duties and responsibilities as a homeowner. Just think that you’re studying for a particular homework assignment in History 101, so reach out to as many resources as possible. Contact your city’s development office and join online historic forums, reviews, and websites to help prepare yourself emotionally and financially.
You will learn a lot – Remember that it is not only the history of the home that you may unveil afterward, but you’ll also discover other skills and treasured life lessons along the way. The whole experience may bless you with the necessary patience, strength, perseverance, and courage, especially on taking on a restoration project that you thought you couldn’t do.
Are you in love with a historic home but not quite ready for it?
If you really want to purchase something similar to a historic home but your bank account can’t afford it, it is advisable to search for a non-historic home with similar features located outside the historical preservation area in a nearby neighborhood. Look for homes that are of the same age and have the architectural style that you love, but have not received official designation from the city or local government. That way, you can avoid the costs associated with higher property values, but that also means you won’t get tax credits and other preservation incentives available only to owners of designated historic homes.