If you are a home buyer, you may have fallen in love with an historic home or with a home in an historic district. Although historic homes have an appeal and charm for many home buyers, there are certain restrictions and expenses you need to know about before sealing the deal.
While being the proud owner of a piece of history or of a structure that may literally be one-of-a-kind is alluring, you may run into unexpected complications when purchasing vintage homes. Older homes may have serious structural programs that you would not encounter in a new house, as well as hidden problems which will only surface later. Furthermore, owners of historic homes are required to follow strict home rehabilitation guidelines, many of which allow you to repair but not to rebuild or to replace.
To help protect your future home investment,
here is some vital information and expert advice about buying an historic home.
What constitutes an historic home?
A home is deemed historic or "architecturally significant" by the National Register of Historic Places (or by the local historic board) if it exemplifies a signature architectural style, captures the essence of a given time period, or is associated with famous people from the past. Also included in this category are homes located in neighborhoods that have been designated as historic districts.
Benefits of buying an historic home
The aesthetic beauty of historic homes is a magnet for many home buyers, as is the ground-breaking, often unmatched architecture that has withstood the test of time. Other home buyers are attracted to the historical significance of the home or district, or have an attachment to the era that these iconic homes represent.
If you are thinking about buying an historic home, you will be happy to learn that additional benefits may accompany the purchase of an historic property. Many states and local governments offer tax incentives in the form of tax credits or lower interest loans for preserving and restoring historic structures. Although you have to qualify for these tax abatements and while the amounts won't make you rich, they are still benefits you would not otherwise receive when buying a new house.
Advice on buying historic homes
Now that you have set your sights on a vintage home, it's time to get down to the nuts and bolts of purchasing your coveted property. Before you sign on the dotted line, here is some expert advice on buying an older house:
- Have a formal home inspection conducted by a qualified home inspector who specializes in older homes and/or by a structural engineer.
- Get price estimates from contractors regarding all necessary repair work.
- Make sure the house meets safety and health standards, including passing asbestos and lead paint tests.
- If your dream house suffers from major structural problems, walk away! The long-term headaches will far outweigh your emotional attachment.
- Carefully study the Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings imposed by local/state laws on owners of historic structures. You may have remodeling/expansion plans that you will not be able to fulfill.
Historic home restrictions
Since the goal of historic home renovation is to preserve a home's true nature and original construction, a home buyer wishing to renovate must obtain special permits and is subject to restrictions aimed at protecting the character of the property or neighborhood.
Here are some of the typical restrictions and extra costs you need to know about before buying an historic home:
- Additions: Rarely are homeowners permitted to add footage to historic homes, including extra stories.
- Windows, shutters and roofs: Since house exteriors such as windows, shutters and roofs embody the original architecture or design style, they are to be preserved and can only be replaced in kind. If costly construction materials are involved, this may be an added expense you did not anticipate.
- Taxes: Although you may qualify for tax benefits for investing in a home or in a district where preservation and restoration are priorities, tax levies for merely living in a historic neighborhood may be higher than other neighborhoods.
- Utility bills: Before you seal the deal, study the previous year's energy bills. It may cost you significantly more to heat and cool an older home than a new one.