Seven Things First-Time Historic Home Buyers Need To Know
Published May 18, 2016
Historic homes are full or mystery and culture – owning one can be a great way to connect with both the past and the future of your community.
Older homes are both charming and intriguing – be sure to know the special responsibilities that come along with owning a historic home before you sign the mortgage papers so you don’t end up with more than you bargained for.
Perhaps it started when you walked home from school. You would always slow down your pace as you passed the older Victorian home with its gabled roof and inviting wrap-around porch. Or maybe you were always fascinated by stories of days gone by, and now take day-trips to historic sites near your town. Whatever brought you to this point, it was a powerful force in your life and your heart is now set on buying your own historic home.
Even if this is not your first home purchase, historic homes can have their own specific challenges for first-time historic home buyers. If you know what to expect in advance, your home-buying process will be smoother and more satisfying.
Is It Registered?
As a rule, a “historic home” must meet three criteria: (1) it must be of a certain age, generally 50 years or older; (2) it must be in close to original condition, with defining architectural features still intact; and (3) it must have historical architectural significance, or be associated with an important historic event. Many owners of established historic homes have it registered with The National Register of Historic Places. If the property you are interested in is not registered, do some research and make sure it meets all three criteria.
Find A Home Inspector Who Specializes In Historic Homes.
Once you find your home, it is critical that you get a qualified home inspector. Older homes are much more complicated to inspect, and it takes a special kind of expertise. Many home inspectors who specialize in historic homes are members of the Historic Building Inspectors Association. This association demands that all member inspectors are well qualified to evaluate and report on structural and mechanical aspects in historic buildings. Their members understand historic preservation standards and practices; you can read more about this group, and find a registered home inspector at http://www.inspectistoric.org.
Find Out About The Electrical System.
Older homes can be a true joy, except when they are in need of costly updates. One area that many older homes need updating in is in their electrical system. It should not be totally unexpected if the home inspector tells you that all the old wiring needs to be replaced. Sometimes the fuse box is not large enough to accommodate all of your modern necessities, such as computers and televisions. To correct these problems, you will need to hire a licensed electrician who understands and is able to integrate older and newer electric systems. Of course, he also must be an expert on your town’s local electrical codes. At the time of purchase, known electrical deficiencies can be incorporated into your price negotiations.
Be Prepared To Love It Or Leave It.
Many local historic home associations place strict restrictions on what kind of upgrades can be done on their registered homes. Generally, repairs can be made to elements of the home, but structures cannot be added to or replaced. So, adding a back porch or additional square footage most likely will not be allowed. If items like windows or roofs need repair, you will need to replace them with similar building materials – this can be both time consuming and costly, so make sure you go in with your eyes wide open as to the responsibilities that will be on your shoulders once you purchase the home.
Get Price Estimates On Contracting Work.
Most likely, if the home has not had a new owner in some time, there will be upgrades you will initially need to put into motion to meet certain building codes. Or, there may be other updates you will want to make immediately, such as fixing a leak in a slate roof (a fairly common issue in older houses). Get price estimates from contractors experienced with historic homes and make sure you are aware of these costs before you make your offer or end your attorney review period. Going back to the example given previously, a slate roof on a historic home is much more costly to repair than fixing an asphalt shingle roof on a modern home. Avoid surprises by doing your homework.
For A Moment, Think About Reselling.
Wait a minute … you’re in home buying mode. Why this talk about reselling? The fact is: historic homes may be more difficult to sell. Unless you live in an area that people flock to because of the historic homes, you may find that your home is less in demand. This can mean that it may take you longer to sell the house, or that you could risk a price reduction if you need to sell in a hurry. Home resale value is always something you should give some thought to when purchasing. Generally a home is one of the largest purchases an individual or couple will ever make, and it is important to consider all aspects of your home purchase. Historic homes are incredible to own, but each one is truly a labor of love.
And Now For Some Great News …
If you qualify, your state and/or local governments - as well as the federal government - may offer tax incentives to help you preserve or restore your historic home. These incentives may take the form of tax credits or lower interest loans, and are certainly worthwhile for you to check out.
Now that you are aware of some of the things to look for when purchasing an old home, it is time to go ahead with the fun part! Viewing a historic home as a potential buyer is a great experience; it’s almost like studying a piece of history and local culture, and deciding if you want to be part of its future – an awesome opportunity for anyone with a passion for history or a love for old homes.