5 Critical Things To Know Before Buying A Historic Home

Image via Matt Watts, Home Adore
Image via Matt Watts, Home Adore

Maybe the allure of a historic home is your taste – a home that comes with a story. A home that is filled the character of a bygone era. However romantic a historic home can be, it also comes with a certain set of considerations. Before signing on the dotted line, you might wonder if the home is up to code? How expensive is it to renovate? Or you might wonder whether you’re allowed to make your desired updates at all? There’s nothing worse than buyer’s remorse; and when that feeling is attached to the largest purchase you’ll likely ever, like you’re home, that feeling is only magnified.

With that in mind we want to ensure that you have the proper tools to ask the right questions when shopping for an older home. Here are 5 critical things to know before buying a historic home.

1. Is your home in a historic district or historic overlay zone?

A historic district, also sometimes known as a historic overlay zone, is a group of properties that have been designated on either local, state, or federal levels as historically and/or architecturally significant. Every historic district operates differently, however, no matter the region they’re located, they all share a similar goal: to maintain the visual character and culture of their community. This means that if you buy in a historic district there may be particular traits or a specific appearance your home must maintain (even if you choose to renovate). The city or the community may have boards of review to help regulate and maintain that character.

2. Can you make any updates to your historic home?

With a home in a historic district prospective buyers often assume they cannot make any changes to the home at all because of the previously mentioned boards of review and/or special zoning laws. That is an incorrect assumption much of the time. It may be a lengthier and more detailed process to make changes, however fixing up or restoring older homes is actually encouraged by most communities, not discouraged.

If your home has historic standing due to its unique architecture or architect, your ability to make modifications might be reduced. You might want to work with your real estate agent to create a contingency on your offer that gives you a way to opt-out of the purchase if you find out from the city that you’re unable to make your desired changes.

3. Are there tax credits or incentives for rehabbing this historic home?

Many communities encourage redevelopment of older areas and the continued care of the historic homes within them. For this reason there are often incentives (local, state, or federal) for buying, rehabilitating, and/or retrofitting these types of homes. These incentives could be anything from grants from local non-profits, to local or state income tax credits. Be sure to inquire with your real estate agent, local planning commission, and state government for details and eligibility.

4. What are the costs of utilities?

A historic home may have older windows, limited (or no) insulation, and less efficient electrical and plumbing systems. Be sure to inquire with the current owner on current utility costs. Some of these inefficiencies can result in be expensive utility bills, or ultimately require complex retrofitting to resolve (e.g. addition of insulation, replacing windows with double-panes). Still other older features can easily be solved with simple with modern upgrades (e.g. new boiler, furnace or stove). Be sure to figure out which, if any, of these solutions you’d need to tackle before you make your purchase.

5. What is the cost of insurance?

The tendency for breakdowns or repairs is higher with older homes. For this reason insurance on an older home might be more than what you are used to on a newer construction home. It is important to consult with your agent, the current homeowner, and your insurance company for the best insight into these costs.

Author Bio: Marni Epstein-Mervis is a real estate and architecture journalist whose work has been featured in Curbed, Yahoo, Huffington Post, and ArchDaily. Marni is Editor at Agent Ace, a free service empowering homebuyers and sellers with the tools to identify real estate agents in their area with the most expertise.