For many Americans, the lure of historic homes is sometimes pretty strong. Many home decor shows and publications sell the idea of an updated historic home as an attainable real estate goal. The reality is that historic homes do have a certain charm that is hard to find in modern construction, and many of the small details of historic homes (wainscot paneling, decorative crown molding and more) have been introduced into current architectural design but with modern twists.
Even though historical design elements are easily obtained in modern properties, real historic homes still draw buyers and history enthusiasts alike. Depending on your location in the United States, certain areas have many more historic homes available than others, and certain geographic areas are prided on their historic homes and properties. For a property or home to be considered historic, it needs to meet a number of criteria set by the National Register of Historic Places, otherwise it’s just an ‘old’ property. Whether you’re specifically looking for a designated historic home, or yearning for the charm and character of an old home, there are things you need to know before you sign the sale papers.
Many historic and old homes are located within a city’s historic district. While there are plenty of old homes not in historic districts, if you choose to purchase a home within one, you may run into some issues when it comes to changes you would like to do to the property. This means homes within historic districts usually have to abide by a set of criteria for exterior updates (meaning paint colors, window types, etc.). While this could seem limited in terms of expression, the bright side is that other homes and properties have to abide by the same rules, meaning all homes will have similar exterior features. It’s also important to note that it’s more likely a state or local historic registry will have restrictions – districts on the National Register of Historic Place do not have restrictions.
Historic homes and properties have stood the test of time, and rightly so as they are generally structurally sound. But this is not the case for all of them, and time does do a number of things to a property. If you have a dream of buying a shabby historic home and updating it, practice caution. Updating, renovating or remodeling historic or old homes can be a huge budget buster, especially if the property is in ruin or hasn’t been taken care of over the years (or centuries). A steady income or large budget may be needed depending on the amount of work to be done; it is also possible to receive a grant or tax program though a state historic preservation office, but not all states offer such programs.
Historic homes can also come with historic or out-of-date construction materials: bad electrical wiring, outdated plumbing, smaller doorways or alcoves that won’t accommodate modern appliances and furniture, lead paint, asbestos, and a number of other things. If you’re not ready to potentially address all of these issues, an old or historic home might not be the best choice for you.
Restrictions can come in a number of forms, from limits on renovations to financing. Very rarely are additions allowed on historic homes, and windows, shutters and roofs generally have to embody the original design style of the property. Living in a historic neighborhood can mean higher taxes than a regular neighborhood, and sometimes it can be difficult to get a general mortgage loan for a historic or old home (especially if it’s in need of many repairs). Home insurance can also be hard to come by, as the home may need many costly repairs or replacements of historic elements that might not be easily attainable. If the home is not on a state or local historic registry, it’s generally easier to get home insurance if an owner can update the property as they see fit.
Old and historic homes are something to cherish in our country. They are a testament to often forgotten time periods, and for many history enthusiasts their story, and their architecture, stand as a reminder for today’s generations of what once was in the U.S. If you have a yearning for a historic home, take some time to research your local historic property market and talk to other historic home owners to understand all that goes into these beautiful properties.