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architectural history, preservation

Before You Buy a Historic Home

By The Craftsman on Mar 19, 2012

So, you've decided to buy a historic house. Congratulations! Purchasing a historic home is more than just owning a beautiful piece of history. It’s a labor of love that can require a lot of work and an extra serving of patience. Historic homes line the streets of almost every town from Maine to California, and there is no dearth of variety when it comes to an old house. There are Craftsman Bungalows, Queen Annes, Colonial Revivals, Greek Revivals, and on and on. And while owning a historic home can be a romantic notion with wide-plank floors and stained-glass windows, there is often a lot of work to maintain, or in some cases, revive an old house. So, if you're up to it here are a few things to think about before you take the plunge into this unique form of homeownership.

  • Have a Cash Reserve - Historic houses are old and like anything old they can be in good shape or bad shape depending on how they have been cared for over their life. It's always wise to have an "Emergency Fund" when you buy a house because let's face it, things are going to wear out and break down. If you don't have several thousand dollars in reserve after you close on your house you're asking for trouble. The home we live in now required all new plumbing, a new roof, and a whole new HVAC system thanks to the coldest Orlando winter in 15 years all in the first year we lived there. But we were prepared with adequate reserves, which brings us to our next point.
  • Get an Inspection - You should always get an inspection before you buy any house. It's a huge investment and you want to make sure you know what you are purchasing. With a old house you'll want to not only have your local home inspector do a thorough inspection but you'll want to have a contractor who specializes in historic restorations and repairs. A specialist will help point out problem areas and potential solutions that are specific to historic houses in more detail than a home inspector will. Most home inspectors spend their time on newer houses since there are more of them around. But a restoration expert can tell you the dangers that may be lurking within like asbestos siding (health issues) or balloon framing (a fire hazard). Make sure to utilize the knowledge of both of these professionals before signing on the dotted line.
  • Research Your Historic Designation - Some old houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places others are located within local historic districts. Both come with certain restrictions. And depending on your perception these restrictions may be something you desire or something you detest. There are no restrictions on the federal level unless you are receiving funding from the government for your renovations. (Learn more about Funding Your Renovation) However, local districts have restrictions that can range from virtually non-existent to extremely strict. Make sure you know what you are getting into especially if you are planning a major restoration project with the property. In Orlando's historic districts you'll need to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness for any exterior changes to the structure visible from the street.

After you've done all your homework and saved the cash you're ready to take the big step of buying a historic home of your very own. And speaking from the experiences of many of our clients it will completely change the way you think about houses. It's almost like waking up and seeing things never visible to you before. And just like any good relationship it always has its bumps like the closet door that will work fine on Tuesday and then be seemingly glued shut on Wednesday. If you're strong enough to handle the "quirks" of old house life you'll become the newest part of a the long history your home has endured so gracefully.

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