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You want to live someplace special that conveys a sense of the past. But before you take the plunge, here are some points to consider:
Know Yourself. Choose a house based on who you are, not who you want to be. Budget conscious twenty-somethings are fixing up 1950s ranch houses. It sounds like so much fun to spend weekends trawling the flea markets for vintage Eames chairs. But if you’ve amassed a collection of bulky and ornate Victorian furniture, a ranch house might not be your best fit. Likewise the mansard studio; it’s time to give up that fantasy if your knees say no stairs. Stick to renting An American in Paris from Netflix. Consider, too, your stamina for mess, noise, and unexpected expenses (there will be lots of those).
Know Your Bank Account. First, you buy the house. Next come the contractor and his squad of plumbers, electricians, and painters. You might need a place to live when the renovation is in full swing. And don’t forget the small things, like all the restaurant bills you’ll run up when you’re too frazzled to cook or choking on dust.
Location. The before and after pictures are startling. In one: decayed houses with weed-choked yards. In the other: a vibrant community of pretty bungalows with manicured lawns. The pioneers who revitalize poor neighborhoods often reap a financial benefit, thanks to the increased property values. But moving to an up-and-coming place is not always a fulfilling adventure. Mediocre schools, badly lit streets, and midnight gunfire are among the problems you might encounter. If comfort and security are essential—or if you simply want to live close to Trader Joe’s—move to an established neighborhood.
The Big Why. Why do you want to own a historic house? For some, it’s all about the house. No effort is too great to restore it to its original condition. Such people recount long drives to out-of-state salvage yards in search of the perfect newel post. Once all the work is finished, they often experience dissatisfaction and the desire to move on to a new project.
For others, what counts is the life they will have in the house. This is where they will raise their children or build their business. The overpowering obsession with historic precision is absent. If that describes you, stay away from anything that is historically or architecturally important. That means choosing the Cape Cod or Foursquare instead of the one that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s disciple. You’ll derive more joy and comfort from a house that does not require regular contact with the local landmarks society.