What You Need to Know Before Buying Your Historic Dream Home

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Joe and Amy fell in love with their two-story colonial the minute they saw it. What others saw as an old house needing lots (and lots) of work, they saw as an opportunity to revisit the past. Drawn by the old world architecture and character, the young couple was determined to bring their old house back to life again. What they didn’t know at the time was their house wasn’t just another old house needing repair—it was a historic landmark.

Discovering the Truth

The first clue that their house was more than old were dates inscribed on some beams they uncovered in the attic. Then there were signs of multiple upgrades over 100 or more years. Intrigued by the thought of how old their vintage charmer could really be, they began investigating. The results were amazing. It took several years, but the couple discovered that their home dated back to the 1600s and was an original structure in their hometown. Amy and Joe thought they were investing in the future when they purchased the run-down house. What they didn’t know was they were buying a part of history.

Buying Historic Home Has Its Challenges

There are a lot of advantages of buying home on the national register of historic places, but it can also offer some challenges. Joe and Amy were lucky. Their home was not officially registered as a historic landmark, so when they began renovating it they could do whatever they wanted. That isn’t the case when buying a historic home that is already listed on a register.

Historic registers are designed to maintain the historic integrity of certain buildings. Offered on a local, state, and national level, these registries are a good way to preserve older buildings, keeping them safe from destruction. Still, those buying a historic house must be aware of the rules and regulations regarding renovations and general upkeep.

How would you like it if the town you lived in said you couldn’t install energy-efficient windows in your home? If your house is considered a landmark, that is exactly what might happen. Depending on the area, you may need permission to change anything about your home’s exterior. For instance, homeowners in Alexandria, VA, are not permitted to install anything but custom-made, single pane windows with wooden shutters if their house is more than 100 years old. This is a cost that some homeowners are not prepared for.

Know the Rules Where You Live

Before you fall in love with the vintage charm of a historic home, understand the rules and regulations associated with the purchase. While the National Register of Historic Homes does not restrict homeowners in any way—you can do whatever you want with your house—many local and state registries have steep restrictions.

One of the most stringent communities in the nation may be within the limits of Historic Williamsburg in Virginia. Known for its historic charm and ambience, residents here are forced to live by a stringent set of rules and regulations, which include everything from what colors they can paint their homes to what time of the day they can park a car on their property. Not every community is this strict when it comes to maintaining the historic flavor of the area, but some have similar rules. Always check with your local and state historic registry committee before initiating any type of interior or exterior renovations.

Some of the most common areas that may require oversight usually include:

  • Additions
  • Roofing
  • Windows and shutters
  • Paint
  • Exterior Upgrades
  • Interior Modernizations

The True Cost of Buying a Part of History

If you are considering buying a historic home, be sure that you understand the financial implications of the purchase. Owning an older home can be costly, and buying a part of history can cost even more. Here are some things to consider:

  • Renovation Rules: If your local or state historic agency requires permission for certain upgrades, renovations, and even maintenance, it may cost you more. For instance, if your home’s historic standing means you have to maintain a certain look, you may be forced to use higher-priced products to maintain the historic flavor of the home.
  • Energy Efficiency: Landmark status may prohibit you from installing energy-efficient windows, doors, and appliances. This can raise your energy bills.
  • Insurance: When it comes to insuring a historic home, many homeowners are surprised to learn how much it really costs. Replacing such a structure can be costly and that increases the cost of your insurance.
  • Taxes: If your home is worth more, your taxes will be higher. But here is the good news: many municipalities offer tax credits and/or discounts for historic homes.
  • Grants and Rebates: It may cost more to renovate and maintain a historic home, but some of that cost may be neutralized by local, state, and federal grants and/or rebates. For instance, if your home is listed on the National Register for Historic Homes, you may qualify for a 20% tax credit on certified rehabilitation costs.

Your Home’s True Value

Some people are enticed by the prospect of buying a historic home simply because they think it will be worth more than other houses in the neighborhood. Realty experts warn against this strategy. For one, it is difficult to place a real value on historic significance, and if your older home is placed in the middle of a modern neighborhood it could actually be worth less. If you live in a depressed real estate market, the odds are slim that you will be able to sell your home for what it is really worth—regardless of its historic landmark status. Finally, many homeowners shy away from historic registry homes due to the cost, not to mention the rules and regulations associated with owning such a home.

When it comes to preserving a historic home, there are a lot of things to consider. Not every homeowner is prepared for the special nuances associated with owning a historic property. But if you are, they sure can be a lot of fun to renovate. Plus, they can offer a beautiful and simple way of life. Are you up for the challenge?


Maurcia H. is a seasoned writer with 20-plus years of publishing experience which includes 10 traditional print books, three book collaborations; more than 100 ghostwritten books. Specializing in both how-to pieces as well as industry oriented articles, Maurcia has written press releases, blog posts and articles for a variety of construction companies.

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