Ask A Realtor: Can I Buy A Historic Home? Part 1

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But Jim Did It…

Now, if you know anything about me as a private citizen, not just a real estate agent, you probably assume that my answer to this question goes, “Yes! Do it! It will be fun!” In 2008, our family purchased and began to restore the historic St. Patrick’s Church rectory in Hudson:

Restoring Rectory a Labor of Love for the Burns Family (Hudson Star Observer, Nov. 21, 2008)


Photo by Randy Hanson, Hudson Star Observer


Four years later, we were still working on it, so detailing that process would take a fair amount of space here, and doesn’t really answer the question; I’ll resist the urge. Nevertheless, if you do enjoy reading about restorations, the Hudson Star Observer covered that process a second time at greater length when it was finished enough to be part of the 2012 Christmas Tour of Homes (and no mocking these old photos!):

Restored St. Patrick's Rectory on 2012 Tour of Homes (Hudson Star Observer, Nov. 15, 2012) 


Photo from Hudson Star Observer


However, that’s me. I have loved every minute of the process (well, there may occasionally have been a few times where some strong words were said). Many Minnesota and Wisconsin areas boast some beautiful old structures, and something about them just speaks to me— as a realtor, I love homes in general, but historic homes have a special place in my heart. If you share that same love, and you’re currently in the market for a new home, you may be daydreaming about turning back the clock on one of those amazing properties, like we did.

Should you take the plunge? How will you know? The reality: you’ll need to come out of the clouds a little and ponder this in a pretty substantive way, depending on a number of factors. I’d like to spend the next few blog articles on that issue.

A Case Study: Love At First Sight

An agent in my office recently received an urgent text from her buyers—an old Queen Anne Victorian-style house with a great price tag had caught their eye, and they wanted to set up a showing the next day. Equally intrigued by the photos of breathtaking woodwork, pocket doors, ornate fireplaces, stained glass, and a turret room(!), my colleague contacted the listing agent to find out a little more about its recent history. Among her questions: the reason for its multiple price-reductions and long wait on the market, and any structural red flags that her clients should take into account.

The listing agent, hearing a little more about these potential buyers, delivered a blunt, honest assessment. “If your clients are looking for a $400-thousand-dollar house, this one isn’t for them,” he explained—going on to detail a laundry list of the amount of work the house would need. In other words, this beautiful house would need an owner who was in the market for a luxury home, ready to bring the old mansion back to its previous luxury state.

And that would take a serious investment. Mere love was not enough. Is that the case with the home that has won your heart?

If you read my family’s story and fell even deeper in love with the idea of owning a historic home, but feel like I just dashed your hopes to the ground with a reality check, don’t get discouraged yet! Not every historic home will need as much money as that old Queen Anne, or as much time as my Italianate rectory. I’m passionate about this topic, and in the next week or so, I’ll cover what signs to look for in pursuing a historic home purchase, what questions to ask when you find a good candidate, and what answers you need before digging into this decision, if you’re on a tighter budget.

Obviously, this is just to get you started, and I won’t be covering everything here that you want to know in as much detail as you’d like. If you need more food for thought than what you read here, I’m always happy to oblige with live questions and answers from my own personal experience in historic home renovation and the real estate market in general.

Contact me any time.

Part 2: What Should I Consider First?

Posted by L. Lathrop for Jim Burns