Ask a Realtor: Can I Buy A Historic Home? Part 3


Anything Else I Need To Know?

Yes, there is, and I’m glad you asked. This blog post is the final install of the series, so if you haven’t read the first two parts, be sure to check them out here:

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

Ask A Realtor: Can I Buy A Historic Home? Part 2 

Ready now? Read on.

3. Exterior Issues. Yes, I know it’s obvious, but people in love don’t always remember to do their due diligence on even the most obvious considerations. Remember, I love old homes (read about my personal home renovation as covered by the Hudson Star Observer), and I won’t tell people not to consider a purchase. However, the key word here is “consider.” Home style plays a lot into this.

To illustrate, let’s go back to that amazing Victorian home that offered such a big temptation at the beginning of this series. Victorian homes (see examples) use colorful paint to emphasize exterior architectural features, so that will be an expense in itself, if you really want to be true to their history. However, paint isn’t the only expense.Checkbook

I mentioned that some styles of historic home require more costly forms of restoration (and maintenance down the road) than others, and while I don’t like to pick on Victorians, they provide a good illustration, because you may detract from their character if you use today’s low-maintenance options. Even if your prospective home’s siding is in great shape right now, you can’t assume that you won’t need to replace parts of it over time, and you may not have the option of using man-made materials like metal or vinyl siding. Those (in my opinion) take too much away from some house styles—they’re just too obviously different from the original materials used. 

Are you willing to cover the additional immediate and long-term costs of all natural materials for your home’s exterior? If not, consider a different style of home (historic or not) that will be more suited to your family budget. Don’t forget to note other similar items like original windows that also get “lost in translation“ from one time period to the next.

You can do it, but it will cost you.

4. Your Aptitudes. I’m a woodworker, with lots of experience in that and in other contract-type renovation work, so I was able to do a lot of the work on my own home. Everyone brings some skills to the table, so your decision about what type of historic home to buy, or whether to buy one in the first place, will need to take your own into account. What can you do personally to add value to the home?

Think about the projects that you may need to hire out. Updating wiring and replacing lead pipes cost a lot more when assigned to an electrician or plumber. Are you comfortable with hiring a contractor? Are you connected with dependable, accessible contractors? So much contracting work ebbs and flows with seasons. Are these projects that will be able to wait on your contractor’s back burner during his/her busy season, if necessary?toh-holiday-gifts-01

5. Your Future Housing Plans. My family and I are here for the long run, so it made sense for us to pour a lot of time and money into a detailed restoration. Whether or not you buy a historic house—and what type of house to buy—should depend on how long you intend to stay. Ask your realtor and potential contractors for a list of essential house projects on the property—what you will need to do to bring the house up to code. Remember, a house may be “livable” for a previous resident, but when it sells, it must be adjusted to meet building codes that have changed over time. If you only plan to stay in the house 5-10 years, focus on the essentials with the next buyer in mind. Are there a lot of essential projects to address before getting to the “fun part” of the restoration? If not, you might enjoy living in a historic property even for the short term. However, if it’s a long laundry list, you should probably look elsewhere.

Along similar lines, if you plan on staying in the house more than 10 years, a long laundry list with a higher cost might make sense for you.key-6

Acquiring a tired, worn piece of the past and breathing new life into it can be one of the most rewarding homebuying decisions for a historic-home-lover. Don’t let the complications of such a project scare you away—just make sure you’ve counted the true cost, and not been fooled by the simple black-and-white numbers on the listing.

Call me any time, and I’ll help walk you through it.

Posted by L. Lathrop for Jim Burns