Pros and Cons to Owning a Historic Home

Owning a home rich in historical significance can be cool, rewarding, and a ton of work. Find out if it’s right for you.

Imagine this: you’re out house hunting and stumble upon a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind home. A place where George Washington would’ve sipped his tea, gazed onto the gorgeously sprawling grounds, and said, “What ho, good times.” You have a strong urge to buy it on the spot. But, if you’ve seen the movie The Money Pit, you know that historic properties can be desirable while also leaving something to be desired — particularly those that require more than a little work (the staircase scene, anyone?).

We put together a crash course on the criteria for, restrictions of, and benefits to buying a historic property so you can avoid ever having to utter the phrase “Home Bleep Home.”

What makes a house historic?

According to the National Register Criteria for Evaluation, the property is only eligible if it meets the following criteria:

  • Age. Is this property old enough? Like most cheeses, historical homes get better (aka more venerable) with age. There are, as always, exceptions to the rule, but most properties must be at least 50 years old in order to qualify.
  • Integrity. According to the National Register, the integrity of a specific property can be  defined through 7 qualities: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. In other words, does your property still look the way it did in the past? Is it in its original location? Does it exude or inspire an aesthetic feeling of history? Is the workmanship representative of a specific architectural style or method of construction used during a certain time period?
  • Significance. Does this property have a rich, historic back story? Was it witness to Gatsby-like parties in its day? Or the discovery of gold? If the property is connected to  or associated with important events, people, or developments of the past, this is a good sign that you may have a historical landmark on your hands.

Benefits of owning a historic home

When you own a historical landmark home, you might see benefits like:

  • Tax incentives, tax credits, and lowered interest loans. To encourage the preservation of the home, the government may offer inducements ranging anywhere from state tax credits to easements (legal agreements that offer tax deductions in exchange for preserving the historic property). Since incentives vary by state, you’ll need to look into what specific tax breaks might  apply to you and your new home.
  • A richer understanding of history. It’s hard not to answer the siren call of the historic home. What’s not to love? It’s quaint, it’s unique, it offers a glimpse into the past which few are privy to — and it could turn you into the historian you always wanted to be. What’s more awesome than finding out that your home was once witness to the bawdiness of the Barbary Coast? Or that it was there in the midst of the Salem Witch Trials? Living in a historic home is like living in a text book, and whether you’re a history buff or not, you have to admit that that’s pretty darn cool.

Restrictions of owning a historic home

There’s a lot of work that goes into maintaining and restoring a historic home in order to make sure it’s up to snuff safetywise as well as integritywise. Here are some steps to take:

  • First, you should have a formal, professional home inspection by an expert who specializes in historic homes. Get a price estimate from at least 2 contractors to see what repair work (if  any) you’ll need to take care of before your move-in date.
  • Then (this is a big one), make sure that the home meets all health and safety standards, by having a sound structure and passing lead paint and asbestos tests.
  • Read up on the Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings imposed by local and state laws. So long as the integrity and style of the home are maintained, historic home owners are permitted to make certain additions and expansions to their homes, but strict guidelines must be adhered to. And keep in mind that you’ll need to continue protecting and preserving  your home over time.
  • Unfortunately, many personal insurance companies don’t offer the type of coverage you’ll need to insure your home, meaning you often have to go with historic property insurance, which can be more expensive.

It’s up to you

The cost of owning and maintaining a historic home is probably more intensive than most people realize. Is it worth it? Certainly owning a historic home isn’t for everyone, but if you do choose to buy one, you have the benefit of knowing that your home is a unique component of U.S. history. Not only will it a part of your life, but you’ll be a part of its life as well.

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3 Responses to “Pros and Cons to Owning a Historic Home”

  1. Shirley
    May 30, 2014 #

    Great article, Mollie. We're so proud of you. Our house meets one of the criteria — old, built in 1887. Shirley

  2. Charlie Moisson
    May 30, 2014 #

    No home buying decision should be made until properly filtered through
    layers of “Money Pit” references. Good stuff.

  3. Kathryn Artero
    June 9, 2014 #

    Good information! Sometimes it's hard to look past the beauty and realize it can be a lot of work and a great expense.

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