The Homeowner's Guide to Buying a Historic Home

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Are you interested in buying a historic house? Maybe you fell in love with a listing you found online, or one of the beautiful, old Victorian homes in your town suddenly came on the market. 

Owning a slice of history can be very rewarding. You can walk through the rooms and explore all of the nooks and crannies, imagining what it was like to live in a different century. Many people believe that structures retain the feelings and emotions of their owners, which makes buying an old house even more magical. 

If the house you’re interested in has been deemed a historical landmark, however, there are different factors you have to consider. American Home Shield® can help you navigate the ins and outs of buying a historic home. 

Determine what historic designation your dream home falls under. 

As you may have guessed, there are often restrictions on what you can and cannot do to your home if it has been deemed historic. Your first task should be determining what designation your future home has. 

According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, historic properties can fall into four designations: 

  • Local designations. These may be the most common. The rules regarding local historic landmarks also vary from town to town. If your future home is locally designated, your best bet is to track down the local landmark preservation commission in the community. It can help fill you in on the preservation ordinances in place and what hoops you may have to jump through if you plan on remodeling your historic house.

  • State designations. If the home is listed on your state’s register of historical places, it may be protected from certain government regulations. You may also have access to grant money and tax breaks (more on that later). 

  • National Register of Historic Places. If the home is listed on the National Register, you may find it easier to navigate regulations since they’re the same all across the country. There are also federal grants and tax incentives in place, which can come in handy when renovating your historic home

  • National Historic Landmarks. It’s unlikely that the home you’re looking at is a National Historic Landmark, as there are only about 2,600 throughout the U.S.—and most of them are museums, statues, districts, or historical homes offering public tours. 

Consider the pros and cons of buying an older home that has been deemed historic. 

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Like any big decision, it’s important to weigh both sides when considering a new investment. Here are some pros of buying a historic home: 

  • Tax incentives and grants. As we mentioned earlier, one of the perks of owning a historic house is the possibility of tax incentives and grant money. We say “possibility” because these benefits are not guaranteed and depend on the property’s location. If the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it may qualify for certain federal grants that help with renovations. For example, if you’re buying a 100-year-old house to turn into a bed and breakfast, it may qualify for the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program, which can be used for historic properties that make an income. You can also check if your state offers tax credits for renovating and preserving older homes; there may even be local government grant programs.

  • Community ties. Owning a historical home can be a great way to participate in your community and get involved with town business. You could offer to host special events for holidays or even field trips for the local schools. Historic houses can be a great way to connect. 

  • Resale value. If you ever need to sell your house, it is possible that the home’s resale value will be the same or higher if it is in a historic district. According to REALTOR.com, “homes in national historic districts appreciate 1.4 percent faster than homes in the same county that are not in historic districts.” It also notes that “historic homes on the national registry are 5.6 percent more expensive” than non-historic homes in the same zip code.

Now that you’re excited about buying the historic Victorian home of your dreams, let’s cover some potential problems with buying an older home that is designated historic: 

  • Expensive repairs. Historic home repairs may be costly, especially if you need to take on large projects like replacing old electrical wiring or adding insulation. Historic home regulations may also dictate what you can and cannot repair or replace, which can increase the time and money it takes to upgrade. Just as with any home purchase, it’s essential to try to get an inspection before buying. Make sure you hire an inspector who specializes in old houses, so they know exactly what to look for. 

  • High homeowners insurance premiums. If you end up buying an old house, be ready for a bit of a sticker shock when it comes to insurance premiums. Premiums are higher because replacement costs are often more expensive for historic homes than for non-historic houses. Learn more about buying homeowners insurance.

  • Fewer modern conveniences. Remember that many old houses were built before appliances like dishwashers, air conditioning, or microwaves became popular. Your historic home may not be set up for these modern conveniences, so you may need to either remodel the space or do without. 

Research your future home. 

Steep yourself in the house’s history and take a peek into its past. Are you wondering how to find out your home’s full history? Visit the National Park Service website to see if the home is listed on the National Register. You can also visit your local library or historical society, where you may be able to find photos of the home; you can be inspired to restore it to all its beautiful glory. According to Redfin, you can also utilize local real estate and county recorder websites to discover when the home was built and uncover other useful tidbits.  

Get a reliable home warranty.

Historical homes are perfect for individuals looking for unique architectural designs that many modern houses don’t have. However, the older the home, the more likely you’ll have to deal with breakdowns of systems and appliances due to wear and tear. 

Luckily, American Home Shield® home warranty coverage can help. It doesn’t matter how old the home is—you can always get home warranty protection for your home’s systems and appliances. Learn more about our AHS Shield Assurances and find affordable plans for your budget

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Once you purchase the home of your dreams, the key to helping it thrive is proper maintenance. Our home maintenance guide can give you practical tips on being the ultimate caretaker for your house. 

If you’re interested in buying a historic home but aren’t sure where to look, visit websites like Circa Old Houses and Historic Properties to help narrow your search. 

AHS assumes no responsibility, and specifically disclaims all liability, for your use of any and all information contained herein.

YOU FOUND THE PERFECT HOME. KEEP IT RUNNING SMOOTHLY WITH THE PERFECT PLAN.
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