So, you’re out house hunting and stumble upon a gorgeous (or maybe not so gorgeous) historic (yes, old) home for sale. It’s filled with character. Old brick and original hardwood flooring. You have a strong urge to buy it on the spot. But, you know that while historic properties can be desirable, they can also leave something to be desired — particularly those that require more than a little work.
So, what exactly is considered a historic home? 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? 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 the 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.
If you do decide to purchase this historic home you’ve fallen in love with, you just might realize benefits such as:
- 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).
- A richer understanding of history. What’s not to love? It’s quaint, it’s unique, it offers a glimpse into the past. Living in a historic home is like living in a great romance novel, and you have to admit that that’s pretty darn cool
On the flipside, 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 a few suggestions:
- Consider having a formal, professional home inspection by an expert who specializes in historic homes.
- Then (and 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.
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.