Monday, September 7, 2015
By Jed Williams
Buying A Piece of History

One of the great things about living in the DC Metro Area is that we’re surrounded by history. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we can’t seem to turn any block in the area without seeing a historic landmark or at least a sign with some brief description of a historical event that happened there. Because of the geographical location both on the East Coast and our cities built more or less along the Potomac River, there are homes that easily date back to the 1700s and before. While many of these homes have been restored to their former glory and are not available for purchase, there are still many farm houses farther out from the city, town houses everywhere, and single family homes close to the city that are protected by their historical status, but still available for you to buy and live in. Like you may have guessed, however, there are downsides that come with buying your own piece of history.

You may have already considered that an older home will likely have structural or systems problems. It just goes without saying that codes in the 1800s and early 1900s aren’t what they are today. We don’t use the same materials or have the same standards. The home has also likely gone through harsh winters, rainy springs, and lots of settling. While all of this is completely normal and totally unavoidable, it is something to be mindful of. Before you purchase a historic home, you’ll want to hire a home inspector who specializes in historic homes. Because they come with their own unique issues, it is invaluable to have a home inspector who knows what to look for. Before you buy, you’ll also want to get a contractor or two on site to give you estimates for your inspector’s suggested repairs. Historic homes aren’t cheap from the outset, so knowing how much money you’re likely to put into it will help you in negotiations and with the decision whether or not it will be worth the cost. Keep in mind, also, that your inspector may find lead and/or asbestos. As both were used in historic homes frequently, know that you’ll have to handle their removal.

You’ll also want to know that homes registered as historic oftentimes only allow you to repair them, not rebuild, replace, or put an addition onto your home. These repairs can be costly. Because of strict guidelines, you likely have to get permits which cost time and money. The guidelines will also stipulate the types of materials you’re allowed to use, which can also make the cost higher. Exterior features like windows, doors, shutters, and roofs are usually the most regulated and can only be repaired or replaced with their original like-kind materials. Adding insulation and energy efficient features may also not be an option, so you’ll want to consider the likelihood that your utility bills will be a bit higher than you’re used to as well.

Now that you have all the facts about the negatives of owning a historic home, I’ll ease your mind that it’s not all bad. Aside from the charm and uniqueness that you buy into with a historic home that probably caught your eye to begin with, there are many other benefits to historic homes. Most of what is unnerving about buying a historic home is the money that you will put into it repairing things that break or have worn with age. The good news is that those repairs will see a higher return on investment than they would with a non-historic home. Because there are so few historic homes, and there are only fewer as time goes on, especially as a percentage of the market, the higher the demand is for them. That means that your property values increase at a higher rate, your investments in original like-kind materials will pay off, and it’s likely that your neighbor’s home is historic too; so they will have the same guidelines to follow to keep their home up to neighborhood standards. There are also tax incentives for buying and restoring historic homes and grants and loans to help historic home owners keep these national treasures around for many more years to come.

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Jed WilliamsJed Williams
Principle Broker and founder of Hagan Realty