5 Things You’ll Need to Know Before Buying a Historic Home

by Alex ThatcherDecember 30, 2016

You Can Have Your Piece of History (and Live in It, Too)

Living in an historic home has its obvious appeal, but it can also quickly become a nightmare. Since 1966, the National Register of Historic Places has listed more than 90,000 properties having lasting historical importance to the United States.

Not all historic homes are listed in the registry, and the registry itself is far from a one-stop shop for understanding what you may be getting into by purchasing an historic home, but it is a good place to investigate what federal laws may protect or restrict the use of a listed property. You can also gauge what kind of maintenance and restoration incentives a potential purchase may come with.


1. What Laws and Regulations Govern Your Ability to Remodel or Build on Your Property?

One of the first questions you will want to answer for yourself regards the level at which your potential new home is protected. Is it listed with the National Register of Historic Places? Is it protected by federal, state, or local law? Are any potential remodeling or additional construction projects subject to review by a board, committee, or strictly forbidden?

Will you be happy living in the home as is, or with the restricted updates that you are allowed to make?

The National Park Services National Register of Historic Places Focus Database is a great place to start your search. If a historic home is not listed in the national registry, it could still be protected by state or local law. Check with your local and state historical societies for any and all preservation regulations.

2. What Hazardous Materials Were Used in Our Home’s Construction?

Many older homes were constructed using asbestos as an insulating and fireproofing material (as well as a myriad of other ways, and with lead pipes and lead-based paints.

You will want to have an experienced inspector go through your potential historic purchase, looking for anything that may be hazardous to you and your family’s health, prior to purchase. Hazardous materials cleanup is considerably more expensive than regular demolition for a remodel.


3. Are There Qualified Contractors In Your Area if Your Home Needs Repairs?

Not all contractors are created equal. Many younger contractors may have little to no experience working on older homes. Furthermore, many of the small, beautiful architectural details that make an historic home so aesthetically appealing were constructed using materials no longer available, or prohibitively expensive.

Because of this, you will want to make sure that there are contractors in your area that are qualified and conscientious of what goes into the construction and preservation of historic homes. The National Trust for Historic Places has further information on how to find and vet contractors in your area.

4. Are You Expected to Open Your Property to Tours, Civic Events, and the Like?

Many historic homes come with existing agreements with local civic groups, historical societies, and other heritage groups to open their doors for tours, holiday events, and other special occasions and historical anniversaries.

5. What Rules Govern the Use of Your Property in an Historic Neighborhood?

Furthermore, you may be expected or even required to decorate your home in a certain fashion for certain holidays, or to maintain your landscaping in a specific fashion, depending on the neighborhood you are in and neighborhood traditions.

Even if you plan to buck tradition, it’s still a good idea to understand the expectations your new neighbors may have of you and your property before you buy.


A Piece of Living (and Inhabitable) History

Though it may come with some additional challenges, purchasing, restoring, and living in a beautiful historic home has many aesthetic and cultural benefits as well. With a little research and understanding of laws and expectations, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into.

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About The Author
Alex Thatcher
Alex is a home staging guru who moonlights as a writer. She loves everything about interior design and loves working in the industry. Alex is an expert in finding what makes people light up when they walk into a room, and has made a living by creating interiors that are unique, warm and inviting. When she isn't arranging flowers or making sure she's found the right loveseat for prospective buyers, she writes about her passion — home design.