5 Things You Should Know Before Buying a Home in a New Orleans Historic District

by Megan WildJuly 21, 2017

New Orleans: your dreams of buying a house might include the sound of jazz wafting from French Quarter streets along with wrought iron balconies and the glint of the mighty Mississippi. Then there’s also great food — gumbo, Cajun and beignets for breakfast — and Mardi Gras to brighten the winter. Once spring has sprung, magnolias and dogwoods grace the parks.
Buying a home in New Orleans’s historic districts might be a dream that makes all these site-specific fantasies come true. The Big Easy has some of the most beautiful historic districts in the United States and a lively preservation community. Well-maintained historic homes generally keep their property values well, so they can be a good investment.

However, no historic home should be bought without a lot of thought beforehand. Historic homes are unique. Homeowners may face issues that do not pertain to regular homes, in addition to those that do, such as mortgages and insurance. Here are the top five things to know before buying a historic house in New Orleans.

1. Know What a Historic Home Is

A historic home usually means that the building is on, or it’s pending to be on, The National Register of Historic Places or The National Trust for Historical Preservation. It may also need to be in a recognized historic district. Check out this map for the recognized historic districts in New Orleans.

Don’t think that years alone make a home a historic one. There are specific standards homes must meet to be considered historic.

2. Restrictions May Affect Any Alterations

Historic homes have to conform to certain standards of building, structure and appearance. As a result, homeowners are restricted in alterations they can make. If you’re looking to repaint, add a nursery or put in bay windows, for example, you may be unable to because of the restrictions. Changes such as solar panels may be prohibited as well.

Historic associations want to keep the homes as close to the style of their period as possible. The standards also ensure a broad uniformity among the houses in a district and from a historical period.

3. Repairs May Be Frequent and Expensive

Any house requires steady maintenance, of course. Basements, roofs, painting and so on all have to be redone and repaired regularly. But repairs can be much more frequent in a historic home. If you’re buying a home that is historic but needs a major rehabilitation, of course, it will be even more expensive. Additionally, if asbestos, lead paint or mold are discovered, necessary repairs can be major. Be sure to have someone with experience in restoring older homes give it a look before you buy.

You’ll also want to consider how location may affect your repair costs. The Mississippi River floods on a regular basis, potentially causing major structural and other damage — and NOLA’s historic districts are all close to the river. It’s wise to invest in equipment to get the water out and dry your home as soon as possible. Be prepared with an air mover, and if necessary, find a local pro who can do damage restoration.

4. Deeper Pockets Than Usual Are Needed

Home buyers interested in historic homes need deep pockets. Not only will you likely require higher costs for repairs, but other costs may be steeper, too. Insurance companies, for example, may charge considerably more because the cost to replace items is higher. Mortgages can be a bit tougher to get as well.

Additionally, contractors may charge more because the materials might be unusual, may be harder to get and can be more complicated to install — and not all contractors may know how to do the work on your home.

While grants are available for some rehabilitation, no homeowner is assured of receiving them. All homebuyers need a cash cushion for regular expenses, one-time costs, price increases and the unexpected. Buyers of historic homes need even more.

5. Modern Upgrades May Not Fit

As times and styles march on, people come to expect all the conveniences of modern living. Wireless, streaming video, lights that come on when you clap, super-large refrigerators, huge ovens for entertaining — the list is endless.

One drawback to buying a historic home is that not all modern upgrades you want may be possible. Life was very different back in the day. While no historic society expects people to live as if it’s the nineteenth century, the house or the restrictions may hinder the installation of some upgrades, or make them impossible altogether. For instance, wiring may be an issue, or the size of the rooms may prohibit appliances of the size we now consider standard. This isn’t ideal for being environmentally friendly, either.

Buying a historic home in New Orleans could be the dream of a lifetime, but historic homes come with specific needs and challenges. Be sure to consider these five things before buying.

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About The Author
Megan Wild
Megan Wild enjoys finding easy and low-stress ways to improve your home. In her downtime, she enjoys flipping flea market finds, hanging out with her dog, and writing on her home-themed blog, Your Wild Home. She's passionate about sustainability and environmentalism, and you can find her tweeting about both @Megan_Wild.