How To Buy Historic Houses: Learn About Buying Old Houses

Go Through the Process from Finding These Houses to the Home Inspection

Historic house

One of the hottest trends in real estate has become the restoration of historic homes. The United States, with its rich history, has a wonderfully textured architectural past. From New England to the West Coast, there are a host of historic homes demonstrating the great and ever-changing architectural trends of the past. If you are in the market to buy a historic home, here are some things to consider, from the search to the home inspection process and much more. 

  1. What is a historic home?  A historic home has some significant historic relevance as reflected in its architecture. The National Registry of Historic Homes has an extensive list of homes that are "historic," but each state, town, or city has specific rules and regulations pertaining to the ownership and sale of such properties. See the National Registry of Historic Places for information on the National Registry.
  2. Why buy? Historic homes appeal to people for a variety of reasons. Many homeowners like the idea because the property had significant relevance in the past, while others may just like the look of architecture from years past. A large contingency of buyers, while certainly admiring the property's aesthetic qualities, will buy a historic home because of the benefits that come with restoring it. There may also be tax benefits for those who qualify based on their individual restoration project. See the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program for more details. 
  3. Where to buy? There are historic homes in just about every state, so you are in luck! Check out National Register of Historic Places for state preservation websites. Click on the state of your choice for more information on compliance, etc.
  4. Do research on the home. Once you are comfortable with any laws and regulations regarding purchasing a historic home, you should decide on a house. Do research on your home. State websites on historic preservation may have helpful links to information on the property you are particularly interested in. If the property is listed, the real estate agent should be able to provide you with interesting tidbits about the property's history. 
  5. Offer. Make an offer on the home. The offer should be contingent on your ability to obtain financing, and most importantly, contingent on a satisfactory inspection. These homes are very old, so the inspection is an important element of the buying process. You may find that your offer price goes down significantly after discovering defects in the building.
  6. Home Inspection. Get a great inspector who specialize in historic homes. See the Historic Building Inspectors Association for more information. These professionals might be more costly than a regular inspector, but they are trained to evaluate historic properties.
  7. Inspection Item: Roof. The roof is a huge inspection item on old houses. A failing roof will cause leaks and will incur much money for repairs in the future. Find out what the condition the roof is in and factor its possible decay/problems into your decision.
  8. Inspection Item: Heating System. The heating system in the building will likely be old in historic houses. Just because a system is old, however, does not mean it is bad. Have your inspector evaluate the method of heating, and suggest ways to maintain/improve on it. Remember, though, that certain methods may not be acceptable by the historic commission of your state (e.g. ripping it out and putting in a brand new system).  
  9. Inspection Items: Structure.  Have an inspector, or better yet, an engineer, evaluate the structure of the building. If there is a big problem with the foundation or the building itself, you will want to know. Structural problems can cost a significant amount of money to repair.
  10. Inspection Items: Other. Pay careful attention to the basement (does it get water?), the exterior (shingles need replacing? brick needs repointing?), and all other facets of the home. Your inspector may also check for lead paint as well as for pests - termites and beetles - if you request.
  11. Finalize Offer/Purchase and Sales. Take the information you received from your inspector and decide if you need to adjust your offer based on costs of repairs from items missed at your initial introduction to the property. Once you agree on the price and specifications of the deal, have your lawyer draft the Purchase and Sales Agreement. Make sure any specifications you have make the draft; for example, if the seller agreed to do some pointing on the brickwork before closing you should see a clause indicating such in the Purchase and Sales Agreement.
  12. Contractor work. If you don't already have a contractor hired for your work, locate a tradesman familiar with historic properties. Check out Historic Properties for more information and contact numbers. Someone who knows original detail and can speak with authority on the restoration of historic homes will be better than your handy brother-in-law.

Buying a historic home, even if you are not engaging in a full-fledged restoration, is a big ordeal. Make sure you accept the fact that your purchase will incur costs later down the road on the basis that your home is not the "average" property. If you are gung-ho about buying a historic property, it may be best to start small and see if you like the experience.


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