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  • Writer's pictureMorgan Martin Boyer

Buying a Historic Home? Do These 7 Things

Updated: May 20

Historic Home REALTOR® Representing WV, VA + MD

A wise client once told me, “owning a historic house is more like a marriage than a mortgage”, and I’ve been sharing that bit of wisdom with my clients ever since. Old houses are generally more expensive to maintain. Even a property that appears to be turn-key will likely have an issue or two creep up within the first few years of ownership. According to an independent study across 10 US states (Virginia being one of them!), a historic property’s value is 26% higher than other homes in the surrounding market. Those located in designated historic district benefit most — in some cases much more. Additionally, old homes tend to not be as heavily impacted by market downturns. 

Romanticized ideas of living in an old house vs the day-to-day realities can be a shocking wake-up call for some buyers. Getting a jump start on managing your expectations will go a long way in avoiding buyers remorse.

  1. Research Renovation Costs - Before you start your home search, it’s best to start researching service providers with historic experience and average costs associated with restoration and renovation work. Better yet, schedule a walkthrough with your agent and contractor prior to writing an offer to get estimates for planned restoration and renovation projects.

  2. General Maintenance - In order to recoup your investment and benefit from a higher market value, property maintenance is key. The most cost effective way is to stay on top of routine and preventative maintenance. For example: keep exterior landscaping and hardscaping tidy, make sure to grade water away from the property, keep invasive vines from mingling with mortar, clear roof and gutters of debris that may impact its performance or lifespan. Stay-on-top of general wear and tear that can quickly add up and impact the overall appearance of the property, inspect equipment regularly to make sure all system are functioning at full capacity, perform restoration work as needed to maintain a sound structure, etc.

  3. Research Service Providers - Even if you don’t plan on buying a fixer upper, you’re going to want to identify quality service providers with historic experience. Your agent should have several references, but another great resource is social media. Hop on your local community page and search previous posts for references. They’re a hive mind for all kinds of topics: Who is the local go-to for chimney repair, wood floor refinishing, stonemasonry, plaster repair, pest control, handyman, etc. 

  4. Tour All the Houses - Compare property condition to get an idea of what to expect in your market. Identify your preferred old house styles and architectural elements. You’ll discover your must-have features and determine what you can live without. Are fixer uppers too overwhelming or an exciting adventure? By cultivating your taste, you’re ensuring long-term admiration.

  5. Hire a historic home REALTOR® - Hiring an agent that has historic home experience is vital. Their specialization affords them unique knowledge and connections that benefit their clients. They are able to point out red flags AND green flags, they are skilled in educating their clients on the pros and cons of historic home ownership, they have knowledge of architectural styles and design elements, they have relationships with service providers who have historic experience, they take appropriate safety precautions, they stay up-to-date on innovative ways to thoughtfully renovate homes to appeal to modern living, and they have a database of historic clients offering more potential for an off-market opportunity.

  6. Talk to Your Insurance Agent - Old houses can be difficult and costly to insure — especially fixer uppers. Electrical wiring, plumbing, and building materials are just some components that can contribute to higher rates or make the property difficult to insure. Reach out to your insurance agent prior to buying to inquire what you may need to take into consideration and when you’re ready to make an offer, they can provide you with an estimate.

  7. Research Tax Benefits and Local Historic District Guidelines - There are numerous incentives on the local, state and federal levels. For example, in WV there is a transferrable 20% residential tax credit and a commercial historic tax credit where you can earn 45% back on rehabilitation expenses. Reach out to your trusted tax advisor for specific guidance.

While federal law states that the National Register places no restrictions on what a non-federal owner does to a property, many historic districts do! There are 2,300 historic districts in the United States and they all have different restrictions. Be sure to carefully review all restrictions that may apply with your historic home. Below are links for some of our local historic districts:


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