Historic Homes: Treasures or Bottomless Money Pits?

When looking for a new home, falling in love with a unique piece of history can be a tempting buy for any prospective homeowner. Historic homes usually provide distinctive architectural details, solid craftsmanship, and curious stories of past residents. But as the 1986 movie, The Money Pit, chronicles, living in an historic house can also mean an endless list of repairs and renovations that need to be completed.
Historic homes are not for people looking for a low maintenance residence. Anyone considering this type of purchase should have a love of history and realistic expectations of what it means to live in a piece of history.
Even for homeowners who meet these qualifications, there may be local, state, or federal regulations that govern how renovations on the home can be completed. Before buying a home that boasts a long lifeline, prospective buyers should contact preservation agencies and organizations to determine what, if any, restrictions might be placed on the home. From the National Trust for Historic Preservation to state preservation offices to local organizations, Oldhouses.com compiles a database of resources for people looking to purchase historic homes.

Understanding the needs of these homes is also critical to staunching the flow of money that often comes with ownership. Having knowledgeable inspectors evaluate the home before buying can alleviate surprises and keep renovations within budget. As reported by CNN Money, hiring a preservation consultant or contractor for the inspection can “yield valuable information in terms of the amount of work to be done and the cost, which will play a big part in obtaining a mortgage.” These homes often require special mortgages and insurance policies, as well, further driving up the cost of living in the past.
Historic homes earn their reputation for being money pits honestly. Their renovations and upkeep require special planning and materials, and sometimes experienced contractors. With windows and doors that don’t meet standard modern sizes and codes, even the simple act of replacing a window can become a complicated special order that must be specially milled.
Living in a treasure from the past is an expensive proposition. For buyers looking for the best of both worlds, an historic home that has already been thoroughly renovated may be the answer. These homes sell for significantly more, however, than their less renovated counterparts due to the high cost often associated with historic home renovation.
For those buyers still interested in owning a one-of-a-kind home with its own unique history, however, having knowledgeable inspectors, being prepared for surprises, and understanding governmental restrictions on renovations and repairs can keep a labor of love from becoming a financial heartbreak.

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