INSIGHT

Is a Historic Home Right for You?

Sarah Powell

If you're house hunting in New Hampshire and Vermont, the chances are pretty good that you'll stumble on a historic home that calls out to you with its original beams, wide plank floors, and claw-footed bathtub. But wait! Is a historic home right for you and your family?

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We live in an area rich in history. Just about every town and village has its share of properties that have stood witness to historical events and characters, such as the houses in Canaan, New Hampshire that were stops on the Underground Railroad. When looking for a house to purchase, it's likely that you’ll visit a house built more than 200 years ago that sports charming gardens, windows with blurry glass, and a dusty, sunlit attic in which a wooden box of letters from a civil war soldier is just waiting to be found.

It can be easy to get caught up in the historical character of an old house, but before you embark on daydreams of ghosts and garden parties, take a look at some of the challenges an old house can present.

Limits on additions and renovations. If the house has been classified as a site of historical significance, there might be restrictions on what you can and can't do to it in terms of construction. There could be far more hoops to jump through and boxes to check off for even simple changes that a more contemporary house won't require.

Major structural issues. Old houses can present their own challenges in terms of needed improvements. Before you buy a historic home, have it thoroughly inspected by a home inspector that specializes in old houses. They might be able to let you know if the house you love will need a completely new electrical system or if there's lead in the plumbing or problematic paint on the window sill. They can also determine if the house is safe and livable.

Simple repairs aren’t always simple. Depending on your goals with your historic house, even quick fixes can be more expensive than with a more contemporary house. If you’re interested in keeping the historical authenticity of the house in tact by using the same methods and materials that were used to build it, you might have trouble finding a builder capable of making these repairs and the supplies they’ll need to do the job. And of course, with rarity comes extra expense!

Be ready to embrace surprises. Sometimes renovating an old house is like pulling a single strand of loose yarn in a sweater, you never know what will happen as a result of a seemingly little tug. For example, you might decide to replace a window sash and discover that the walls were insulated with newspaper and corncobs, or sanding down one layer of paint might reveal a very unwanted surprise. Of course, surprises can often be a good thing, where beautiful old flooring lies hidden beneath a 1970s-era linoleum floor. But almost all surprises will require some extra money or effort to get the house to where you want it to be.

There are many benefits to owning a historic home, too. First, it's going to be a one of a kind. Aesthetically and historically, no other house is going to be quite like it, and that's certainly an appealing trait.

There are also tax incentives to take advantage of when buying and restoring a historic home. Be ready to do a lot of research to get as much help as you can from various state and federal programs. The National Park Service website is a good place to start

Also, if you're a history buff, you're going to have years of interesting research on the place you call home to look forward to. And don't forget the possibility of friendly ghosts!