May 7, 2013

One Last Checklist Before You Buy Your Historic Home

[10 on Tuesday] One Last Checklist Before You Buy Your Historic Home from PreservationNation

You've launched your search for a historic house, figured out how to finance it, and thoroughly checked whether it’s in good condition. Now you think you’re ready to buy -- so you’re done, right?

Well, almost. Before you sign on the dotted line, use this handy summary checklist -- the final item in our series on buying a historic home -- to make sure you've covered all your bases. (We’ll be back next week with toolkits on getting you settled into your new old house.)

Here are the top 10 questions to ask yourself before putting your John Hancock on the contract:

1. Is the house truly the right one? It’s a good idea to devote some time to deciding if the property is truly the right one for you and your family. Are you planning on making extensive alterations or changes? These may not only be costly, but might also jeopardize the historic status of the home if they are not compatible with the house’s historic character.

2. Is it suited to your lifestyle? Finding a house that closely matches your lifestyle saves time and often money in the long run. Understanding a house’s suitability involves determining how the house will be used, and how well a particular house accommodates your living patterns.

For example, many people who like to live in rooms filled with paintings and furniture might enjoy the richly ornamented surfaces of a Queen Anne or Second Empire-style house. Others who prefer minimal furnishings might be more drawn to Art Deco-style houses. (Parts One and Two of our architectural style toolkits will come in handy here.) Also, think about the numbers and types of rooms you need, and remember to look at whether or not there’s enough parking for your vehicles.

blog_photo_Period room
Old State House in Little Rock, Arkansas, decorated by the Daughters of the American Revolution as a Revolutionary War-period drawing room.

3. Is there enough yard space? Don’t forget about examining the yard, and consider how you plan to use it. Is there enough room for children to play? If you are planning to put in a pool or tennis courts, how will the additions affect the character of the house? If you like to entertain outdoors, is there a patio, or appropriate space to put one in?

4. Are there any deed restrictions associated with the property? Deed restrictions are attached to the property title or deed, and are said to “run with the property” -- that is, they are passed on from owner to owner. Restrictions may dictate how a property can or cannot be subdivided and what types of alterations are permitted.

5. Are there any easements connected to the property? An easement is a form of deed restriction that gives a non-possessory partial interest in the property to a second party, such as a nonprofit organization or public agency. In English, this means the property owner still enjoys all the rights of ownership, while the easement owner usually has the right to access the property (within reason, of course) without seeking specific permission. Examples include a public pathway easement, an open space easement, façade easement, and historic easement.

6. Will you be able to finance the purchase of the historic house? We've taken you through several important steps when financing your historic house. Before signing a contract, make sure you have considered each one and are prepared to provide the necessary information and documents.


7. Have you calculated the cost of insuring the house? While you won’t need to secure and purchase insurance before signing the contract, make sure you are very clear on the additional costs you will incur once you do. Don’t forget to check out National Trust Insurance Services to learn more about insurance for historic houses.

8. Has the appraised value of the property been determined? You shouldn't sign a contract until you've gotten the property appraised. An appraisal is important because the mortgage lender will want to make sure the property is worth the amount of money you will be loaned. It is also an opportunity for you to verify that the purchase price is reasonable.

9. Have you conducted a professional house inspection? In our previous toolkit, we gave you 10 ways to informally inspect potential houses. But a professional house inspection is most often required by your mortgage and insurance companies. It’s a good idea to get professional opinions on your old house’s wiring, plumbing, and other mechanical systems; you’ll also need a termite inspection.

Tip: You can find qualified professionals by talking with historic house owners in the neighborhood and seeking suggestions from local preservation organizations and agencies. A real estate agent versed in historic properties should also be able to help you.

Historic house is Plattsmouth, Nebraska

10. Are you ready to discover the many benefits of owning a historic house? Purchasing a historic house can be a rewarding experience. You’ll have an opportunity to learn about the history of the house and your neighborhood, and come to understand the local, state, and federal regulations that help preserve and enhance historic houses and their communities. But most importantly, you’ll discover how historic preservation contributes to quality of life and why so many people treasure historic houses.

Through Partners in Preservation: Main Streets, your votes will help unlock $2 million in preservation funding for historic Main Street districts across America.

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