When you want a home with a lot of character, your real estate agent is likely to guide you to a town's historic district. The houses in this area are older and represent architectural styles that range from cute, little bungalows to large, gracious estates. Although the houses may date back to an earlier century, you'll find that many have been restored and updated with modern amenities. If you're the adventurous type, there are often houses in the district that have an appealing price as long as you're willing and able to invest the time and money for preservation and upgrades that will make it cozy, comfortable, and compliant with current building standards. In many towns, the designated historic district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places – a fact that has a delightful ring to it when you tell family and friends about the address of your new home. But before you make any final decisions, coordinate closely with your real estate agent to evaluate the advantages and potential drawbacks of home ownership in a historic district.
Financial Incentive Availability
Preserving the character of the historic district is the prime motivator for communities that have gone to effort to establish and maintain designation. In some districts you'll find that public and private organizations offer loans, tax breaks, and discounts as encouragement for new property owners dedicated to preservation and improvements. Ask your real estate agent for full details on tax incentives that may apply, and what criteria you must meet to be eligible. Take time to check out other opportunities for savings such as rebate programs the local utility company may offer to replace an old heating and air-conditioning system with one that is much more energy efficient.
Approval Process for Property Modifications
While your real estate agent can help you get a copy of the municipality's zoning regulations related to the historic district, you need to do your own additional due diligence. Some districts have an architectural review board in place that must evaluate any exterior changes you wish to make to the house, including the colors of paint, the types of siding, and the styles of windows you may wish to alter in the future. The regulations may be less stringent in other districts, but make sure you get a clear indication of the timeline involved to get any necessary sign-offs from the appropriate authorities.
Neighborhood Association Activity
A vibrant historic district neighborhood association can have a huge, positive influence on your experience as a homeowner in the area. Check to see if the association is active and the type of meetings or gatherings they hold throughout the year. If possible, attend a meeting and chat with other property owners in the district. They'll be a great resource for discovering if there are things you need to watch out for – like potential sewer line replacement. And they'll also let you know about things you'll love – like the community picnics, workshops, and holiday fundraisers. They can also give you tips about contractors in the area who are experienced working within the district's guidelines for maintenance and restoration.
Although it may take extra time for you and your real estate agent to examine the option of buying in a historic district, you'll be well prepared to thoroughly enjoy the home as soon as you've signed the sales agreement. You'll be prepared to work with the proper regulatory departments when you do any renovations. And you can be assured that you share at least one interest with your new neighbors – the dedication to preserving your community's history, side by side.