row of historic victorian style homes

The Charms And Headaches Of Buying A Historic Home

Emma Tomsich4-minute read

September 24, 2020


Buying a historic home can be a thrilling experience. And for some prospective home buyers, there is nothing more enticing than an old home, particularly if it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is located in a historic district.

Historic homes give homeowners the chance to own a piece of history and embrace the character and stories of a beautifully crafted home. But historic homes also come with particular issues that newer homes do not. So before you commit to owning a historic home, it’s important you understand the endless care and maintenance your home will require to keep it in tiptop shape.

Get approved to buy a home.

Rocket Mortgage® lets you get to house hunting sooner.

What Is A Historic Home?

In the United States, historic places are determined and then monitored by the National Park Service. The National Register of Historic Places is a federal list on which there are currently over 26,000 places listed. Additionally, states and municipalities can designate a home or a district as historic.

However, just because a home is old does not mean it is registered or qualified to be a historic home. Age alone isn’t enough to classify a home as historic. To be accepted as a historic property, the home needs to be at least 50 years old (although there are some exceptions) and meet one of four pieces of criteria:

  • Be connected to significant, historical events
  • Be connected to the lives of significant individuals
  • Be considered an embodiment of a particular master or historic style
  • Has provided or is likely to provide important historical information


This formal designation means that the historic nature of the district must be preserved by all who own property within the district, and that permits are required for any work that affects the exterior of the home.

What Does It Mean To Own A Historic Home?

Owning a historic home is a one-of-a-kind experience that can bring lovers of history, art and architecture closer to their community and the past. If you’re thinking about purchasing a historic home, read more about the passions that motivate homeowners to buy historic homes.

You Are In Love With Your Home

For a niche group of homeowners, a historic home is an emotional investment. Many prospective homebuyers seek a unique home that they can connect with. It’s common for prospective home buyers to share a passion for architecture or history. So when these buyers look for historic homes on the market, they are guided by those passions and attracted to charming features and one-of-a-kind structures.

You’re Joining A Community Committed To Preservation

When buying a historic home in a historic district, a person is not only committing to being a good neighbor, but also a good steward of history. This is a commitment shared by other homeowners to do what it takes to preserve the character and history of the district, even when it will cost them more to do so and limit certain property rights enjoyed by non-historic homeowners.

Your Home May Provide An Excellent Return On Your Investment

Believe it or not, many well-preserved homes in well-maintained historic districts have been significantly outpacing their newer homes rivals in increasing in value.

You May Be Able To Get Financial Assistance For Renovations

If you’re interested in purchasing a historic home but are worried about the price tag, there may be grants or loans available to pay for a portion of renovation costs.

Get approved to refinance.

See expert-recommended refinance options and customize them to fit your budget.

What Are The Downsides Of Buying A Historic Home?

While the thought of owning a historic home might seem like a dream come true, it’s time to snap back into reality and consider some of the headaches that may await you if you were to purchase a historic home.

You’re Joining A Very Motivated Association Of Stakeholders

In some historic districts, oversight is minimal. However, in many very strict or tourism-heavy districts, the process will be closely reviewed for architectural compatibility and historic sensitivity by experts in the field.

If you’re a serious prospective historic home buyer, be sure to read all applicable historic preservation regulations before purchasing the historic home.

Renovations Will Take Longer

Added levels of oversight invariably add months, and sometimes years, to any construction or home improvement project. In addition, homeowners in historic districts are required to apply for review or permits of any work that affects the exterior appearance of the home, including additions, demolitions, and alterations.

Those who buy a historic home without the passion for history or architecture may find the historic oversight intrusive.

Renovations Will Cost More

Some requirements, like the use of historically authentic materials, can add significantly to the costs of these products. Although the National Register of Historic Places does not require any renovation or upkeep of historic homes, many state and local districts do, so homeowners must maintain their property to community standards with historically accurate materials.

You May Or May Not Be Making A Good Financial Investment

Unfortunately, the return on a historic home investment is unclear. The same qualities that some homeowners find onerous or unduly costly are also the ones that protect resale value. Districts or homes that are not well-preserved will not be as attractive to those interested in purchasing a historic home, and resale value will reflect that.

You May Have More Difficulty Arranging Financing And Insurance  

It is possible that prospective historic homebuyers could run into some difficulties during the home buying process. For example, it could be harder to schedule an appraisal and sometimes lenders shy away from historic homes altogether. Because renovations on historic properties can be so costly, many insurance companies will be hesitant to offer homeowner’s policies.

Luckily, there are insurance companies that specialize in historic homes, but, as with everything else historic, it’ll cost more.

Summary: Charm, At A Cost

There are many benefits and drawbacks involved with the purchase of a historic home. For example, you can save money in the form of tax breaks, but older homes can often surprise you with emergency repairs. You will need to determine what owning a piece of history is worth to you. If the time and investment required aren’t something you’re comfortable with, it’s best to make that decision before you invest anything. As you continue your home buying journey, feel free to explore more tips in the Learning Center.

Take the first step toward the right mortgage.

Apply online for expert recommendations with real interest rates and payments.

See What You Qualify For

Emma Tomsich

Emma Tomsich is a student at Marquette University studying Corporate Communications, Marketing and Public Relations. She has a passion for writing, and hopes to one day own her own business. In her free time, Emma likes to travel, shop, run and drink coffee.