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The Charms And Headaches Of Buying A Historic Home

March 18, 2024 6-minute read

Author: Victoria Araj


Buying a historic home can be a thrilling experience. For some exploring the possibility of buying a house, there is nothing more enticing than an old home, especially if it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places or in a historic district.

Historic homes allow homeowners to own a piece of history and embrace the character and stories of a beautifully crafted home. However, historic houses can have issues newer homes don’t. It’s important to know how to find and buy the right historic house and prepare for the care and maintenance your new home may require.

What Is A Historic Home?

While many types of homes may appeal to buyers looking for a historic look and feel, homes that the U.S. National Park Service designates and monitors as historic are the real deal. The National Register of Historic Places is a federal registry with over 95,000 places listed. Additionally, states and municipalities can designate a home or district as historic.

What Makes A Home Historic?

Just because a home is old doesn’t mean it’s registered or qualifies as historic. To be accepted as a historic property, the home must be at least 50 years old (although there are some exceptions) and meet one of four criteria:

  • It’s connected to significant historical events.
  • It’s connected to the lives of significant individuals.
  • It’s considered an embodiment of a particular master (architect or builder) or historic style.
  • It has provided or will likely provide important historical information.

If you're ready to start hunting for a historic home, make sure you've started the approval process with your mortgage lender. Historic areas can be competitive markets, so get your financing together before diving in and submittingoffers.


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What Is A Historic District?

A historic district can be designated at the federal, state or local government level. Typically, a local designation will be the most restrictive about what owners can change on their properties. When there is a historic designation, all property owners within the district must commit to its preservation and obtain permits for any work that affects the home’s exterior.

Often, a home that doesn’t qualify as historic because it lacks notability or significance can gain protection because it’s part of a cluster of properties and places in a designated historic site. However, some buildings in a historic district may be designated as “non-contributing” and don’t fall under the protections and limitations that would typically apply.

What Are The Benefits Of Buying 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 advantages of buying one.

Owning A Unique Piece Of History

For a niche group of homeowners, a historic home is an emotional investment. Many prospective home buyers seek a unique old house 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 homes on the market, they’re guided by those passions and attracted to charming features and one-of-a-kind historic structures.

Joining A Community Committed To Preservation

When buying a home in a historic district, a property owner commits to being a good neighbor and dedicated steward of history. Other homeowners share the same commitment, doing what it takes to preserve the character and history of the district, even when it may cost them more and limit certain property rights enjoyed by the owners of non-historic homes.

Receiving A Higher Return On Your Investment

Believe it or not, many well-preserved homes in well-maintained historic districts have significantly outpaced their newer rivals as home values increase. Several factors, including the desirability of a historic neighborhood or an increase inproperty values in improving areas, are likely drivers of this difference.

Getting Financial Assistance For Renovations

If you’re interested in purchasing a historic home but are worried about the price tag, you may qualify for grants or loans that can help you cover a portion of renovation costs. After checking out grants available to first-time home buyers, your next stop should be your State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). They can help you access state-specific assistance for historic home renovation.

You should also look into the Historic Tax Credit (HTC) offered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which provides a tax credit for rehabilitating a historic building. You should also look into historic preservation easements, which may offer significant tax relief.

Excited to experience the benefits of owning a historic home? Other buyers are likely eager, too. Boost your chances of getting the house of your dreams by opting for a Verified Approval1 when you apply with Rocket Mortgage®. By submitting your finances to more rigorous scrutiny, you'll stand a better chance of showing sellers you're serious about closing a deal.


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What Are The Downsides Of Buying A Historic Home?

While owning a historic home may seem like a dream come true, it’s important to be realistic and consider some headaches that may await if you purchase a historic home.

Stricter Regulations

In some historic districts, oversight is minimal. However, field experts closely examine buildings for architectural compatibility and historic sensitivity in many tourist-heavy districts. The restrictions may be even stricter than the rules associated with many homeowners associations (HOAs).

If you’re a prospective historic home buyer, review all applicable preservation regulations before purchasing a property.

More Complicated Renovations

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

You may find the oversight intrusive if you buy a historic home without a passion for history or architecture.

More Costly And Frequent Repairs

Repairs tend to be expensive due to some historic home requirements, like the use of historically authentic materials. Although the National Register of Historic Places doesn’t require any renovation or upkeep of historic homes, many state and local districts do. Homeowners in historic districts must maintain their property to community standards with historically accurate materials. Unless you're handy and up to date on your area’s historic building standards, you'll likely need to hire a professional to make repairs. Factor these extra costs into your budget when considering any historic home.

Lower Return On Investment

The return on a historic home investment can be unclear. The same qualities that some homeowners find difficult or costly, like specialized maintenance or strict guidelines, can also reduce resale value. Districts or homes that aren’t well-preserved won’t be as attractive to interested buyers, and the resale value will reflect that.

However, there is some debate about whether treating a historic home as an investment makes sense in the first place. It can be difficult to time the market and sell on demand. It may be wiser to view your home as a cost-effective way to live more comfortably and enjoyably.

More Difficulty Arranging Financing And Insurance

Prospective historic home buyers may encounter some difficulties during the home buying process. For example, it maybe harder for a lender to schedule an appraisal – and sometimes lenders shy away from historic homes altogether. Before submitting an offer on a historic home, you should secure preapproval ahead of time to help ensure your loan won’t fall through during closing.

Also, because renovations on historic properties can be expensive, many insurance companies may hesitate to offer homeowners insurance. However, some insurance companies specialize in historic homes, but as with everything else historic, it’ll likely cost more.

Make Your Offer Stand Out!

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Tips For Buying A Historic House

Buying a historic home is just like purchasing any other property, but it will require a little more research and consideration. To help you find the right property for your situation, do the following:

  • Tour several homes: The more homes you can compare, the better. When you take the opportunity to compare, you give yourself time to figure out what architectural styles and room layouts you like best.
  • Get a Verified Approval:1 Competition for a historic home can be Any way you can set yourself apart from other buyers is worth the time and effort.
  • Order a home inspection: Historic properties can have many obvious and not-so-obvious issues. Protect yourself by including an inspection contingency clause in your purchase agreement and confirm that your home inspector has experience with historic
  • Research maintenance and renovation costs: Use your home inspection report to learn what repairs the house may need and how much the work will cost. This precaution may help you avoid costly surprises down the road.
  • Check historic rehab regulations: Not all historic districts have the same Carefully read through all the restrictions that apply to the property.

Renovating and maintaining a historic home usually requires more time and labor than a newer house. To better prepare for its maintenance and potential challenges, you should carefully analyze all your options, from hiring a professional to applying for a tax credit.

The Bottom Line

There are many benefits and drawbacks involved with the purchase of a historic home. For example, you may save money with tax breaks but may deal with numerous emergency repairs. You’ll need to determine whether owning a piece of history is worth it. If the time and effort required aren’t something you’re comfortable with, it’s best to make that decision before you invest.

As you continue your home buying journey, help streamline the process and start with initial mortgage approval before you submit an offer on the historic home of your dreams.

1Participation in the Verified Approval program is based on an underwriter’s comprehensive analysis of your credit, income, employment status, assets and debt. If new information materially changes the underwriting decision resulting in a denial of your credit request, if the loan fails to close for a reason outside of Rocket Mortgage’s control, including, but not limited to satisfactory insurance, appraisal and title report/search, or if you no longer want to proceed with the loan, your participation in the program will be discontinued. If your eligibility in the program does not change and your mortgage loan does not close due to a Rocket Mortgage error, you will receive the $1,000. This offer does not apply to new purchase loans submitted to Rocket Mortgage through a mortgage broker. Rocket Mortgage reserves the right to cancel this offer at any time. Acceptance of this offer constitutes the acceptance of these terms and conditions, which are subject to change at the sole discretion of Rocket Mortgage. Additional conditions or exclusions may apply.

Make Your Offer Stand Out!

Get a Verified Approval with Rocket Mortgage® today.

Victoria Araj

Victoria Araj is a Section Editor for Rocket Mortgage and held roles in mortgage banking, public relations and more in her 15+ years with the company. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in political science from Michigan State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Michigan.