How to Buy a Historic Home

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A historic neighborhood in Georgia. Photo by @maginnis via Twenty20
For many people, owning a historic home is a dream come true. More than just an old house, a house like this often comes with its own sense of history and importance, and often is in a historic district with a rich and vibrant community.
But buying a historical house involves more than just paying the asking price and moving in. A historic home has its own variety of issues, ranging from old and outdated wiring, an out-of-date structure, and a whole slew of local and state restrictions that you must follow when making changes to any protected historic site. If you are one of the many Americans who want to buy a historic home, make sure you keep the following factors in mind.
This article walks you through what to look for when examining a historic house, lists the specific steps you need to take before buying a historic home, and discusses getting financing and insurance for a historic home.

Part 1: What to Look for in a Historic Home

When shopping around for a historic house, you need to pay attention to detail, especially when examining the home itself. You want to make sure the home is structurally sound and decide if you want to invest what it takes to keep the home in great shape so that it will last for years to come. The following section details the historic home examination process.
Step 1: Make a list. Start by making a list of each area you want to look at in the home.
This helps to ensure that you assess critical areas of the home and don’t accidentally forget an area during a long inspection process.
Areas to inspect include:
  • The roof
  • Chimneys
  • Walls (interior and exterior)
  • Porches
  • Windows
  • Doors
  • Foundation
  • Fireplaces
  • Attic
  • Basement
  • Bathrooms
  • Bedrooms
  • Kitchen
  • Other living spaces
  • Plumbing
  • Wiring
Step 2: Take pictures. When making an inspection of a historic home, take pictures so it is easier to remember any problems you encountered. Make sure to ask permission from the owner or agent first before doing so.
Step 3: Examine the property. Start your examination of the property by viewing it from a distance.
Pay attention to the roof line, looking for any obvious sagging. Also, check the any chimneys to see if they have a lean to them.
Get a little closer to the home, and look at the roof shingles. Make sure to keep an eye out for any cracking, rotting, or damage to the shingles.
Also, as you get closer, look more closely at the chimneys, looking for missing or loose mortar in particular.
Step 4: Check the walls. As you come up on the house, check the exterior walls for any excessive wear. Also look at the paint to see if the home needs a fresh coat of paint.
As you enter the home and walk throughout the house, pay attention to the walls. What you need to look for includes any loose plaster, signs of water damage, and any cracks or damage.
Also, check any fireplaces for soundness and missing or loose bricks or mortar. Ask when the fireplaces and chimneys were last cleaned as well.
Step 5: What about the windows? As you make your way through the house, check the windows.
When examining the windows, look for:
  • Cracked or damaged glass
  • Damaged sills or rails.
You should also try to determine if the windows are original to the house. If unsure, ask the agent or homeowner.
At the same time, check the doors of the house to make sure that all doors open and close easily.
Step 6: Inspect the floor and stairs. As you walk into each room, examine the floors for any sag, tilt, or other indication of a compromised structural integrity.
You should pay particular attention to the floor near tubs or sinks for water damage.
If the floor has carpeting, try to look underneath the carpeting for any damage.
You can also examine the floor for any signs of sanding, usually indicated by ridges along the baseboards.
When traveling between levels, check the stairs to make sure they are structurally sound.
Step 7: Don’t forget the basement. If the home has a basement, don’t forget to look for signs of water damage, such as puddles and water stains.
A sump pump can also indicate water issues.
Furniture and books up on risers represents another clear sign of potential water issues.
Check the foundation in the basement for cracks or other signs of damage that might indicate shifting or instability.
While in the basement, check the plumbing to make sure it is in good repair.
Step 8: Make sure the systems work. Check out any heating, air, or other systems within the house.
Ask about the age of the hot water heater, heat, AC, and electrical wiring in the home.
Step 9: Look in the attic. Finally, stop by the attic to take a look around.
Things to look for when inspecting the attic include:
  • Wild animals
  • Holes in the roof
  • Water damage
  • Condition of insulation (if any)

Part 2: Get a Home Inspection and Know Estimated Repairs Before Buying

Examining a historic home represents just the first step in the purchasing process. Once you have inspected the home and want to buy it, you need to complete the steps below.
  • Get a home inspection: Start by getting the home inspected by a qualified home inspector. The home inspector will probably find a lot more than you did on your initial walkthrough. The inspector can also give you a better idea as to the structural integrity of the home, including the roof.
  • Get an estimate: If you need to have any repairs done, get an estimate of the cost from a general contractor.
  • Test for asbestos and lead: Have the home tested for any asbestos, lead-based paint, or lead pipes.
  • **Check local and state laws: ** In addition, check out local and state laws on what you are allowed to do to a historic home. Some of the restriction imposed on a historic home usually include:
  • No new additions
  • Preservation of the original windows, shutters, and roofs
  • Higher tax rate for the neighborhood
Historic homes also tend to have a higher energy bill due to outdated heating and air systems and poor insulation. Check the previous year’s energy bill to make sure you are willing to take on the added cost that such homes often bring.

Part 3: Get Financing and Home Insurance

Financing the purchase of a historic home can also present its own problems. Some lenders might balk at financing an older home, especially if the home needs extensive repairs. Loan types specially geared toward older, historic homes include:
In the same vein, home insurance companies generally ask for higher premiums when insuring a historical home. This is due to the tendency for increased replacement costs often associated with older historic homes.
While buying a historic home brings its own sets of challenges, you can ensure that the home is not too much to take on by carefully inspecting it before buying it. You should compare how much any repairs cost to how much you are willing to put into the home after buying it to determine if purchasing the home is worth your time and effort.