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Pros and cons of buying a home in a historic district

Across the United States there are thousands of homes for sale in historic districts. These properties come in all shapes and sizes, from those that require restoration to turnkey properties just waiting for a new owner.

While buying a historic home can provide you with features that you will cherish and will give you a direct link to this country’s history, a historic home purchase can also come with challenges.

Things to cherish:

• Handcrafted beauty. Many historic homes have period details that you’d never find in modern construction. The doors and molding may very well be original.

• A likely unchanged neighborhood. Historic districts are protected from new construction, changes to roads or streetscapes and the sudden appearance of a Burger King.

• Lower taxes. To offset the cost of keeping up a historic home in the manner required by the rules of historic preservation, many historic districts offer homeowners extensive tax breaks. There are local tax relief programs, federal tax credits and state grants to be had.

The challenges:

• Strict constraints on any changes you may wish to make to the property. The whole point of historic districts is to protect and preserve the physical manifestations of history, as embodied by historic homes. Therefore, you basically are not permitted to change anything about a historic home without gong through a vigorous approval process with the varies historic preservation boards (federal, state and local). Even if repairs are necessary, they have to be conducted using the materials, techniques and methods of the time period when the home was first constructed. Forget slapping up a piece of drywall to patch a hole. You have to contact a contractor who specializes in historic properties. Be prepared to pay for that expertise.

• Toxic building materials. Builders of the past were not aware they were putting poison into the property every time they worked with materials like lead and asbestos. Now, it costs serious money to have those poisons removed.

• Outdated systems. Heating and cooling may be antiquated in older homes. Old plumbing and pipes can cause problems. Old electrical systems can be unsafe and potentially deadly.

Often, when buying a home in a historic district, it comes down to how much time, money and possible frustration you are willing to put in. The costs can be steep, but the payoff will result in a one-of-a-kind home.

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