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Historic Homes: Heritage vs. Hardship

historic homes: heritage vs. hardship

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Published date:

October 13, 2015

Last updated date:

October 13, 2015

By Manny Manriquez

Many of us love the idea of owning that magnificent, 19th Century Victorian in the city. Not many of us can afford it. Or so we think. In fact, in many cities across America, historic preservation societies and laws exist to insure that historic properties (like a fish-scale Victorian with leaded glass windows) will continue to exist well into the 21st century – and beyond. Dating from 1837 to 1901 – the period during which Queen Victoria ruled, this era combined a number of styles (Victorian Gothic, Queen Anne, Renaissance Revival, and Chateau) to achieve an architectural effect whose appeal to the sensibilities of homeowners – and would-be homeowners – remains to this day. The only thing holding most of these buyers back is the high cost of restoring a Victorian to its original glory, and the ongoing (and equally high) cost of upkeep. No vinyl siding for this group; the myth of “no maintenance” never gets a foothold with these diehard purists, and the cost of good exterior paint (not to mention scrapers, sanders, man-hours and primer) can run into hundreds of dollars and crop up once every five years or so. In spite of that, “rehabbing” a Victorian is still likely to cost less than new construction. Moreover, in cities from New York to Minneapolis, and Philadelphia to Sacramento, laws not only protect the Victorian homeowner from having to make expensive modifications, but define the dollar value of these modifications in terms of said homeowner versus the neighborhood in particular and the community at large. More important, if the Victorian home qualifies as an “historic” property – and many do – the city, historic organization, or some other group or combination of groups may step in and help a homeowner make major repairs. Historic designation means the house (and property) has been confirmed as having “special historical, cultural, aesthetic, or architectural character, interest, or value as part of the development, heritage, or history of the city”. victorian-terraced-villa-afterThis certification can apply to the entire structure and the parcel it is on – and sometimes even adjacent parcels under the same ownership. Alternatively, it can apply to specific exterior and interior elements and natural features that the city/preservation board believes contribute to the property’s historic significance. For example, if a famous (or infamous) person lived there, visited, or merely slept in the home. If you own a Victorian in a neighborhood of classic structures, you should see if you can acquire “historic” designation. Not only will the designation not lower property values, or make your property less saleable (or prevent you from making some changes), but it will not raise your taxes, and you may quality for a 20-percent tax offset for the cost of renovation. This last is true even if you don’t qualify for government or preservation-society funding.  

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