Is it a good idea to buy a historic home? It’s not for the faint of heart, expert says

Nothing beats the character of an old home, but are the kinks and maintenance worth it?

A row of NYC townhouses
(Image credit: Alexander Spatari via Getty Images)

Charm is abundant in a historic property. They hold history and character – but with it comes unique maintenance concerns that are not for the faint-hearted. So, is it a good idea to buy a historic home? 

Whether you have plans to restore a historic home to its former glory or update a historic home for modern living, there are several concerns around planning permission and structural integrity that can sometimes get in the way. 

Here, professional contractors and real estate agents weigh up the pros and cons of buying a historic home to help you make the best property choices. 

Is it a good idea to buy a historic home?

Just because historic homes can be a handful doesn't mean that you should avoid them entirely. The age of the property, where it is built, how it was built, and how it has been looked after all play big parts in helping you decide if it is worth buying a house. These are the seven things you should consider before putting in an offer.  

The Pros

An old victorian mansion on the corner of a street

(Image credit: fotoVoyager via Getty Images)

1. They were built to last  

'Even if historic homes get a bit of a bad wrap for owners battling to keep a poorly insulated house warm or deal with moisture issues, you can rest assured that they are made with materials designed to last,' begins Danny Johnson, residential developer and owner of Danny Buys Houses:

‘'They don't build them like they used to' – there's a reason that statement is being made more and more. The building materials and craftsmanship used to build these beautiful houses are very difficult to find these days unless you have an unlimited budget,’ he shares. 

2. They have unique character and charm  

Historic homes are popular for a reason – they are awe-inspiring. With well-cared-for historic property, you won’t have to make a conscious effort to add value to your home; it will gain it naturally as it continues to age. 

‘Historic homes in NYC often boast unparalleled architectural details and craftsmanship, offering buyers a one-of-a-kind living experience. We see a great demand for anything like converted churches or schools,’ shares Madison Sutton, real estate agent at SERHANT. ‘Purchasing a historic home allows buyers to own a piece of NYC's rich cultural and architectural heritage, adding a sense of prestige and pride to homeownership. Unique homes will always be in demand in NYC.’ 

Madison Sutton
Madison Sutton

Madison is a nationally-recognized real estate influencer with over 150,000 followers across all social platforms and averaging four million monthly impressions. She has been featured on Bloomberg, CNN, FOX Business, and more, where she has discussed how to utilize social media to generate leads and sell real estate.

3. They are often in prized locations 

'Historic homes usually also come with a fantastic location,' points out Lindsey Harn, a top real estate agent with Christie's International Real Estate. ‘Older homes tend to be closer to town and more conveniently located to shops, restaurants, etc. So you can enjoy the convenience of an amazing location,’ she explains. 

Some older homes are also pleasantly situated in the countryside, allowing for spectacular views and relaxation. In a way, they can be the ultimate wellness homes – there is nothing not to like. 

Lindsey Harn
Lindsey Harn

Lindsey is an elite member of Christie's International Real Estate Circle–one of 180 high-performing luxury agents worldwide. 

4. They offer a great ROI 

Although not everyone buys to sell, it is worth considering the return on your investment when picking a property. Historic homes naturally increase in value as they age – so long as they are looked after well and don't fall into disrepair. Not to mention that a well-carried-out renovation will boost its value immensely – more so than adding the best ROI home improvements to a modern build, suggests Nancy Batchelor, Vice President at Compass. 

However, she says that not everyone is cut out to do a remodel, so it needs careful consideration before investing. 

Nancy Batchelor
Nancy Batchelor

As the founder and Principal of Nancy Batchelor Team, she has over two decades of experience working with buyers, sellers and investors in luxury homes and condominiums.

The Cons

A historic cottage in disrepair

(Image credit: Mint Images via Getty Images)

1. Remodeling is often more expensive 

There is more to think about before planning a remodel of a historic home compared to modern builds, not to mention that it is often more expensive as more needs to be replaced, rewired, or worked around. 

‘The typical recommendation is to set a budget and then double it,’ warns Danny Johnson, home renovator. ‘Opening walls in these homes tends to uncover lots of surprises. This can be in the form of an old knob and tube wiring that is still hot, lack of insulation, or old termite or water damage.’ 

The Old House Doctor | View at Amazon

The Old House Doctor | View at Amazon
This guide to renovating, repairing, and caring for historic homes is a great place to start if you are considering investing in an old home. It can give you an idea of the work involved before you take the plunge. 

What’s more, when renovating an old property, you may have to go custom for many appliances and fittings to help them fit in, reminds Missy Derr, real estate advisor at Engel & Volkers: 

‘A direct example of this is my bathroom remodel. Standard bathtubs are 60'', however, my bathroom was only 57'' wide. This required a specially ordered pedestal tub as I wanted to honor my own home's 1920s build date plus my own desire to enjoy bubble baths.’

2. They require constant maintenance  

Home maintenance is a must with any house, but it is far more involved in a historic property, especially maintenance tasks to lower energy bills which are typically higher in older homes. 

‘Historic homes often require ongoing maintenance and preservation efforts to upkeep their structural integrity and historical character, which can result in higher maintenance costs compared to newer properties,’ says estate agent Madison Sutton. Done properly, however, these tasks will keep the home in top condition for years to come.

3. They lack modern amenities  

Depending on the location and age of the property, some historic homes lack modern amenities, estate agent Madison Sutton continues. It will be up to you to decide if the charm and character of the space are worth more than having the biggest and best home upgrades or eco-home improvements.  

FAQs

Why are old houses built so well? 

Older homes and historic properties are usually more sturdy as they were made with higher quality materials and built more slowly compared to modern builds that are put up quickly and cheaply to accommodate a rapidly growing population and a steep increase in second (or more) homes. This is also why a historic home (when looked after) is likely to last longer than most modern builds despite having stood for far longer.  

How old does a house have to be to be considered historic?  

As it stands, a building or home is considered historic if it was built before 1945. Any building built in the last 30 years is considered a ‘new build,’ as they are yet to be tested by the rigors of time. A building also usually gains this title thanks to interesting features (such as character features or build techniques) and their location.  


'Buying a historic home is not for the faint of heart,’ concludes Missy Derr, real estate advisor. ‘Projects will run over budget. Defects will be hidden. However, if you are patient and careful with your home, your budget, and yourself you will find that the opportunity you have given yourself will reward you.’ 

Chiana Dickson
Writer

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for a year, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.