What to Know Before Buying a Historic Home

If you’re a history buff, the thought of owning a historic home might sound incredibly exciting, but you also may be wondering if it’s a good financial move to make. Older homes can definitely have some charming features and neat local history, but they can also have a few drawbacks that should be considered before taking the plunge. We’ll help you wade through the pile of pros and cons, legal implications, and tax details of what comes along with buying a historic home in beautiful B.C.! 

What is A Historic Home?

Before you go looking for a historic home to buy, let’s make sure you know what makes a home historical in the first place! A historic home, with its designation rooted in age, architectural significance, and commitment to preservation, embodies a tangible link to the past. Key criteria for such a designation typically include the following:

  • Age Requirement: Typically aged, a historic home surpasses 50 years, although specific thresholds may vary regionally.
  • Architectural Significance: Uniqueness in architectural features defines a historic home, showcasing craftsmanship and design representative of its era.
  • Cultural or Historical Relevance: A historic home is intertwined with historical events, notable figures, or specific cultural contexts, contributing to a community's broader historical narrative.
  • Preservation Efforts: Preservation guidelines govern historic homes, emphasizing the importance of maintaining their original character during renovations or modifications.
  • Recognition and Designation: Official recognition from heritage authorities signifies a home's historical importance, often accompanied by legal obligations and preservation incentives.
  • Heritage Conservation Districts: Some historic homes reside in designated districts, subject to additional regulations ensuring the preservation of the area's historic character.
  • Educational and Tourist Interest: Historic homes often attract educational and tourist attention, becoming educational resources for local history through open houses, guided tours, and programs.
  • Sense of Time and Place: Living in a historic home provides a tangible connection to the past, contributing to the community's cultural fabric and fostering a unique sense of time and place.

Think you’re up to the challenge of owning a historic home? Let’s find out. 

Pros and Cons of Owning a Historic Home

Owning a historic home is a dream for many Canadians, offering something special from the country's rich history, but as charming as the idea might seem, take the time to weigh the pros and cons before venturing into historic homeownership.

Advantages of Owning a Historic Home

Architectural Charm and Character

One of the primary attractions of historic homes that make people fall in love with them is their architectural charm and character. Houses like this often boast the intricate details, craftsmanship, and history lacking in today’s mass-manufactured homes. 

Potential for Tax Credits

Historic homeownership can come with financial benefits, including potential tax credits, but more on that in a minute!

Sense of History and Heritage

Living in a historic home allows you to become part of its story, connecting with the past and preserving a piece of local history. It's a unique experience that can be immensely rewarding for those who appreciate historical significance.

Disadvantages of Owning a Historic Home

Maintenance Challenges

It almost goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway! One of the significant challenges to be expected when investing in a historic home is the potential for maintenance issues. Outdated systems, such as plumbing and electrical wiring, may need upgrading depending on the level of care previous homeowners have given the property. This, of course, may require significant financial investment and some inconvenience if you plan to live on-site during renovations.

Potential Hidden Problems

Aside from bad plumbing and faulty wiring, older houses are also subject to a few hidden problems you may not notice until after purchase. Structural issues or outdated materials in the home can be costly to address so having a thorough inspection and understanding home inspection costs in B.C. is crucial to uncover and address any lurking issues before committing to a purchase.

Rule Adherence

While you might be on board with tackling an overhaul of a historic home, the reality is that there can be some sticky red tape, strict rules, and regulations governing renovations and modifications. In Canada, this can include adherence to local heritage conservation districts, adding layers of complexity to any home improvement project.

Rules for Historic Homes 

Before buying a historic home in B.C., it's crucial to understand the rules and regulations associated with owning and renovating such properties. Here are a couple to consider:

Preservation Requirements

In Canada, each province may have its own set of rules regarding the preservation of historic homes. In Ontario, for example, the Heritage Act governs the preservation of heritage properties, and alterations or demolitions may require approval from the local municipal heritage committee. Similar acts are in place for B.C. heritage sites under the Heritage Conservation Act, and in Alberta under the Historical Resources Act

Restrictions on Modifications

Canadian historic homes may have restrictions on modifications to preserve their historic character as outlined by provincial and federal regulations. Obtaining the necessary permits and approvals from local heritage authorities is essential before making any changes.

Tax Benefits of Owning a Historic Home 

Despite the potential for challenges when purchasing one of Canada’s historic houses, there are potential financial advantages to owning one, particularly in the form of tax benefits and incentives. Here is a good place to start:

Federal Historic Places Initiative

In Canada, the Federal Historic Places Initiative provides tax incentives for the preservation of designated historic properties. This initiative aims to encourage Canadians to maintain the historical integrity of their homes.

Provincial and Municipal Incentives

Some provinces and municipalities in Canada may offer additional tax credits for historic homeownership. Researching and understanding these potential benefits can make a significant difference in the overall cost of owning and maintaining a historic home.

Does House Age Affect Price?

The age of a house can significantly influence its price in the Canadian real estate market, so having a solid understanding of this relationship is crucial for both buyers and sellers. Owning a historic home, for example, could mean higher property and assessment values, especially in areas with a productive celebration of heritage that promotes tourism (Victoria is a notable example of this). 

Factors Influencing Price

The price of a historic home in B.C. is often influenced by factors such as:

  • Historical significance within the Canadian context (federally and provincially)
  • Architectural integrity in accordance with B.C. heritage standards
  • Recent renovations and upgrades, ensuring they meet B.C. building codes
  • Maintenance history in compliance with B.C. regulations

Historic Home Appraisal Challenges

Appraising historic homes in B.C. can be challenging due to their unique characteristics. Working with an appraiser experienced in valuing historic properties within the Canadian context is essential to ensure an accurate assessment of the home's value.

What Questions Should You Ask When Buying an Older House?

Before strolling into your realtor's office with a page full of Pinterest photos, be sure you come armed with all the right questions before signing your life away. If your heart is set on purchasing an older or historic home in B.C., don’t forget to ask for the inside scoop on these key aspects of your potential dream house:

Structural Integrity

  • Has the house undergone recent inspections for structural issues, adhering to Canadian building codes?
  • Are there any signs of foundation problems, such as cracks or uneven floors?

Maintenance History

  • What maintenance and renovations have been done in recent years, and were they in compliance with Canadian building standards?
  • Are there records of past issues, and how were they addressed?

Utilities and Systems

  • How updated are the electrical and plumbing systems, considering Canadian safety standards?
  • Have there been any recent updates to improve energy efficiency in line with Canadian regulations?

Insurance Considerations

  • What kind of insurance coverage is available for historic homes in B.C.?
  • Are there additional insurance costs associated with owning an older property in B.C.?

What is a Common Problem in Old Houses?

Owning an old house in B.C. might come with some great ghost-haunting stories, but it can also come with some bigger problems that could seriously haunt your bank account. Being armed and aware of these issues and taking proactive measures during a home purchase can help mitigate some of these potential challenges:

Foundation Issues

Foundation problems are prevalent in older Canadian homes due to factors like soil movement and aging materials. Regular inspections, ideally conducted by a qualified structural engineer, are crucial. Early detection of issues such as cracks, shifts, or settling is crucial for preventing further damage, and prompt repairs are essential. Failing to address foundation problems right away can lead to more extensive and costly repairs down the line.

Outdated Wiring

Outdated electrical wiring in older Canadian homes poses serious safety risks, including the potential for electrical fires and inadequate power supply. Upgrading the electrical system to meet modern Canadian safety standards in a historic home is a proactive measure that keeps everyone safe, and this may involve rewiring, replacing outdated fixtures, and ensuring the installation of modern circuit breakers.

Plumbing Challenges

Older homes in B.C. often feature outdated plumbing systems that pose challenges in terms of efficiency and safety, and a thorough assessment of the condition of pipes and fixtures in a historic home is usually necessary. Planning for upgrades will be crucial to comply with Canadian plumbing regulations and ensure that the plumbing system meets contemporary standards for water conservation and safety. 

Some of Our Favourite Historic Homes in B.C.

As realtors, we love BC’s rich and diverse architecture, but these historic homes across the country are some of our all-time favourites!

  • Craigdarroch Castle: Nicknamed “Canada’s Castle,” this historic gem is located in Victoria, B.C. A historic mansion built in the late 19th century, the home boasts Victorian architecture and serves as a striking museum showcasing local history.
  • Carr House: Carr House in British Columbia, Canada, is the birthplace of iconic Canadian artist Emily Carr. This historic site offers a glimpse into her life and creative journey.
  • Gatsby Mansion: Gatsby Mansion, now the Pendray Inn and Tea House, is a testament to historic charm. Enjoy Victorian elegance and indulge in a delightful tea experience overlooking the Inner Harbour.

Owning a historic home in B.C. is a unique and rewarding experience, but it requires careful consideration and planning. From understanding provincial laws and potential tax benefits to asking the right questions and addressing common problems, thorough research is going to be your key to success. Before taking the leap into historic homeownership, weigh the pros and cons, seek expert advice from an experienced realtor, and be prepared for the ups and downs that come with preserving a piece of Canadian history!


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