Will Buying a Historic Home Come With Lots of Legal Restrictions?

For a prospective homebuyer who is interested in preservation, might the government oversight be more restrictive than is appropriate?

By , Attorney

Let's say you love old homes, and want to buy and restore one. If you buy within a registered historic district, the chances could be higher that your neighbors care as much as you do about old homes and will invest the time and energy needed to make them beautiful. At the same time, you might want your new home to reflect your family's tastes. Will you be forced to conform the home renovations to a narrow idea of historical authenticity? If so, what can you do to avoid this?

Who Sets Historic Design Standards

The state commissions that create historic districts, and the local regulations (zoning bylaws and historic preservation ordinances) that impose design standards on the renovation of historic structures, whether in a historic district or not, sometimes focus on particular design styles or eras as the basis for their regulatory policies.

For instance, in New England, there's a tendency for regulators to see colonial architecture and design details as the standard for the preservation of historic structures. Preserving and protecting a 1930's Art Deco garage, no matter how authentic, simply evokes the wrong history in the eyes of these commission members.

Making Your Case When Remodeling Your House

Painstaking research into local architectural history can persuade a local commission or trust to take a more expansive view of what is actually historically significant.

Specifically, you might need to contact your state's historic commission or private organizations like your state's historic society. In addition, many historic preservation societies specialize in particular styles of architecture or historic eras; your home could be of great interest to them, and they will bring a special competence to an assessment of the possibilities for it.

Most state and local authorities prefer to see historic structures restored rather than deteriorate to the point where they can't be rehabilitated and must be torn down. A thoughtfully conceived and historically accurate renovation plan will usually carry the day with a local regulatory authority that cares deeply about the ongoing restoration and preservation of the history of its town or city.

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