Chances are, you’ve driven through well-established neighborhoods where intricate details decorate the historic homes and a feel of times gone by lingers among mature trees. Many homes built in the early part of the 20th century and before still stand, proud and stately among newer developments and planned communities.
While historic homes are beautiful and ignite a sense of nostalgia, buying a historic home may mean you need to work with an agent who has a deep knowledge of these older homes and what it takes to preserve and maintain them.
To explain what a historic home specialist is and what they do, we talked with Kirsten Conover, a historic home specialist and top agent in Atlanta, Georgia. She works with clients who want to live in and preserve a piece of history.
But living in a historic home isn’t for everyone, she says. She works to educate her clients about the advantages — but also the realities — of living in and potentially renovating a historic home.
Let’s take a closer look at what qualifies as a historic home, what a historic home specialist does, and who should consider working with one.
What is a historic home?
Conover defines a historic home as a home that “was built in the past which retains some of its original architecture and/or characteristics.”
Now, just because a home has the burnt-orange shag carpet that screams “1970s decor” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a historic home. The National Register of Historic Places, which is part of the National Park Services, evaluates properties based on their association with significant historical people or events or their embodiment of distinctive characteristics or a type, period, or method of construction. Historic homes are typically at least 50 years old.
While a historic home doesn’t have to be officially listed on the National Register, this criteria can help determine whether or not a home should be considered historic.
If a home is deemed historic or is part of a historic district or neighborhood, changes that are made to the home typically need a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) that ensures that the changes being made are in keeping with the home’s original style, appropriate for the historic district, and in compliance with local codes.
Many cities have a Historic Preservation Commission or a similar organization that will decide on the appropriateness of changes to existing homes and for new construction in designated historical areas.
What is a historic home specialist?
Conover says a historic home specialist is “somebody who really understands how historic homes differ and is familiar with the codes that apply and don’t apply to that home.” They also “help people appreciate the advantages of owning a historic home, but also give their buyer wide-open eyes about some of the challenges they may face.”
While there is no official designation for a historic home specialist, their expertise is based on experience and a love of old homes. In speaking with Conover, it is clear how much she values historic homes and wants to make sure she helps her clients find the best property for their households — she even lives in a 1920s home herself!
Conover emphasizes the fact that she helps to educate her buyers about the charm and character of historic homes. She says, “I feel like I’m educating people all the time that there’s nothing wrong with buying an older home, as long as you make sure that the major systems are in good working order and have been updated.”
This education is important, and Conover helps her clients understand “what is realistic for you to expect the seller to remedy. They’re not going to rewire the whole house, and many, many people living in homes in Atlanta have just the two-wire electrical [as opposed to three-wire that includes a ground-wire], and they just have a surge protector.”
What does a historic home specialist do?
If you’re purchasing a historic home, the agent should be skilled in educating clients about both the upsides and downsides of owning a historic property as well as knowledgeable about the community and surrounding areas.
As you tour prospective homes, the agent should be able to help you determine what renovation or redecorating projects are feasible within the area’s historic home preservation guidelines.
If you’re working with a historic home specialist to sell your property, they will create a marketing strategy that’s specific to the home and its unique features. If the home has some notoriety — it was the site of a famous event or former home of a famous person — then the agent will likely highlight that fact in the marketing materials.
Questions to ask a historic home specialist
Before you hire a historic home specialist as your agent, here are a few questions to ask in the interview to ensure they know their stuff, as well as some ideas of what to ask when you tour a property or prepare to sell your historic home.
As a buyer
- How many historic homes have you helped clients purchase, and in what areas?
- Why do you specialize in historic homes?
- Do you have a qualified team to help with the process (inspectors, contractors, and so on)?
- Is the property in compliance with local codes?
- If not, can anything be done to bring it up to code?
- If I have to complete repairs, what code and/or preservation requirements would I need to follow?
As a seller
- How many historic homes have you sold, and in what areas?
- Why do you specialize in historic homes?
- What projects or upgrades should I do before I sell to make a good impression on potential buyers? What permits might be required to complete those?
- What is your marketing plan for my property?
Who should work with a historic home specialist?
Not everyone needs a historic home specialist working with them on their house hunt. If you want a newly constructed home that is fully updated, you can find an agent who specializes in new construction and will work with you to make that a reality.
But if you are looking for a historic home, one of the key advantages of working with a historic home specialist is that they are “able to educate people about the difference between a historic home and newer construction,” says Conover.
If you get giddy over the prospect of old-growth wood trim, intricate details, and unique quirks, and you are willing to deal with sloped floors and old wiring, a historic home specialist might be the best agent for you.
While sometimes these are large issues that need to be addressed, often these bits of character are what make an old home so charming. In the case of a sloped floor, Conover says, “we’ll get somebody under the house to make sure it’s not going anywhere!”
Many historic neighborhoods formed organically through church parishes and are a far cry from a planned community. Conover makes sure that her clients know “they don’t have to have a gated swim, tennis community — they can be in a charming historic neighborhood where you’re going to have a sidewalk and wave to your neighbors walking their dog and pushing their baby stroller.”
She adds, “these neighborhoods were meant for you to see your neighbors and greet your neighbors.”
If you’re someone who wants to feel that strong sense of community and take a walk through a neighborhood under the dappled shade of mature trees, then you may want to contact a historic home specialist on your next house hunt.
House hunt with a historic home specialist
If you’re drawn to character and creaky floors, then you may need to work with a historic home specialist to make sure you choose the right home. Many HomeLight agents specialize in historic homes and you can find the best agent for you after answering just a few questions. With the help of your agent, you can ensure that you find a home with charm and history.
Header Image Source: (Div Manickam / Unsplash)