Tips for Buying an Historic Home in Washington, D.C.

Buying a home in Washington, D.C. can be an exciting time for a home buyer. This is particularly true if you are looking for an historic home in Capital Hill among Washington, D.C. real estate. Washington, DC is steeped in historic significance and contains some of the nation’s most famous monuments, buildings and homes. Although homes where famous figures once lived are certainly considered historically significant, there are also a number of other, less well-known, homes throughout Washington, D.C. real estate listings that qualify as historic homes. Owning an historic home is not for everyone; however, if you dream of buying a home in Washington, D.C. that exemplifies the history of the nation’s capital, there are some things you should consider before you begin your search.

·         What makes a home historic? Official designation of a home as historic can only be done by either the National Register of Historic Places, or NRHP, or the State Historic Preservation Office, or SHPO. At the state level, the requirements to become certified as an historic home can vary widely. For example, in a newer state, a home that is only 100 years old may be considered historic whereas in the New England States, a home that is 150 years old may not be old enough. As a potential buyer, you can search either the national or state database to find homes that have already been declared historic homes.

·         Can I get a home declared an historic home? Yes, you can apply to have a home declared an historic home; however, the process is often lengthy and complicated. If you plan on buying a home in Washington, DC that has not yet been declared an historic home, be sure to thoroughly research the rules and requirements for registration before making an offer based on getting the home registered in the future.

·         Are there incentives for buying an historic home? At both the state and federal level, there are potential tax incentives and grant programs that may help you defray the cost of purchasing and/or restoring your historic home. Again, be sure you research these programs thoroughly before making an offer because each program has very specific guidelines for qualification.

·         Are there restrictions when purchasing an historic home? Yes. When designating a home to be a historic property, the National Register of Historic Places is trying to preserve the original character and look of the home. For this reason, a homeowner should typically follow strict guidelines when restoring or renovating the home. For example, windows and shutters usually must be replaced with like-kind. You are also typically not allowed to tear down or add-on to the home. Essentially, anything that changes the original plan or character of the home will likely not be allowed.

·         What should I consider before I make an offer? Although it is easy to fall in love with a historic home in Capital Hill among Washington, D.C. real estate, it is imperative that you consider the structural integrity of the home and the additional costs associated with buying an historic home before making your offer. Old homes may have serious, yet unseen, structural issues that can be costly to repair. Be sure to include an inspection in your conditional offer. Also take into account the cost of restoring the home if it needs restoration. Restoration of an historic home can be more costly than renovating a newer home. Finally, keep in mind that it may be more expensive to heat/cool an older home as well as to maintain the home over the long run.

Many historic homes found on Capitol Hill have been restored and transformed into museums or have been opened to the public for tours. One such example is the Sewell-Belmont House located at 144 Constitution Ave., NE. Built on a tract of land that dates back to King Charles of England, the original one room farmhouse that was the home’s beginning is believed to date back to 1750. In 1929, the home was sold to the National Woman’s Party, or NWP, and remains their headquarters today. The home also serves as a museum where visitors can see Susan B. Anthony’s desk and other memorabilia from the women’s suffrage movement.

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