What to Ask when Buying a Historic Home & How to Avoid Buying a Money Pit!

So let me skip to the end of my story and reveal that my husband Kells and I did not actually end up buying a historic home. We fell hard for an 1890s former schoolhouse and a 1920s stately brick home, in the charming historic district of Pensacola, Florida. Next came a bidding war on both properties, which we lost to other buyers. We ultimately traded charm for the ocean and ended up in the very opposite of historic; a modern high- rise condo building. Admittedly, I still lust after those heart pine floors that creaked ever so softly beneath my feet in the schoolhouse, Yet, I realize now that both of these homes. which were in need of significant renovation, had the potential to turn into a huge money pit. So before you buy and renovate, think carefully about these questions:

1. What are the utility costs? Can I see a utility bill?

Utility costs are important when evaluating any home. They are even more critical when analyzing a historic home which may have outdated energy systems and antique windows that have the consistency of tissue paper. The air conditioning costs in our beloved 1890s schoolhouse amounted to a small fortune. The paper-thin antique glass windows and outdated cooling system stood little chance against the intense Florida heat. Go one step further and have your real estate agent ask to see a utility bill, so you are clear on the average costs throughout each season.

2. Are there vendors and artisans in your area who can actually restore the home?

If the historic home in question requires a lot of specialized renovation, do your research on potential vendors before you buy. If you live in a major city, chances are you will have a wide variety of local, skilled artisans and vendors who can undertake restoration projects from stained glass windows to tin ceilings. Our 1890s schoolhouse was operating on original knob and tube electrical wiring. After calling around town, we discovered that very few local electricians still worked on this type of nineteenth century electric system. In addition, the original floor to ceiling windows would have required restoration from New Orleans artisans ( a 3-4 hour drive) and custom glass panes which would have rivaled the cost of a four-year private college education.

3. Is the home subject to Landmark status?

Depending on the city or specific neighborhood, your dream home may come with historic landmark status. Landmark status may mean a varying degree of requirements and restrictions regarding what changes can be made to the home and how they must be undertaken. It won’t be hard for your real estate agent to help you find information on what is required, but go one step further and talk to other homeowners in the area who have gone through the process. Were their renovations requests approved or denied? Was the application process and wait time reasonable or downright impossible? 

I’m sure there’s a home from the past somewhere in my future. For now, I’m very grateful we didn’t end up in a money pit.

About the Outfit

Shopping for maternity clothing can be frustrating as your size continues to fluctuate. Luckily, your hat size will stay the same! I paired my 1950’s brown mink pillbox hat from Fur Nakamura of Ginza Tokyo with a pair of black maternity pants and a maternity sweater from the Gap. The pants have just the right amount of stretch and are slim enough to fit comfortably under my boots. I was lucky enough to visit Ginza, the chic shopping district of Tokyo, a few years ago. What I would give to transport myself back in time to shop there in the 1950s!

A quilted vest like my beige vest from Ralph Lauren can take you through maternity by simply being worn open. My vest is from a past season, but I love this smart, striped number from Ralph Lauren:

#maternityclothing #maternityfashion #maternitystyle #maternitypants #southernstyle #southernblogger #historichomes

Alison Hetherington

For the modern girl who loves everything vintage.