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Buying A Historic Home

121 Kennedy - Alamo Heights
121 Kennedy – Alamo Heights

San Antonio has some charming neighborhoods dating back to the early 1900’s all around the downtown area and these redeveloping neighborhoods are some of the hottest real estate areas of town right now.  Whether you’re looking to the Lavaca neighborhood of Southtown, Monticello Park in the Deco District along Fredericksburg, the stone cottages of Olmos Park Terrace off San Pedro or the grand homes on Dignowity Hill on the East Side of town, there are some things you should know about buying a historic home.

Is it Historic? – This should be your first inquiry.  Properties can be designated historic individually, or as part of a historic district.  Most common is to be part of a historic district.  One quick rule of thumb is that if the street signs are brown, you are probably in a historic district.  This is important for two main reasons, (1) if it is historic you must get permission to paint, repair, renovate or change the exterior and (2) because it will very likely have a large impact on the value of the property.  In my experience, homes in historic districts enjoy a higher value than the same home a few streets over that is not in a historic district.

Has it been renovated? – Historic homes were built at a time when layouts and features of homes were very different.  Many original historic homes will have pier & beam foundations, smaller closets, wood windows, wood flooring, no laundry room, aluminum or knob & tube wiring, buss fuses, asbestos siding/insulation and no central HVAC.  It is also very common to have one bathroom for the house and to have to walk through one bedroom to get to another.  Many people know to check for hardwood floors under the carpet, but one thing they often overlook is the foundation.  A common practice in renovating a historic home is to reconfigure the interior spaces to accommodate a more modern layout.  When this is done many remodelers neglect to reconfigure the pier & beam foundation underneath to handle the newly distributed weight of the interior walls.  Over time if the weight of the walls is not properly supported, the foundation will start to settle and shift causing damage to the interior and possibly the roof structure.   Another commonly overlooked item is the electrical system.  Electrical fuses and wiring have come a long way since the 1900’s and are much safer now.  An old aluminum wiring system can quickly become a fire hazard and, if not replaced completely, should be looked at by an electrician to at the very least remediate the connections.

What are the benefits of a historic home?  The first one is the value, many people love the charm of historic neighborhoods and the historic designation means that the look and feel of the neighborhoods will not change over time and often results in a higher value.  Another benefit is that most all of the floors and trim work will be real wood including the base molding, crown molding, door and window trim.  This means that the floors can likely be sanded and refinished as can the trim.  Woods floors today that are laminate or engineered have a very thin layer on the top and cannot be sanded or stained.  Trim today is often made with a particle board or MDF that also cannot be sanded or stained.  Other benefits are locations close to downtown, wood windows, high ceilings, rock exteriors, and charming designs that are no longer built today.

For more information on Historic designations and districts and how they may affect your property, visit the City of San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation.

Some of San Antonio’s Historic Neighborhoods include:

Monte Vista   |   Tobin Hill   |   Dignowity Hill
Government Hill   |   River Road   |   Woodlawn Lake
Olmos Park Terrace   |   Monticello Park   |   Lavaca
King William   |   Leon Springs

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