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5 Things You Need to Know About Buying a Historic Boston Home

In Boston, a city that several of America's founding fathers called home, some properties on the real estate market come with a rich history, often with a price tag to match.

"There is a fixed and limited inventory," says Lucas Garofalo, real estate consultant for Lucas Boston Homes at Keller Williams Realty Boston-Metro. "People love the idea of being in a historic district and will pay a significant premium."

Price aside, when shopping for a historic property, there are several other things to keep in mind, from the home's renovation history to what restrictions might come up if it's located in a historic district. Whether you're considering a renovated condo in a converted mansion in the Back Bay or a Victorian row house in the South End, you have to take certain precautions.

U.S. News spoke with some of Boston's top real estate agents, as identified by real estate technology company Agent Explore (a U.S. News partner), to ask what buyers should know when they're shopping for a historic property.

Boston is known for its historic neighborhoods.

"We are lucky enough to live in the most historically rich city in the country," says Adam Geragosian, a real estate agent with Gibson Sotheby's International Realty. "Buyers can find historic homes throughout Boston. Personally, my favorite Italianate brownstones are in the Back Bay and Charlestown. They are most often three to four stories tall, with towering ceilings and incredible wood and plaster work."

[Read: 3 Things Boston Homebuyers Should Do Before Attending an Open House .]

Beacon Hill, probably Boston's most photographed neighborhood, is famous for its cobblestone streets, gas lamps and charming colonial brick row houses with colorful glass windows. The Massachusetts State House and Boston Common are located here. In the Back Bay, giant Victorian and Edwardian houses, many turned into condos, border the tree-lined Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The South End, renowned for its Victorian brick town houses, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hire people with historic home experience.

When you're shopping for a historic home, you need an agent who's seasoned enough to know what questions to ask and how to get the answers you need, Geragosian says. "For a second line of defense, you will want to make sure you select a home inspector that has a lot of experience with historic homes and period construction," he adds.

Robb Cohen, director and broker of Engel & Volkers Boston, agrees, saying, "Because of where we are, there are many contractors that specialize in this. A good Realtor should be able to provide a buyer with a list of qualified people with a history of proven success."

Research is key.

"I would certainly suggest asking about renovation history, but most often, the current owners are not aware of what was done or not done before they purchased," Geragosian says. "So, for my clients, I always search the permit history on the property to see what type of work was done on the home, and when. Some detective work can go a long way in protecting a buyer's investment."

[Read: A First-Time Homebuyer's Guide to Boston .]

If you're buying a condo in a historic building, there are special considerations as well, Cohen says. "A lot of historic homes have been turned into condos rather than a single mansion, so buyers should make sure there is good condo management in place." This is something your agent should be able to assess as you search for the perfect home.

Know the limitations.

Historic homes offer lots of attractive qualities but can come with unique challenges.

"In historic buildings, you're not going to find garages or spaces," Garofalo says. A parking spot can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, he explains.

In addition, Garofalo says, "You're not going to be allowed to make [big] changes. If you do renovations, you will have to follow historic guidelines. You can't change the footprint."

Geragosian says, "If the property is not completely renovated, with new studs, insulation, Sheetrock, windows and so on, buyers should be prepared to have a drafty home. The older materials do not seal the home well from elements."

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Buyers might also notice many older homes have sloping floors, he says. Because older properties are built on stone and wood combined with man-made materials, like brick and mortar, the homes can settle unevenly. "This is not always cause for alarm, as the settling often occurred many years ago."

There's a special joy in owning a piece of history.

Cohen says many people see buying a historic home as being a "caretaker for future generations." He says people love the uniqueness, charm and views that many historic homes offer. "The advantage is that the home is individual to itself. There's a lot of craftsmanship and workmanship that can't be replicated. It's not cookie-cutter."

Geragosian agrees, saying, "Handmade and carved things, such as ornate crown molding, wooden newel stair posts, original wide pine floors, ceiling medallions and so on, are not going to be found in any new construction, unless a client is willing to pay an incredible amount to have master craftsmen create them or purchase items reclaimed."

Looking for a real estate agent in Boston? U.S. News’ Find an Agent tool can match you with the person who’s most qualified for the job.

 

Broker and Co-owner of Penrose Realty as well as Penrose PM&D