Historic home sales is a real estate niche that requires experience and expertise, according to agents who have made their careers selling historic homes. A home’s age, integrity, and significance are important for meeting the National Register Criteria for Evaluation. By National Register standards, homes older than 50 years are eligible for having some historical significance, according to Max Sempowski, Realtor, Hometown Realty, with offices in south/central Virginia. He has sold historic homes exclusively for 14 years.
Other eligibility factors include whether the property looks as it did in the past and whether it is associated with history, including architectural history, according to the National Register of Historic Places program.
For listing purposes, David Deysher, owner and broker of Historic & Distinctive Properties, in Wilton, N.H., shown above in front of his historic farmhouse, uses specific criteria for a historic home. “We define historic as pre-WW2 housing before tract housing came into existence,” he said. “In reality, historic homes are those that date from [the] First Period [the 1600s’ architectural style] through the 1920s.”
What agents need to know
To effectively sell historic properties, real estate agents need to understand historical architectural styles, such as Victorian, Federal, and Greek Revival, Sempowski said.
“You have to be able to differentiate the features — the period from new construction. Too many Realtors today take listings and then wait for the closing, rarely even going to showings,” Deysher said. “Single broker showings are not a good idea with historic homes. The listing agent has to be able to point out the uniqueness; the personality of each property. You must be able to explain why floors are slanted, etc. You have to be knowledgeable of the various periods and what makes them different from each other.”
Joyce L. Perrin, a real estate broker with Promiseland Realty & Development, Union Springs, Ala., said buyers look for homes by category, including: antebellum (before the Civil War); Greek revival; neoclassical; Victorian (Queen Anne and Eastlake, for example), colonial revival, Tudor and others.
“They are also looking for what we call the bells and whistles, such as highly decorative fireplaces, trey or metal ceilings, hardwood floors, pocket doors, stain glass windows, etc.,” Perrin said. “Finding some or all of these attributes in a home sometimes more than 100 years old is quite an order, but they also want them to be live-in ready, for a nominal price. Some of our newer buyers also want updated baths and kitchens.” Some of these homes originally had no kitchen or bathroom attached to the house, she said.
Agents need to understand available tax incentives for restoring historic homes in states in which they practice.
“In Virginia, if you purchase a historic home, as an example, and you wanted to make some changes and improvements on the house, then depending on the criteria and how you do that, you could qualify [for a tax credit],” Sempowski said.
People who spend $50,000 to upgrade a historic home could qualify for a 25% Virginia state income tax credit. The catch, according to Sempowski, is not all upgrades qualify. Upgrades should be in line with the home’s original architecture and feel.
How agents can learn more
Having specific certifications helps, but isn’t necessary to sell historic properties, according to Sempowski, who is college-educated and certified in historic preservation.
“You can be self-taught,” Sempowski said. “There are wonderful books out there. A good starter book is called ‘Identifying American Architecture,’ by John J. G. Blumenson that covers all the different styles.”
An agent’s willingness to learn about the different types of historic home architecture is mandatory, according to Deysher, as is understanding the nomenclature for relevant construction materials and methods.
“A passion for older homes is extremely helpful. But probably most important is knowledge,” Deysher said.
In Part 2, agents discuss research and challenges associated with selling historic homes.