real estate

Know rules when buying historic home

Meanwhile, Long Beach historic districts were formed to prevent overdevelopment in relatively new communities.

"The reason they were formed in Long Beach had very little to do with the historic value of the homes in the neighborhood," says Reynolds. "It had to do with the City of Long Beach tearing down old homes back in the '80s and building nine-unit apartment buildings on single-family residential lots and totally disrupting the culture of the neighborhood."

Reynolds notes that in one Long Beach historic district, if a duplex burns down, the owner has to rebuild a single-family home.

If historic districts have a favorite foe, it would be the McMansion.

Reynolds says that even if a renegade homeowner managed to plop a 2,500-square-foot monstrosity down in a neighborhood of 800-square-foot bungalows, the homeowner would live to regret it.

"Where do you go for your 2,500-square-foot comparable within the same district?" he says. "It's not there. The appraiser is going to look at it as nonconforming to the neighborhood and won't appraise it for as much as they would if there were homes that conformed to it."

Common rules

Although regulations vary from one historic district to another, some rules are more commonplace than others. Here are several areas where restrictions and extra expenses might impact homeowner life in a historic district:

1. Additions.  Adding square footage to a home in a historic district can be difficult, if not impossible.

"There have been instances where we have allowed additional stories, but generally probably not," Reiter says.

When additions are approved, Reiter prefers they be slightly different rather than identical to the original structure.

"We don't want to create a false sense of history," she says.

2. Windows and shutters.   Nothing says vintage about a home like its windows and shutters. For that reason, most historic districts require homeowners to replace them in kind.

In Old Town Alexandria, that means custom-made, single-pane windows and working wooden shutters.

The same holds true for windows in Savannah districts, but they now allow PVC shutters due to the heat and humidity.

In Long Beach, it's ever so costly to re-pane the original wooden windows.

3. Roof materials.  Many historic districts require you replace the roof in kind. In Alexandria, that means expensive slate, raised-seam metal or wooden shingles.

"That is a real substantial, unanticipated expense that is surprising some people," Randolph says.

4. Painting.  Paint color is difficult to enforce because it typically does not require a building permit.

"Three out of four of our districts do not review paint color because Georgia state legislation does not permit reviewing of color; the other district was grandfathered in," Reiter says.

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Randolph agrees that painting is one area where homeowners can flout the rules.

"Painting is a ticklish issue," Randolph says. "There have been a couple of maverick types that like to thumb their nose at the establishment and we've had a couple of purple houses as a result, but legally there's no way to force somebody to repaint."

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