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Buying a Historic Home: What You Need To Know After You Buy

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[Photo via Shutterstock]

So you’ve taken the plunge and bought the historic house, but all those years have taken a toll and the building is in dire need of sprucing up. Historic houses aren’t necessarily more difficult to change, it’s just that you’ll need to go through some different processes to get get your permits. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure, many factors will take you down differing paths, so it's important to know what kind of work you’re going to undertake.

3. How do you make changes to it?
In general, interior renovations aren’t affected by historic status, so those usually only require typical building permits. Phew. If you’re going to make major changes to the exterior though, you need Planning approvals. The CEQA review process is a can of worms we don’t have time to open in this post, but consult with your planner early and often. They’ll guide you through the labyrinth of state environmental law.

If the building is a local landmark (as opposed to just being in the California or National Register), and you want to make major alterations like an addition, you will need to get approval from the Historic Preservation Commission. If you’re only making small changes, ordinary maintenance and repairs, Planning Staff will handle it. If your building is only listed in the state or national register, it’s considered historic in the Planning Department’s permit and environmental review, but you don’t have to go in front of the HPC.

Another thing to keep in mind - the California Historical Building Code provides an alternative building code for the preservation or rehabilitation of buildings designated as "historic,” and can sometimes help skirt certain building code requirements. Ask both your architect and your planner about it.

4. How can you save money on it?
So aside from bragging rights and interesting stories, what are the benefits of buying a historic house? Actually, there are a lot of them, and they’re financial. The Mills Act provides for an up to 50% reduction in property taxes in exchange for the rehabilitation, preservation, and long-term maintenance of historic buildings. Federal Tax Credits offer a 20% Rehabilitation Tax Credit for the rehabilitation of income-producing properties listed in the National Register. Preservation Easements that we mentioned yesterday offer huge benefits to property owners - the value of the easement (generally the difference between the appraised fair market value of the property prior and after the easement) is deductible from Federal income taxes in the same manner as other non-cash charitable contributions.

BOTTOM LINE: The satisfaction of owning and restoring a historic house can far outweigh any headaches you might encounter along the way. Just remember to befriend your Preservation Planner early and often.
· CEQA Review Procedures [SF Planning]
· Certificate of Appropriateness Procedures [SF Planning]
· California State Historical Building Code [California State Parks]
· The Mills Act [SF Planning]
· Federal Tax Crediets [National Park Service]
· San Francisco Architectural Heritage Easements [Heritage]
· Planning Information Center (PIC) Phone, Location & Hours [SF Planning]