This post looks at what a heritage house is and whether it’s something a buyer wants to take on.

Should I buy a heritage property?

There aren’t that many designated heritage houses around. In fact, in Guelph there are less than 100 of them. They rarely come up for sale, are mostly detached homes and generally attract a lot of attention when they do.

If you want to demolish a designated heritage property and build new- that’s not going to happen. They are protected. However, a non designated property could be demolished if it meets certain criteria. In Guelph, that criteria is outlined here. It states “Property owners planning to remove or demolish or a building or structure on these properties must give the City at least 60 days to consider whether long-term protection of the property should be sought through formal designation process.”

This article will talk about what exactly a heritage property is. It will also talk about some of the pro’s and con’s of owning a heritage property. As well, we’ll look at what the value of a heritage property is versus non heritage property.

What is a heritage property?

Given Ontario’s history and the settlement patterns of the 19th and early 20th century, many heritage homes are in the range of the 1850’s to 1930’s. Guelph has many that are in this range, mostly located around the downtown area.

Heritage properties are residential properties that are designated by the government.  Most likely at the municipal level, these home have a “special heritage interest”. This means that the municipality believes the local history associated to the home is valuable.

Is every old home a heritage property?

Definitely not. Like modern day building development, older homes had their own version of “cookie cutter” development. Downtown Guelph, you’ll find century homes lining streets. But only a fraction of these homes would qualify as heritage status. 

Guelph has a database of designated homes. A heritage house holds no specific architectural significance except that it’s old- this is the key. Designated homes have significant or unique architectural design. As an example, it could be due to the type of limestone used to build the foundation. Or, it could be an extraordinary example of a specific design era that is rare to find.

The property register may include important details about listed homes. This includes a description of the property, the unique attributes and any renovations in recent years.

It will also provide a statement explaining the cultural heritage value or interest of the property. As well, you’ll know what the protected elements are, and what you can do.  

Should I buy a designated property?

If you knew Ryan, he’d always say yes! Beth would also agree, but with a few more (reasonable) stipulations. Owning a designated property is like owning a piece of Ontario’s history. If you own an older car, you’re likely familiar with this.

Owning a designated property isn’t for everyone. If you want to buy and renovate, you’ll need to have patience. You’ll likely need to seek municipal approval for many of the updates you’d be considering. Then, you may have to use specific materials that compliment the home style. These materials may not even exist, so you’ll need to find an expensive alternative or specialist to recreate them.

Think about it this way: A designated heritage house is a step higher in neediness than a heritage, or simply old home.

Can I renovate a designated home?

The cost of renovating an older home can be expensive. Renovating a designated heritage house can be significantly higher. Just imagine: you’re buying a home that is 120 years old. 

This means it has seen all sorts of progressive technology that may or may not have updates over the years. Electrical work, chimney restoration, removing hazardous building materials like asbestos or UFFI (urea formaldehyde foam insulation), lack of insulation, foundation issues are all part of owning an older home. 

But this doesn’t mean you can’t update the kitchen, or bathroom.  Most municipalities realize that you’re buying a home to live in and an investment. Having a heritage designation should be a positive experience, not as “home ownership handcuffs”. You should view it as a love of old architecture mixed with modern technology.

If you are considering renovating or simply updating, there will likely be restrictions. They govern the design and architectural changes you can make. You’ll require permission from the municipality.

However, usually only specific elements (and mainly exterior) are significant. This ensures that the owner properly maintains and modernizes from a streetscape perspective.  

The best advice we can give: call or visit your local municipality before doing any major work.

How do I know the heritage status of an old home?

If you are interested in buying a property that is designated, your real estate agent will help. It can be a detailed and unique process. If you want to buy a century home, but are afraid of buying something protected, your realtor should also be able to help. As mentioned, 90% of century homes are not protected.

Part of this comes down to communication by understanding what you plan to do with the property. Your Realtor should be able to give advice on what you can and can’t do with a specific home. 

Is a heritage house worth more or less than non-heritage house?

Almost always, yes they are worth more. Heritage properties often attract higher resale values. The new owner knows that certain parts of the home are original. Further, the value of the homes around it is also likely to increase faster than the average.

From a physical perspective, investing in a heritage home allows you to secure an asset that you know is likely not going anywhere. Heritage designation can also lead the way with gentrification within a neighbourhood which, in turn, leads to rising property values. 

On the other perspective, some people may see a designated home as a money pit. Or, a giant headache. Most homeowners buy a home because they want to put their own finishes on it. So, buying something that is protected could limit this from happening in some cases.

Both a money pit and headache could be true. This is why it’s important to get the municipal heritage division on your side (ideally both before AND after purchase). Working collaboratively with them could help you save money and time.

Eventually you will probably want to sell. When selling your heritage home, having the “Description of Heritage Attributes” or a similar report on hand is helpful. This, along with details about any renovation work you undertook as the owner will help dispel any myths and concerns.

Related: This blog is part of a series: 16 Things to consider when buying an older home.