Guide to Buying an Historic Home

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013 at 12:00pm. by Northrop Realty

3230_Littlestown_Pike_52608_HFRHistoric homes all have their own unique stories, written from their gently groaning floorboards up their embellished banisters to their lofty beams.  They wear the architectural styles of their ages and breathe the personal tastes of their many inhabitants. From homes with the grandiose Georgian architecture of the 1700s to brick Federal-style homes built in the 1800s to elegant, turn-of-the-century Victorians, Maryland has a diverse array of these livable time capsules that reflect its rich history.

While owning an historic home is a romantic, longtime dream for some, the reality is these homes are, well, old. And sometimes along with the classic design sensibilities and craftsmanship comes a myriad of potentially costly issues. While it’s easy to become emotionally attached to a charming Colonial the moment you walk inside, it’s important to dig deeper and find out as much as you can about the home before you buy.

When buying an historic home, you will want to first hire an inspector licensed by the state. They will examine the plumbing, electrical, and other crucial elements of the home and recommend you speak to a professional if a troublesome discovery requires a more detailed review. Hiring an inspector is also a great investment because they can provide you expert insight not just on the condition of the home, but also any peculiarities about the home that you may not have noticed during the initial walk-through with the realtor.


If you’d like to grab a magnifying glass and step into the role of inspector yourself, here are some things to look out for:

Steel pipes – Old homes can have galvanized steel pipes, which inevitably flake and rust from the inside out. Don’t assume steel pipes are in good condition just because they look that way at a glance.

Knob and tube wiring – This wiring system was common in the late 1800s through the mid-1900s. You’ll know the home has it because the wires are affixed to the joists of the house by ceramic insulating knobs. This type of exposed wiring system can be a safety hazard due to hot wires and lack of grounding.

Foundation – Historic homes can pre-date many building regulations and rest on substandard foundations. Obvious signs can be a tilted appearance to the home, sloping floors, and humps in doorways. Walk around the home and head down into the basement to look for cracks.

Roof – You should always find out when the last time a roof was repaired or replaced. If you don’t know, look for nails and metal flashings that are worn out. A sagging roof is a larger concern. Also, an historic home may have a roofing material like slate, which often has life left in it. Just because a roof is old, doesn't mean it can’t be repaired and the historic look of the home retained.

Lead paint – Most homes built before the mid-1970s have paint with varying levels of lead. When lead paint peels and flakes, the dust created is highly toxic and poses a serious health risk. If your paint is peeling, you should opt for complete abatement. If your windows frames are also painted with the same paint, you should replace your windows. This is because a small amount of toxic dust is created from the window sliding open and closed in the frame. If your paint doesn't show signs of damage, encapsulation with special paint products is an option. Remember to never scrape or sand lead paint without health precautions.

Asbestos – These silicate minerals were present in numerous construction materials from the early 1900s to the 1970s. They are dangerous when they become airborne, so if you plan on renovating or remodeling your historic home, you’ll need to have it tested.

Mold – Mold is something to look out for in any home. If you don’t smell mold, look for visible signs. If mold spots aren't obvious, look for surface discolorations, bubbling paint, bowed walls or doorways, and other signs that moisture has infiltrated the structure of the home.


Along with inspection, check to see if any blueprints or other existing info on the house is available. This will help you learn more about the home's history. Plus, it can help you find out what the home previously looked like before any modifications may have been made if you plan to restore the home to its original glory.

It's also very important to find out if the home may qualify for historical landmark status. This may help establish tax breaks or even grant money and other funding for rehabilitation projects. However, the downside is this designation will restrict what you can and cannot do when remodeling the home.

In Baltimore, Catonsville, Gaithersburg, Westminster, Charlotte Hall, Hagerstown, and all over Maryland, you can find historic homes from the quaint to the majestic.  Using the above tips as a guide, you’ll better ensure that when you step into your piece of Maryland’s past, you also make a sound investment for the future.

For more information or to get in touch with one of the experienced Maryland realtors at the Creig Northrop Team of Long & Foster, contact one of our area offices:

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 11.45.55 AM