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MailTribune.com
  • Buying a piece of history

    Buying a historical house has pros and cons
  • When he and his wife purchased the historical,1898 Waverly Cottage in 2004, Jacksonville resident Robert Pool needed little more than a first peek at the exterior of the elaborate Queen Anne/Eastlake Style Victorian home to fall head over heels.
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    • Question to ask
      Would-be owners of old homes have to look past the charm of porch swings and patina and do their homework.
      What is the history of the home? Is it listed on the National Register of Historic Plac...
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      Question to ask
      Would-be owners of old homes have to look past the charm of porch swings and patina and do their homework.

      What is the history of the home? Is it listed on the National Register of Historic Places? Special building codes might apply to historical structures or in special historical districts.

      How much work is needed? The value of the home may not justify, or permit, financing for needed repairs.

      Check things out. Get the roof and foundation inspected. Repairs won't be as predictable with older homes as with modern construction. A bad roof could indicate hidden damage from exposure to elements.

      Consider old craftsmanship. Primitive wiring and copper plumbing are likely to be present, as well as plaster walls, rather than drywall. Tradesmen for blacksmithing, brickwork, old plaster and elaborate wood trim will cost more and might be more difficult to contract.

      Ask why. Before investing in something historical, ask what your motives are, says Ashland consultant George Kramer. Could the property be "home sweet home" or is it too small, in the wrong neighborhood and too expensive to restore?
  • When he and his wife purchased the historical,1898 Waverly Cottage in 2004, Jacksonville resident Robert Pool needed little more than a first peek at the exterior of the elaborate Queen Anne/Eastlake Style Victorian home to fall head over heels.
    "We drove down Grape Street going west and, when we hit the stop sign there at the corner, I said, 'You gotta be freaking kidding me!' I knew I had to have it," Pool recalls.
    Pool and his wife spent four years unveiling 12-foot ceilings, remedying a failing foundation and restoring everything from wiring and plumbing to century-old fixtures and elaborate wood trim.
    They even rebuilt a 1925 carriage house, burned decades before, and added a period-specific, 14,000-weld, cast-iron "picket post fence."
    While the home is restored to near perfection, Pool, who lived in the house for four years and now runs an antiques shop there, says the surrounding neighborhood isn't ideal for such a project. Few would invest a quarter of a million dollars in an area of town known more for crime than historical tours.
    "Emotionally attached" to the old house, Pool says he didn't purchase the local landmark for financial gain or because it made sense.
    Southern Oregon is brimming with old houses that hark back to a simpler time, with creaky porches, wavy-glass windowpanes and character. Although restoration is a growing trend nationally, it's not for the faint of heart.
    Old houses, says Ashland historian and preservation consultant George Kramer, involve trade-offs: "A house with a soul and a past in exchange for smaller bedrooms, single-pane windows, lack of climate control and often restoration costs that typically outweigh remodeling or construction of newer homes.
    "If you're buying an old house to change it, because you want everything exactly the way you want it, you probably ought to build your own house," says Kramer.
    Older homes are usually in more settled neighborhoods with established landscapes and all the ambiance that developers strive to create with newly built houses.
    "Time adds a layer that only time can add," says Kramer.
    "It's like that old saying, 'If these walls could talk.' Well, if you have a brand-new house, even if they could, they don't have a whole lot to say."
    At the same time, it's crucial to have a chat with those walls before signing on the dotted line.
    Talent contractor Tom Taylor points out that old and historical homes typically predate building codes, fire safety and energy efficiency.
    Roofs and foundations can be in a state of disrepair, meaning total replacement. Primitive wiring and copper plumbing are likely, as are walls that predate modern drywall.
    "There's a lot to think about if they want to bring the structures up to code," says Taylor. "Electrical is a gray area. If it's original to the home and was allowed in the day it was created, it could be grandfathered in, but it may pose a fire hazard.
    "Old, copper plumbing is more a middle-of-the-road thing," he says. "You can use some of what is in existence, but that might be more difficult to pull off if there are existing problems or you're dealing with a two- or three-story house."
    Another consideration is that many of the professionals who deal with old windows, period trim or antique fixtures are in the same age group as the house you might want to restore.
    For Pool's beloved cottage, restoration efforts unveiled old "horsehair plaster."
    "It's a lost art form because everything nowadays is drywall," says Pool.
    "With this, you take the paint off and start sanding, and horse hairs poke out everywhere. I had guys down here in their 80s working on the walls."
    Kathy Hoskin, a Windermere real-estate agent in Jacksonville who specializes in historical houses, says it's important to purchase an old house for what it is, rather than changing a house that has "belonged" to the community for generations.
    New owners, she says, become stewards of something beyond a piece of real estate.
    "Old homes really are like treasures for people when they buy them," she says. "It's like investing in our heritage.
    "With old houses, the wooden floors might not be perfectly straight, but they've been walked on for 150 years. You can look at old concrete steps and see indentations from all the feet that have stepped on them over time."
    While they're not for everyone, says Kramer, old houses, in a sense, belong to all of us.
    "Old houses have worked pretty well for a long time, and if you're creative and flexible, you can make them work today," he says. "But whether you think historic houses are valuable or you think they're junk, the one thing of which there is no debate is that they're not building any more of them.
    "When we lose one, we'll never get it back."
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