Browsing MLS listings in Vancouver and British Columbia you'll find plenty of homes described as “heritage” homes. If you're searching for a family home with real character then these houses for sale may well be the first to catch your eye. However, heritage homes come with more than a little history – so what do you need to know before you take on the responsibility of caring for an older house?
What is a Heritage Home?
“Heritage” can be used to describe any home over 60 years old – and certainly buildings constructed before the 1930s will be considered by most to be heritage properties. However, heritage should also be understood to mean the inside of a property as well its external appearance. Heritage homes for sale in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland which retain extensive original features inside and out can be considered to be true heritage properties and will often offer the best investment. Important architectural styles may also be considered a reason to consider a building a heritage home and these buildings may be relatively recent.
Official Heritage Homes and Neighborhoods
Official designation as a heritage property is the responsibility of the municipalities. The majority of Lower Mainland authorities will keep an official “Heritage Register”. In addition, the authorities may designate a whole area or neighborhood as a heritage zone and they may also have an inventory of other properties that have been noted as having a historic or architectural value but have not, as yet, been formally designated.
The municipalities have different names for the levels of classification but there are normally three levels of protection. The highest level will normally preclude the owner from making alternations to the property without permission and also protect the building from demolition. Homes in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland that fall into the lower levels of protection in their area can normally be altered but this will require discussion with the local Heritage Planner to agree a way to preserve the important features of the property. Owners who wish to have their home added to the Heritage Register can apply to do so via the municipality's Heritage Planning Officer – doing so may well increase the potential resale value of the property. At the same time it should be remembered that it may decrease the number of potential buyers, should you choose to put the property on the market. Once a designation is placed on a property it imposes restrictions (depending on the level of designation) on the owners and will appear on the title.
What Lies Beneath?
Archaeological sites on private land are protected by the BC Heritage Conservation Act, regardless of whether the site has any formal designation. This means that owners who find evidence of possible archaeological significance may be required to pay for further archaeological investigation. Evidence of past activity can include remains of ancient buildings, campsites, carvings or middens. The current owners may be unaware of an archaeological features but it's worth asking them if they have any suspicions! Also research the history of the local area yourself and, if in doubt consider employing a specialist surveyor.
Research, Research, Research
In total there are over 21,000 sites or objects recorded in the provincial heritage register – though the majority of these are outside of the Lower Mainland. However, older homes can still be legitimately considered “heritage”, especially if they retain the majority of their original features and have had limited alterations. If you are searching for a heritage home it's best to learn as much as possible about the period or architectural style that particularly appeals to you before viewing homes for sale in Vancouver.
Heritage homes have character, charm and are often highly sought after, attracting premium prices on the market. However, they come with a significant amount of additional restrictions and responsibility. For real enthusiasts they make a perfect home (and good investment) but be sure you are aware of exactly what you are taking on!