The idea of buying and restoring a heritage home can either evoke romantic feelings of nostalgia or recurring feelings of fear depending, on your point of view.
Welcome to the nebulous but fascinating world of buying a heritage home.
Looking for definite regulations or designations when restoring a heritage home is a bit like trying to sort out the past. It takes a certain dedication and determination and love of the hunt.
So what is a heritage home? Perhaps surprisingly, there are no hard and fast rules about just how old a heritage home must be to earn the title. None.
While the Greater Vancouver Real Estate board suggests any home 60 years and older can be a heritage home, among historians, there are other factors.
Variables such as who built the home, who owned it, and what kind of wood or design they chose are just as vital as its age.
“A house tells a story about when it was originally built,” says Lisa Zosiak, Maple Ridge’s planning department liaison on the Maple Ridge Community Heritage Commission.
“When people restore or preserve the house, they are revealing that story again.”
The Heritage Resource of Maple Ridge ranks architectural and cultural historical significance of about 100 properties. Landscape or neighbourhood significance and value also are considered. Lastly, the integrity of the home is studied, including alterations to its structure and design. Some of these are now registered which means the historical value such as the design or materials have been verified in more detail.
But what do these lists mean to a potential buyer of an historic or possibly historic property?
Does it mean you can’t alter a thing in your new home? Will the heritage police be on your doorstep with rules you’ll have to maintain while your renovate?
For the majority of homes on the registries and inventories in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge the answer is no.
In fact, there are just a handful designated as protected by municipal council. Owners must obtain a heritage alteration permit for any changes.
Nevertheless, local historians hope people will care for these sites and help maintain the community’s heritage whenever possible, Zosiak says, noting some successes over the years.
She points to this year’s winners of the Heritage building award Trudi De Roches and Steve Bentley who have been lovingly restoring Whonnock’s Byrnes property. And she’s still moved by the restoration of the Hill House property on 240th Street in Albion where the owners restored the house beautifully.
Studies are unclear whether there’s any great financial gain by restoring a heritage house, according to the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board, but both the board and Heritage BC suggest there is a growing interest.
There are now some more practical perks for becoming a cultural curator, including provisions in the BC Building Code that allow for ‘alternate compliance methods’ for heritage houses.”
As well, insurers will work to insure heritage homes, even making allowances in some cases for the aging knob and tube wiring.
And there is now some incentive from Maple Ridge district.
In 2010, council created the heritage revitalization agreement, a tool to allow homeowners to negotiate a mutually beneficial deal to preserve historic sites.
In some cases, the municipality has reduced taxes or allowed increased density of other projects in exchange for protection of historic properties.
So far, three agreements have been reached, including the former Daykin family house on York Street and the Miller property at 104th Avenue, both of which will allow increased density in new developments while preserving the old homes.
“That’s a significant number for the size of our community,” Zosiak says. “It’s a win, win.”