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Heritage properties are a tricky listing to own. Whether it’s a school, a church, a building, or a private property like a house, as an owner, you have an obligation to keep the property in mint condition and not let it fall into disrepair. And even though you may think it’s an extremely responsible, daily task, it’s actually fairly easy. All you need to do is proper maintenance every once in a while, and, unlike many other property owners, make sure it’s up to the city or state’s heritage code.
So, you’ve come to the point where the property needs some refurbishing. Where do you even begin? Before starting with all the permit requests, make a list of all the repairs and touch-ups. Then sort them into a list of priorities. Anything from possible flooding damage and wall structure weakening, to a new coat of paint to the exterior, or installing a new fountain or pathway in the front yard. Don’t fret – whatever you feel would work in the overall aesthetics, list it. Then you start considering the City/State regulations.
As a heritage property owner, you have a duty and obligation to not only preserve that property but also to announce and present your plans to the Heritage Committee. Firstly, you should check which interior works require permission, and which ones don’t. Every Committee has a website with general guidelines, so this should be your first filter. Secondly, check if you want to refurbish something aesthetic, or functional – like upgrading the aged plumbing system. All of these will require different permits. Failing to acquire them will result in fines at best, and eviction at worst. So, let’s see what you should pay attention to.
With walls, you want to be extra careful. Depending on the era your property was built in, it can have various wall finishes. Victorian houses can have cement details, with painted stucco walls, while Interwar dwellings have dark, often patterned bricks. You will want to find a contractor who will understand the aesthetics and building codes of that era before starting any work. Especially if you want to modernize your property, without losing its old flair. Luckily, repainting of a heritage property most often doesn’t require any permits and allows the owner freedom.
The roof can perhaps be the trickiest aspect of a property to maintain. Aside from the façade and the garden, it’s the most visible part of the house (building, school, or church). What you can do, without the need for permits, is cleaning out the gutters, chimneys, and overall clean-up of the roof tiles themselves. However, when the elements begin to damage the roof and threaten their decay, you might want to start thinking about professional help. What you will need are Committee approved that will not only maintain the image of the property but also strengthen it for decades to come.
Gardens and fences are the face of the property, along with the porch. Do a research online on the style of front yards and gardens in that particular era in which your property was built. Also go through public records for old photos, plans and documents to ensure you can refurbish the entire front according to code. Brush up on the types of plants, garden décor, and materials for fences that were used up to now.
Perhaps the most important note – when you hire professional crews, be aware that certain problems will arise, that you haven’t seen before. For example, fixing up the roof might reveal an issue with the ceiling beams. Or, while repairing the foundations, you encounter damaged or outdated plumbing. This is why it’s always best to hire heritage professionals who will already be prepared for the worst-case scenario and give an expert assessment.
As silly as it sounds, don’t try to fret about your heritage property as if it’s a fragile egg. Yes, you have a great responsibility on your hands, but it’s far from mission impossible. Always have the deed with you, and be aware of the kind of house your property is. Familiarize yourself completely, because only that will help you keep it in tip-top shape. You are not just a property owner, but a city heritage protector.