Five things to consider before buying a heritage home

Wesley Spencer

Owning a heritage home in Victoria can provide many rewarding benefits. The properties often have beautiful original period details, craftsmanship, materials, and architecture full of character seldom found in newer buildings.

Heritage homes tend to be located in popular neighbourhoods and retain or increase in value over time because they’re irreplaceable. As a piece of history, you become a custodian ensuring the home’s preservation. There is also a sense of pride in owning a property recognised as culturally and historically significant to the local area or wider Victoria region. The unique, coveted nature of heritage homes means those able to take on the responsibility find it a very special and worthwhile commitment.

As a potential buyer, however, there are things you need to consider before purchasing a heritage properly. Here are five key things you should keep in mind:

Understand the Type of Heritage Listing

Firstly, check whether the property is listed on the council, state, or national heritage register – this affects the process and who provides the approvals. It’s important to understand the difference between a heritage overlay and a heritage listed property. Heritage listed properties like the Melbourne Town Hall or Royal Arcade have more stringent regulations for owners regarding restoration and changes, which extend through the interior. A heritage overlay is more common and covers things like the exterior paint colours or gardens of a home to retain neighbourhood character, as well as the views of the building’s facades.

Prepare for Extra Costs

Owning a heritage property often requires more repairs and specialised materials for renovations to preserve the historical accuracy. This can also mean higher maintenance costs over time. Check if there are financial grants available (often offered by the local council), but also examine your budget to handle potential expenses. Insurance premiums may cost more as well.

Expect Limitations on Changes

There are usually strict rules about what updates or changes you can make, both externally and internally, with a heritage home. For example, you may not be allowed to modify original period features or install solar panels where visible. Review what types of changes are allowed by speaking with your local council or heritage architect before purchasing.

Inspect for Hazardous Materials

Older homes may contain lead paint, asbestos, or other hazardous materials you become responsible for as the owner. Arrange thorough building and pest inspections to locate any dangerous materials that will need removal per today’s standards. This is an important safety and financial consideration. These don’t always need to be removed if they are safely intact, so their presence doesn’t necessarily obligate you to incur the expense of removal.

Ensure Proper Paperwork from Previous Owners

If previous owners made changes, ensure they received proper heritage permission. You don’t want the liability to fall to you for unapproved or improperly done renovations. Closely review all paperwork when buying an older heritage home.

The unique appeal of Victorian heritage properties makes them a coveted prize, but do your due diligence before purchasing one yourself. An architect experienced in working with heritage homes can clarify exactly what you can and can’t modify to avoid issues. They can guide you through proper heritage renovations that comply with regulations so you don’t waste time and money going back and forth with Council, or correcting improper work later. An architect can also help set realistic budgets accounting for specialised materials and repairs these homes often need. By advising heritage homeowners early on, an architect can save you significant hassle, frustration, and costs over the long run. 

So don’t be put off buying a heritage home, just make sure you do your due diligence and consider engaging with an Architect early on so that the experience of buying and owning a heritage home is rewarding for you and your family.

I saw our building site today and the house is just going to be so wonderful. It’s so beautiful, I’m very thankful for your talent. I can picture myself in front of my French fire next to some curvy concrete.

Shannon, South Yarra
Architecturally designed home Melbourne

Find an architect

Find out how we can help you create the quality, style, and lifestyle that you seek.