I can't say that I've made the best decisions about where I live. Make no mistake, Galveston is the right choice for me. However, what was I thinking when I thought I needed a house in the East End Historic District? I love my house dearly, but an historic property is just a lot of work. I've got glorious space, but at what price?
Let's face it: “Historic” sounds classy, but it still means old; living in and maintaining an old house can be an adventure. The plumbing and wiring have had time to deteriorate and sooner or later they will fail--usually at a particularly inconvenient time.
And then, by living in an historic district I have chosen to live within certain rules. In Galveston the historic districts are administered by the city's Historic Preservation Office, its director Catherine Gorman, and the Galveston Landmark Commission, a citizen review board charged with oversight of new construction and the rehabilitation as well as demolition of buildings within the designated districts.
Great neighboring homes can have great neighbors. Most, if not nearly all of us, are committed to maintaining the history where we live. We are protected from McMansions and total tear down buildings, but we must follow simple rules. The Design Standards for Historic Properties is available online as a PDF or in printed form as well. Simply put, you must apply for permits when doing structural work on the exterior of your home. If you've asked for something complicated, you may have to appear before the Landmark Commission and that can take some time to get scheduled. However, many things are handled administratively and take no time at all. I recently started adding screen doors to a 1948 vintage property and merely had to send a photo of the door for approval. Wooden fences or iron fences are permitted. Vinyl and aluminum are not. Because of the intent to maintain properties in an historic district, we are not allowed to replace our wooden windows with aluminum or vinyl; however, windstorm exemption also makes it possible to replace things in a manner which is true to our houses. We don't have to have little windows and they don't have to be able to withstand hurricane force winds.
As a Realtor I really don't like being told what I may and may not do with my property, but I do see the value in meeting historic district standards. Historic homes are generally better built with better materials. Until Hurricane Ike, the East End had giant oaks lining the streets which lent a mysterious air to the neighborhood. Now, we can learn to garden in sunlight and see the tall houses more easily. Designated historic districts also have houses which appreciate more in value, as much as 26 percent higher in worth compared to homes in other areas. And then, historic districts seem to be more stable, with longer tenancy and home ownership than non-historical areas.
The bottom line is that if your hearts says you are set on an historic home, your head (and wallet) will surely follow. Your Galveston Realtor will help you get the information you need to make the right decision.