Buying an Historic Home? What You Need to Know.

I Speak Vintage has heard quite a few horror stories from folks that have bought vintage or historic homes, only to be left holding the bag, as it were.  While historic homes have an appeal and charm for many buyers, there are certain restrictions and expenses (that’s an understatement)  you need to know about before signing on the dotted line.

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Don’t like old houses? Don’t buy one. Simple.

I just read this post and it was so simple and thought provoking that I felt it worthy of re-posting and passing along.

Six Reasons Why More Americans Should Care About Saving Old Homes

I recently read Marni Jameson’s column about the historic Capen House in Winter Park, Florida. In it, she laments that a historic house – and a recently restored one at that – may be torn down to make way for a new, more contemporary home on the lot. She includes portions of an interview with Nicole Curtis, host of HGTV’s Rehab Addict, about the house. The gem from that was Curtis’ advice to buyers who intend to destroy a historic house in order to build anew on the lot:  ”If you don’t like old houses, don’t buy one. Find some vacant land and build there.”

Another historic house gone…a rash of tear downs across Chicago’s North Shore has preservationists growing increasingly concerned.

Curtis also gave six reasons why more Americans should care about saving old homes. I thought they were so on target, I’m posting them here and hoping they may be read throughout the land, and certainly throughout real estate circles. They also nicely coincide with Adventures in Preservation‘s guiding principles – another reason to share them here.

Six Reasons Why More Americans Should Care About Saving Old Homes

  • Because tearing them down is wrecking our history. Countries rich in culture value history and buildings. “In Italy and France, you see 300-year-old buildings housing subways,” she said. “They make them work, they don’t tear them down.”
  • Because it’s bad for our Earth. Most of the wreckage will not be salvaged. All that glass and plaster goes into landfills.
  • Because you can never replicate these houses once they’re gone. The woodwork alone came from 200-year-old trees. These homes were built before electricity, and were made by hand with handmade nails.
  • Because we don’t need new homes. “We have enough vacant homes to put everyone in America in a house,” said Curtis. “We need to take care of what we have.”
  • Because we’re losing our uniqueness. “There is something beautiful about traveling through America and seeing its distinct neighborhoods. Houses that get torn down and rebuilt erase that character.”
  • Because of their quality. “When you have a 100-year-old home made of timbers not particle board, it is solid. These homes have withstood decades of human life and natural disasters. But not city commissions and other self interests.”

Building a VINTAGE Brand; 1.1

Building a VINTAGE Brand; 1.1

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Find your brand, develop it and stay on track.

This year’s Super Bowl XLVII delivered a few commercial hits and misses worth poking fun at as examples of brand management…good and bad.

For this consumer, Tide took the prize in which a stain appearing on a football jersey resembled San Fran 49er, Joe Montana. Remember the Jesus and Mary image on a pancake? Same thing. After much celebrating of the miracle stain, it was washed out by the jersey wearer’s wife, a Baltimore Ravens’ fan.  It was timely, connected with the audience and created a need for the product.  Bottom of the list was the Blackberry z10 advert. BB claimed that in 30 seconds, it was easier to show us what BBz10 could not do. Seriously?  I wasn’t sure what the product was and by the end I didn’t care.

Both are great examples of consumer product brand management that illustrate the importance of messaging and connecting with our audience.  When developing our personal brands, one of the most important points is pinpointing our audience. Once we know the demographics and interests of our target group we can begin to construct our message.  Are you an expert? Are you trustworthy? What do you represent? What ideas and notions pop up when someone hears your name? Bottom line – what’s your “thing” and who do you want to know about it?

If you’ve been around for a while, doing whatever it is you do, you’ve probably already developed a personal brand. People recognize your name, what you’re working on, what you offer and what you’re about. What can you say about your own personal brand? Is it strong and clearly identified or weak and disjointed? Just because people recognize your name or your brand does not mean they like it or will follow it.  Most of us like bad boys and naughty girls but we probably wouldn’t hire them.  If you’d like to make your personal brand stronger, keep reading and I will work through a few details of my own branding, outlining the components of a strong personal brand. If you don’t feel like you have a personal brand yet, let’s get this party started.

Your personal brand is your calling card.  Look at is as an investment.  It has the potential to last longer than you. While the projects you’re working on might move forward or get snuffed out, your personal brand will persist and (hopefully) add value to each new project you create. If you consider yourself to be in a particular game for the long-haul, whether it’s an online business, accountant, or selling houses, a good personal brand is an invaluable, evolving investment. People will follow your brand if they feel connected to it. When launching new projects, your personal brand has the potential to guarantee you never have to recreate the wheel.

Me – I am a real estate broker.  I sell houses.  I am honest, friendly, hardworking and ethical. That’s all nice and good but who really cares? Right?  That’s why I focused my personal brand on my passion: marketing and selling historic and vintage homes.   It took me way too long to figure that out but once I did it was full speed ahead.  I will get into some (but not all) the specifics of what to do once you get to that point later.

What are your passions, your strengths, talents and interests?  What lights a fire in you belly?  Whatever it is you do (or want to do), create the niche, find the passion and start to gather the building blocks that will identify and connect with your target audience. Like a strong house needs a solid foundation, the same is true for a strong and true personal brand.

On your mark. Get set. Go!

Next up: Set goals for image and public perception

Building a VINTAGE Brand; 1.0

Building a VINTAGE Brand; 1.0

Building your vintage brand.

Blackberry just launched an overhauled operating system, the Z10 because of slumping sales and “lack of bling” according to their new spokesperson, Alicia Keys.   PepsiCo has conceded to remove brominated vegetable oil from its sports drink, Gatorade, due to a negative online campaign launched by a 15-year old Mississippi teenager.  With the Super Bowl just days away, the NFL is aggressively cracking down on the sale of counterfeit merchandise.  Speaking of, the going ad rate for Super Bowl XLVI is $3.5 million for 30 seconds and up to $4 million if you want premium placement.  How does any of this relate to historic and vintage homes? Plenty. It all plays into building, managing and maintaining our brands.

I frequently hear from homeowners and real estate brokers they feel that marketing and promoting Chicago’s vintage and Historic homes is, often, fighting an uphill battle.   How we create fresh ideas in communicating what historic and vintage homes, buildings and neighborhoods have to offer is more an opportunity than challenge.  Sounds like a chapter from “The One Minute Manager”, right?  Building a recognizable brand involves creating a relationship or a connection between a  product and the emotional perception of the customer.   In this series I will discuss how we position older housing stock as a brand to be identified, segmented,  managed and promoted.   Branding is about finding and staying consistent to a core philosophy. In the real estate industry, we frequently reference Donald Trump as a go-to icon of business acumen, and strategic thinking.   Like him or not, his brand is all about being No. 1, best of the best. Find your brand, develop it and stay on track.  Otherwise, “you’re fired!”

Branding and image guy, Donny Deutsch of Deutsch, Inc., has built his reputation on thinking outside of the box.  Donny’s leaner, meaner, faster, smarter philosophy helped build Deutsch into a leading marketing-communications company.  Deutsch’s core philosophy is a great formula when it comes to building our vintage brand.

“People think creativity is the best version of the current thing,” Deutsch writes in his 2005 book, Often Wrong, Never in Doubt: Unleash the Business Rebel Within. “I disagree. I’d rather do something fresh and put my client on the line than knowingly do derivative work. I want something with a different flavor to it, the 32nd flavor of Baskin-Robbins, the 58th variety of Heinz. I tell our people, go where tomorrow is. Let everybody else catch up.”

Buying, restoring and selling historic and vintage homes is, to some, a labor of love. Kudos to those of you that do it to quench a preservation passion.   To me, it is a business. No less passionate, more so because the process involves a focused plan of attack, execution and a final result.

Next up: Find your brand, develop it and stay on track.

Your Old House Has a History

Historic Newport DistrictDo you live in an historic home, landmark district, or one of Chicago’s architecturally  iconic buildings?   Researching the history of the homes I sell is a topic that frequently comes up in the search and ultimate purchase of historic Chicago homes.

In putting together resources to aid the process, I came across “Your Home Has a History,” a research document & process on the Chicago Landmark Commission’s website at www.cityofchicago.org/Landmarks. For anyone that wants to do the legwork to research the history of their home, this document provides a step by step process.

No surprise that permit and record keeping was not formally put in place (in Chicago) until after 1871. Fresh start, I guess – right?  If your home was built before that, there is another bevy of challenges in digging through archives.

Below, I have paraphrased some of the Chicago Landmark pamphlet to whet the appetite of true history nerds. Step one is pretty straightforward.  Beyond that, it gets more detailed as you move from step to step.


You own a lovely home that you’re proud to call your own. But someone owned it before you. Someone built it, cared for it, and made changes through the years to it. And now you’re interested in finding out the “who, when and what” of your property.

Researching your house can be fun, fascinating and completely engrossing

However, beware! Research can become addictive. It can also be frustrating. You may exhaust every source possible and still not find the answers to your questions. But no matter how many questions remain unanswered, you will have unearthed some interesting information, learned a little more about your community, and become familiar with some important public institutions in the city.

So, have fun, and good luck.

Before you launch your research, it would be good to have a general idea of your house’s style and the approximate date of its construction.

If your house is newly purchased, the real estate listing undoubtedly had a date typed into the appropriate box. While you shouldn’t assume that this date is correct, it may help get you started.  The architectural style of your house can also provide you with clues to its approximate age so you know where to begin your research.

Some common styles in Chicago and their most distinctive features

  • Front Gable or Worker’s Cottage (beginning 1870s) – narrow house, steep roof, off-center front door
  • Romanesque Revival (1880-1900)- large arched openings, masonry walls, towers with conical roofs, asymmetrical façade
  • Italianate (1860-1900) – widely overhanging eaves, decorative brackets, tall, narrow arched windows
  • Queen Anne (1880s-1990) – steep roof usually with a prominent gable, porches, variety of building materials
  • Prairie (early 1900s)- low pitched hipped roof, wide overhanging eaves, horizontal detailing
  • Bungalow (early 1900s)-low pitched roof, wide eaves, brick walls, and bay window with art glass
  • American Four-Square (1900- 1930)- cube shape, hipped roof, broad front porch, little ornament
  • Colonial Revival (1880-1955)- cube shape, gabled roof, symmetrical, prominent front door

Step One

Checking the Chicago Historic Resources Survey

The very first place to look for information on your house is in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey. A copy of this book is in every branch of the Chicago Public Library and can also be viewed at the Commission on Chicago Landmarks office. An electronic version of the survey is available on the City of Chicago’s website at: www.cityofchicago.org/Landmarks/CHRS.  If the survey lists the date and architect for your building, you’re in luck. That means a permit was found by Commission researchers and additional information may be on file in the Commission Offices….

A Good Mystery

Historical research is often compared to reading a good mystery. By now you should know who did it, where, with what, and maybe why. But your search may have just begun. Our city, and its world renowned architecture, have a rich and engrossing history. The people and institutions you’ve used to do your research are ready to help you continue. Make good use of our public libraries, our museums, our government agencies and our universities. They are a wealth of information preserved for us and our children.

 Source:

“YOUR HOUSE HAS A HISTORY

A Step-by-Step Guide to Researching Your Property”

COMMISSION ON CHICAGO LANDMARKS


Again, this is just a tease to illustrate that researching your home, who built it and who lived there over the years is not as daunting as it may seem.   There are six steps that end with researching the history of your neighborhood, which can provide a terrific snapshot of the years that have rolled over the economic and demographic changes that shape the varied neighborhoods of Chicago.

Soldier on and see what you find.  If you have specify questions, let me know.  Good luck!