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Interest in buying historic homes grows

When Leo and Lucia Huntington began their two-year home search, they knew they wanted a charming home in a convenient location.

“We looked at some older homes, and they appealed to us aesthetically,” Lucia Huntington said. “That’s when we started to zero in on what we wanted.”

They found a 1912 Craftsman-style home in the architecturally prominent Rockwood neighborhood on Spokane’s South Hill.

Over fifteen years, the Huntingtons repaired, renovated and rehabilitated the home’s interior and exterior to align the structure with its original character.

They completed work in every room of the home, which included replacing light fixtures, scraping off layers of wallpaper, painting and minor construction projects to maintain the architectural integrity of the property.

The couple also hired Spokane-based build-design firm KellCraft Design-Build-Supply to complete two sizable renovations.

Two years ago, their home, which had 17 prior owners, was nominated for the Spokane Register of Historic Places.

“We did that mostly to preserve the neighborhood,” Lucia Huntington said. “It’s a wonderful neighborhood, and we are part of a wonderful block.”

Yvonne DeBill, a Windermere/Manito associate broker, said people who buy historic homes vary in age from retired folks to young couples with children.

DeBill, who has sold several historic homes in the Manito Park area, said buyers look look specifically for older homes because of their charm and workmanship.

“They typically have a little different floor plan,” she said of the older homes. “They have a more traditional set up that works real well with children because of their formal architectural design.”

However, with the tight real estate market in Spokane, there aren’t a lot of these types of opportunities on the market at the moment, DeBill said.

“The South Hill is a prime location,” she said. “People bought and maintained homes, but the last couple of years we’ve had low inventory since there aren’t as many older historic homes.”

However, along with architectural charm, there can be unexpected issues that accompany ownership of a historic home.

“There is going to be things that are going to go wrong,” DeBill said. “You are going to have things pop up that you didn’t expect, and you can’t get just anybody in there to fix the issue because you want to keep the integrity of the home.”

DeBill advises buyers to hire a contractor specializing in historic homes if they want to change and update it.

Megan Duvall, the city’s historic preservation officer, said there’s a big misconception that once a home is on Spokane’s Register of Historic Places, changes can’t be made to it.

Homeowners can change the interior, she said, adding that changing the paint color, landscaping or building a detached garage can usually be handled administratively by submitting a “certificate of appropriateness” form for approval by the city’s historic preservation officer.

However, replacement windows, doors or siding could be subject to a management agreement with the city that requires work to be reviewed by the Spokane Historic Landmarks Commission.

Lucia Huntington said that while the couple was fortunate their home was in good shape when it was purchased, some homeowners may have to redo plumbing and wiring in their homes.

“Certainly an inspection is critical,” she said, stressing the importance of hiring an inspector that specializes in older houses to identify issues that others might not be attuned to.

Historic preservation consultant Linda Yeomans helps homeowners and commercial landlords in Spokane get their buildings listed on local, state and national historic registers.

“People really like learning the history of their house,” she said. “One of the first things they ask is if I can find out who lived in their house and what they did. They want to know everything about the history of their house.”

When she started in 1996, there would be about two historic register nominations a year. Now there’s one every couple of months.

“Many more people are (restoring homes) now than when I started 22 years ago,” she said.

Duvall, the historic preservation officer, said historic homes run the gamut in Spokane from mansions to Craftsman and midcentury properties.

“We have amazing historic neighborhoods in Spokane with the opportunity for people to get in these homes at all kinds of levels,” she said.

Yeomans said when the Spokane Preservation Advocates began historic home tours, it spurred interest from people to restore homes.

“People really like to go on those. They have been very well received,” she said. “Since that got started, people wanted to do something with their house and make it look really good.”

Yeomans said if a home is more than 50 years old and has retained its architectural significance, or is associated with a significant person or event, it can qualify for the Spokane Register of Historic Places. When a home is on the register, owners can receive benefits in the form of tax credits.

If a homeowner spends money to renovate and restore the home, that money can be deducted from the home’s assessed value for up to 10 years – which could result in a lower property tax bill, Yeomans said.

Yeomans said by renovating a historic home, it raises neighborhood property values and encourages neighbors to restore their homes, too.

Lucia Huntington said although owning a historic home has been a learning experience, she’s pleased with the purchase.

“We didn’t know how much we loved historic houses until (the one) we live in now,” she said. “We love it more each year.”


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