Buying and Restoring a Heritage Home in Ontario

Heritage charm is calling your name. Buying and restoring a heritage home may be right up your alley if you are handy and have time (and money) on your hands. 

Aching for Adventure in Ontario’s Small Places

Summer time and the living is easy watching Sarah Richardson, hubby Alex and earnest design assistant Tommy Smythe renovate those historic Ontario heritage homes. Putting that weathered backyard barn back together with elbow grease and custom, double-height windows in Season 2 of Sarah Off the Grid got Creemore (population 1,170 thanks to the 2016 Census) on the map. 

Jumping Head First into Restoration

Sarah Richardson “jumped head first into a new project”, according to the show’s news release. Apparently so did Creemore residents, who thronged around Richardson to see the century-old Victorian restored into luxury vacation digs. Solar panels took it off the grid no less!

Big City Nearness Without the Price

Ontario’s small towns can be a pleasure. So much to do and see without the big city prices. Antique shopping, jawing with friendly neighbours over a white picket fence. It sounds like the perfect antidote to TO traffic jams and property tax pandemonium.

Not for the Budget Minded

Those red brick, storied Victorians and lakeside clapboard cottages are definitely a project waiting to happen. Just what every heritage-minded property buyer is looking for. Richardson says they’re not exactly an economical choice. The Creemore Echo reports Richardson’s folly, if you could call it that, was a labour of love, but definitely “not a good investment….” The restoration TV host took on the redesign challenge to give back to Creemore, donating house tour proceeds to a local arts and heritage group.

Making Your Money Back With Rentals

A Cobourg couple took a similarly big financial risk rebuilding The College Grand in 2018. The 1904 homestead went from a battered, vacant shell to contemporary, loft-style rental units. The grand new design features exposed brick, gas fireplaces, high ceilings and expansive gardens. What with concierge services, it’s a dream reno. 

Going Over the Top

Veteran home renovator Scott McGillivray of Buyers Bootcamp warns home buyers not to go too high end with small town finishes. By all means winterize and update old knob and tube electrical wiring, copper kitchen plumbing and newspaper or wood chip insulation, he says. Marble countertops and multi-burner gas stoves though probably won’t command the return they would in big city ‘burbs. 

Would You Have a Pool at the Lake?

Some splurges just aren’t worth it. A pool can be one of the worst wastes ever, McGillivray cautions. “The only time a pool can add value to a vacation home is when it’s completely landlocked. If you’re on a lake or beach, don’t bother.”

Buyers Beware of Heritage Restrictions

How economical is uneconomical? For budget-minded buyers, heritage homes or cottages can be a black hole of financial despair. Not the least of buyer’s worries are those reno restrictions under the Ontario Heritage Act. You could lose (or win big) three ways, if your home is:

  1. On the heritage register.
  2. A designated heritage property.
  3. In heritage conservation district.

Realtors’ Obligation to Disclose Heritage Status

Realtors’ have a professional obligation to disclose material facts about a home for sale to potential buyers. That means if a home has heritage restrictions, your realtor should tell you before you make an offer. Your mortgage availability could be affected if extensive renovations are needed but you are limited by what you can do by the Ontario Heritage Act. Check before you buy.

Renos and Your Home’s Heritage 

Homes on Ontario’s heritage register have cultural value or interest. You must give your municipality at least 60 days’ written notice before destroying or removing your home. A designated heritage property is protected by municipal bylaw and is part of your community’s history and cultural assets. Buyers generally require written municipal consent in advance to make changes and may meet resistance if they affect the home’s heritage attributes. What you can do depends on the bylaw and what parts the municipality expects you to preserve. Submit a notice of change of ownership within 30 days of possession and include building plans with your reno application.

Living in a Heritage Conservation District

Neighbourhoods, buildings, shops, land or street fixtures can all have historic designations when you live in a heritage conservation district. While you may be able to make minor changes without a municipal permit, check before you do anything. Better to have your permit in hand than get a rude awakening after you’ve spent a bundle.

Reno Funding for Seniors, People with Disabilities

Good news for seniors and family members with disabilities: Ontario Renovates offers provincial funding for some renovations. Repairs to a home’s structure, such as a foundation, windows or doors, or to make it more accessible by adding ramps or chair lists can be eligible.

Tempering Excitement With Reality

Watching TV renos may have you hepped up to get going. Temper your excitement with a dose of reality by doing your research first and asking questions (a lot of questions) before you buy. As they say, look before you leap.

Sage Real Estate Advice for First-Home or Heritage Home Buyers

Whether it’s your first-home or a restoration project, Axess Law Ontario can write up the legal documents for your heritage home purchase to protect your legal interests. Make an online video call  appointment day or evening, at your convenience, 7 days a week. Dial toll-free to 1-877-552-9377 or 647-479-0118 in Toronto or use our online booking form. You can visit a licensed real estate lawyer in person at our Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Ottawa, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices. 

Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s real estate law services.

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