Modernity and convenience often take center stage in today’s architectural trends, but there’s an enduring charm to historic homes. The creak of weathered floorboards, the intricate detailing of ornate moldings, and the tales that seem to linger in every nook and cranny — these are the hallmarks of homes that have stood witness to generations of lives lived within their walls. While some people don’t envision themselves living in a house with many decades or even centuries of history, others would jump at the opportunity.

If you’re one of those dreaming of finding a historic home for sale and returning it to its former glory, certain cities across the country will provide you with a much better chance of snatching a timeless gem. To see where exactly historical buildings buffs should be looking for the perfect property, we analyzed the average age of the housing inventory in the country’s largest cities based on US Census data. The good news is that many cities across the country have large numbers of historic homes, from expensive real estate markets like San Francisco to more affordable ones such as Detroit.

San Francisco tops the charts for historic homes potential, followed by Philadelphia, PA

San Francisco, CA, features the country’s most “historic” housing inventory, with an average age of 92 years. These homes serve as a testament to the city’s rapid development during the Gold Rush era and subsequent periods of growth. Victorian and Edwardian architecture, exemplified by the famous “Painted Ladies,” emerged during the late 19th century, but the city’s historical treasures extend far beyond these well-known structures. Take, for instance, the South End Historic District, which houses an eclectic collection of late 1800s and early 1900s buildings just waiting to be explored.

Detroit, MI, another city with plenty of gorgeous historic mansions, ranks second – and it is also putting affordability on the table. The city’s architecture showcases various periods, from Victorian mansions built during its boom years to Craftsman-style homes from the early 20th century. As Detroit navigated tough economic times, some neighborhoods went through significant challenges as well. Although there’s a long road ahead, several preservationist groups are working on bringing back some of the older charm with significant success. Detroit’s Brush Park neighborhood is a good example of a formerly neglected area that’s currently going through an intense process of revitalization. Or you could check out Corktown, one of Detroit’s oldest neighborhoods, with its unique blend of historic buildings and its thriving dining and entertainment scene.

The East Coast presents its own champions in terms of historic charm, with Baltimore, MD, Philadelphia, PA, and Boston, MA, standing out as a premier locations for immersing oneself in rich historical heritage.

Baltimore, MD, ranking third, with an average housing stock age of 75 years, features a rich tapestry of historic homes and diverse architectural styles that harken back to bygone eras. From the charming rowhouses of Fells Point and Federal Hill, built in the 18th and 19th centuries, to the grand mansions in Mount Vernon showcasing Beaux-Arts and Italianate elegance, the city's architectural heritage is captivating.

Philadelphia, PA, the country’s fourth best city for finding historic homes, boasts an exquisite architectural mix that’s intertwined with the birth of the nation. Its historic homes reflect various architectural styles spanning centuries, from colonial and Federal to Georgian and Victorian. The city’s well-preserved historic neighborhoods, such as Society Hill and Germantown, provide ideal settings for discovering homes with character.

Boston, MA, ranks fifth in our top for the age of its housing inventory. The city’s architecture showcases a blend of colonial influences and more refined Federal-style designs. Beacon Hill, for instance, stands as a prime example of well preserved 19th-century homes with their iconic brick facades and cobblestone streets.

The Road to Restoration Success: Pro Tips and Common Pitfalls to Avoid

One thing to remember when thinking of joining the restoration movement is that renovating old houses is not smooth sailing. From navigating the labyrinth of permits and regulations to embracing the challenges of blending old-style craftsmanship with contemporary comforts, a restoration project can be quite an undertaking. To give you a starting point, we talked to designers, architects, real estate agents and contractors who shared the biggest obstacles and the best strategies when it comes to remodeling a historical home.

Go into as many details as possible

A successful remodeling of an old home must start with learning as much as possible about it. Find documents, photographs and any available records that detail the original construction, architectural style and past occupants. Local historical societies, archives and libraries can be invaluable resources. “Having a good understanding of the past is essential for creating an updated look that honors it,” explains Jonathan Faccone, an interior designer and the founder of Halo Homebuyers.

Another important aspect is to identify the period-specific details that should be preserved or restored. Familiarize yourself with architectural features such as moldings, windows, doors and decorative elements to maintain historical accuracy. “Most historical homes have beautiful woodwork, moldings and architectural details that should be preserved if possible,” says David Mason, interior designer and the founder of Knobs.co. “If modern conveniences need to be added, like extra bathrooms or storage space, try to choose wood or other natural materials. You can also look for vintage pieces with a similar style to the original home,” he explains.

Don’t forget to research local historic preservation regulations, including design guidelines and building codes. These regulations often dictate what changes are permissible in historical properties and may offer guidance on appropriate materials and techniques.

Finally, making sure you know exactly what you’re getting into will save you time, money and energy. “For homeowners taking on such a project, my main advice would be to have a thorough inspection conducted by a professional who has experience with older homes. They can identify potential issues that may not be visible to the untrained eye,” as Brad Smith, CEO and lead interior designer at Omni Home Ideas puts it.

Striking the right balance between an old home’s original character and modern conveniences is the key to success

Historical homes can definitely take you back in time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy modern, state-of-the-art conveniences. Popular upgrades in historical homes often include expanding storage space, integrating energy-efficient systems and adding extra bathrooms or updated kitchen amenities.

When it comes to maintaining the original charm of a historical home while integrating modern conveniences, it’s all about respecting the bones of the building, agree the experts. “During my architectural years, we worked on a Victorian-era house, and the challenge was to bring it into the 21st century without losing that distinct character,” explains architect Anthony Roebuck, the founder of Watercolor Affair. “It was like playing a delicate game of chess, where every move needed careful consideration. The key, we found, was in paying close attention to detail — replicating moldings, preserving original woodwork, using period-appropriate paint colors and so on. Meanwhile, we discreetly incorporated modern conveniences such as underfloor heating, hidden storage, and Wi-Fi —because, of course, no one wants to compromise their Netflix nights, even in a charming old house!” he quipped.

Since the home’s structural systems may not tolerate removing large sections of walls, it’s common to need to expand or add onto the house. “Developing an expansion design becomes an entirely new problem to solve structurally and spatially,” says architect Lee Calisti, a strategic construction advisor at Real Estate Bees. The layout of historic homes and the technical characteristics of the construction are other obstacles to be overcome for a renovation that respects the past but also creates a modern environment where owners can live comfortably. “We’ve seen houses from the late 19th century with no sheathing behind the brick. Thus, energy concerns and indoor air quality rise to the top of expensive challenges to overcome,” continues Calisti. “We highly recommend finding ways to respectfully and sensitively replace windows that match the existing profiles and trim. This decision demands a higher investment in window performance and types. No vinyl, please. If the siding is of concern, choose a siding material that best replicates the original material,” he added.

To conclude, a delicate balance must be struck between maintaining historical and architectural integrity and incorporating the necessities and luxuries of contemporary living. “One technique that helps achieve this is the concept of sympathetic renovation,” says Allison Montgomery, a real estate specialist with BuyMyHouse.org. “This involves carefully matching new materials and design elements to the existing ones, such as using reclaimed wood for flooring or replicating period-specific architectural details,” she emphasized.

Set up a realistic budget right from the start — and make sure you have some extra funds set aside for the unexpected

Renovating a historic home to include modern conveniences can be significantly more expensive than a standard renovation. This is due to the need for specialized labor, materials and preservation techniques. Oftentimes, renovation work may lead to the discovery of hidden problems, which will complicate things even more.

That’s why you need to come up with a detailed budget right from the start. You can do that by enlisting the help of an architect and a contractor and obtain cost estimates before beginning the renovation process. However, don’t rely on the fact that the initial budget estimate will be, in fact, close to reality.

“As someone who has renovated historic homes in the past, my top recommendation for homeowners taking on this project would be to go into it with a clear vision, as well as a clear understanding of the amount of work and money that is likely to be required,” shared Ryan Farley, CEO of LawnStarter. “I was not prepared for this during my first home renovation and burnt out pretty hard on that project as it went over my incredibly naïve budget and time frame,” he explained.

Most experts agree that when it comes to the costs of renovating a historic home, you should always expect the unexpected. So, to avoid a situation where you spend all your money long before the construction work is done, make budget provisions for worst case scenarios. “You need to plan for a budget that is 20 to 30% higher than the initial estimate to cover any unexpected costs,” concludes Faccone.

However, there are ways of completing the project even if you don’t have all the necessary funds right from the start. “The biggest recommendation that I have for someone who is taking on a project like this is to segment it into steps if there is a limited budget,” suggests Robin Wilson, founder of RW Home. “The first things to do are roofing, septic, electrical and air conditioning. The other cosmetic items can be done later, but these first items should be done only with licensed professionals. You can definitely furnish a house over time, but get the structural things done first,” he added.

Exploring alternative avenues for extra funds is well worth it as well. Some cities offer financial incentives for the renovation of historic homes, and there are also specialized loans and even grants designed for those intending to breathe life back into historic properties.

How self storage can help during the restoration of a historic home

Renovating a historic home can be very rewarding, but it’s a process that takes a lot of time and requires patience and attention to details. During the remodeling process, there’s usually the need to protect certain components of the home, such as the existing woodwork that can be detached (doors, shutters, staircase handrails and balusters), decorative elements, old furniture or appliances still inside and so on. You’ll want to remove anything that can be removed so that these charming features are not damaged while construction work to structural elements of the house is going on. Also, you’ll have to source appropriate building materials and find antique and vintage furniture that complements the style of the home. In other words, you’ll have plenty of things (usually delicate and expensive ones) that need to be stored safely for a while.

A self storage unit located close to your home is often the best solution. Depending on your needs, you have plenty of options when it comes to the unit size. Also, you have the possibility to get a climate-controlled self storage unit to make sure that things like vintage furniture, old textiles and so on are well protected while you are remodeling the house.

The costs of renting self storage depend on location and other factors, such as availability. You can see below how much it costs to rent a 10’x10’ storage unit in the country’s top 10 cities for historic homes:

Self Storage Costs in the Country's Top 10 Cities for Finding a Historic Home

RankCityStateStreet Rates*
1San FranciscoCA$264
2DetroitMI$170
3BaltimoreMD$119
4PhiladelphiaPA$140
5BostonMA$230
6MinneapolisMN$110
6New York City
NY$391
8MilwaukeeWI$96
9ChicagoIL$137
10OaklandCA$199
*Self storage street rates refer to 10’x10’ non climate-controlled units.
StorageCafe analysis of Yardi Matrix data

Remodeling a historical home is a unique and brave undertaking — it takes passion, effort and good planning. However, the results will be equally unique and a way to keep their timeless charm alive.

Here’s the full list of the country’s largest 50 cities and the average age of their housing inventories, from the oldest to the newest.

Methodology

This analysis was done by StorageCafe, an online platform that provides storage unit listings across the nation.

In this article, we ranked the country’s 50 most populous cities based on the median age of their respective housing stock.

We used data regarding the median age of each city’s housing stock from the US Census.

The self storage street rates are from Yardi Matrix, StorageCafe‘s sister division and a business development and asset management tool for brokers, sponsors, banks and equity sources underwriting investments in the multifamily, office, industrial and self storage sectors.

Fair use and distribution

This study serves as a resource for the general public on issues of common interest and should not be regarded as investment advice. The data is true to the best of our knowledge but may change if amendments to it are made. We agree to the distribution of this content, but we do require a mention in return for attribution purposes.

Author

Maria Gatea is a real estate and lifestyle editor for Yardi with a background in Journalism and Communication. After covering business and finance-related topics as a freelance writer for 15 years, she is now focusing on researching and writing about the real estate industry. You may contact Maria via email.

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