September 9th - 2007

Correcting three prevalent myths about heritage properties

Heritage properties are becoming an area of focus for some Ontario real estate salespeople and brokers. In Brampton (at time of writing), for example, there are no fewer than 400 listed heritage properties on the municipal inventory.

Heritage properties are becoming an area of focus for some Ontario real estate salespeople and brokers. In Brampton (at time of writing), for example, there are no fewer than 400 listed heritage properties on the municipal inventory.
 
As sure as the sun will come up tomorrow there are three myths about heritage properties that prevail. Unfortunately, as the market for heritage homes increases this will do more harm than good, so it serves the industry well to clear them up.
 
Dr. Robert Shipley of the University of Waterloo looked into one of the most pervasive of the myths– that a ‘Heritage designation of a house results in reduced value and makes it harder to sell.’ Shipley investigated the sales of 2,707 properties designated under the Ontario Heritage Act over the past 20 years which were located in 24 communities across Ontario.
 
Did he find the myth to be true? Absolutely not, what he did find was that heritage designation actually helped to maintain and even improve market value. Here’s what he found:

  • Some 74% of individually designated properties equaled or bettered the average property value trend in the community.
  • The rate of sales among individually designated properties was equal to, or greater than, the general rate of sales of properties within their communities.
  • Designated properties tend to resist downturns in the ambient market.

On top of this, the owners of designated buildings can benefit from expert advice from municipal heritage committees and preservation staff, and they may also be eligible for financial incentives such as grants, special loans and tax relief.
 
At a time when we are all conscious of waste management, the second myth, that ‘It is cheaper to demolish and start anew than to restore a heritage building’ can be a real puzzler. Dr. George Gorgolewsky at the School of Architectural Science at Ryerson University says, “It’s not cheaper from an environmental point of view, given that 35% of the contents our landfill sites is building material waste.”
 
From a construction standpoint, historic preservation has several advantages over new construction. For example, structural costs on an old building usually made up five to 12 percent of the total project costs, half the average expenditure for new construction. And, Charles K. Hoyt, writing in the Architectural Record said, “many older buildings have unique and desirable signature features, such as ornate windows and finishes, high ceilings, etc. that would be prohibitively expensive to create in new buildings.”
 
This brings us to the third and last myth about heritage properties: ‘Old technology is not as efficient as modern replacements.’ Paul Howley, a Stratford builder, who does work on heritage buildings, disagrees. “Old houses were designed to last a long time,” he said. They are well designed, well constructed, and structurally sound. And often the retrofit with modern materials is only an improvement for the short term. “When people rip out beautiful old sash windows and replace them with vinyl windows, they are not getting much improvement.” And, he said, the modern materials used often won’t last as long as if you properly maintain and repair the old material.
 
Trade in heritage properties may increase as cities resolve to preserve their legacy. So before the sun sets on another day let’s resolve not to deal in myths about them. Can we afford to do otherwise?
 
Robert Hulley is President of the Brampton Branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and a retired former real estate and mortgage broker and appraiser.

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