- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

Year after year, on visits from their home in Connecticut to Annapolis for football games and reunions of the Naval Academy's class of 1965, Jan and Ted Krauss would walk up charming Maryland Avenue to admire the beautiful old house with the perpetual "for sale" sign in its yard.

Finally, they asked a real estate agent to walk them through it.

"What's the matter with this house that it doesn't sell?" they asked.

Seven and a half years later, as they prepared to move into the house they bought that week, they realized they may have been a little naive.

The Krausses "fell in love" with a house whose charm and presence have been inspirational for almost two centuries. They bought it fully aware that it would absorb more time and expense than larger, cheaper houses in modern subdivisions. For them and others like them, however, buying a historic home is as much an investment in the future as it is a journey into the past.

"It's more than a labor of love. It's our legacy," says Mrs. Krauss, who adds that she and her husband invested their entire savings in the project. "It cost us everything we had and more."

Dwight Young, who teaches classes on protecting historic properties for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, says buying a historic house isn't for everybody. For those who are attracted to the unique character and craftsmanship that an old house represents, though, nothing else can compare.

"People who like old things won't be satisfied with anything less," says Mr. Young, whose classes help real estate agents learn how to market these houses to the segment of the population that is interested in them.

Because of the work and inconvenience of restoration and renovation, home sellers have to be especially knowledgeable about the benefits their old home has to offer. For instance, Mr. Young says, older urban homes are often close to public transportation and within walking distance of businesses.

A seller also should be prepared to explain the distinction between a historic property and one that has been registered with local, state or federal historic preservation associations.

A historic property is anything built more than 50 years ago. The owner of such a house is free to paint it purple with polka dots if he so wishes.

A house within a historic district, however, may be watched carefully by a local preservation group with the authority to slap fines on anyone who doesn't observe the district's rules.

Finally, a homeowner who wants to go through a state landmarks program to register a house as "historically significant" has the right to put restrictions in the deed, within the confines of the fair housing laws, when it is time to sell. Further, if a house qualifies for a state registry, the homeowner may register with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, whose heritage program gives owners a tax credit in return for restricting future structural changes.

In Winchester, Va., the City Council's Board of Architectural Review has authority over the 45-block area of downtown, which encompasses 1,200 structures. The board oversees any exterior changes a homeowner wants to make.

"What people do on the insides of their houses is not of concern to the local government," says Tim Youmans, director of planning for the city.

It is, however, of interest to those who seek a tax abatement on the increased value of their restored home.

That is an incentive offered by many local preservation organizations to help lure homeowners into the restoration game. Once they are saving on their local taxes, Mr. Youmans says, homeowners frequently choose to fill out the paperwork to qualify for state and federal tax abatements.

That way, they assure that no matter who owns their home next, it will forevermore be designated on the federal register and subject to restrictions.

As much as ordinary American homeowners chafe at the idea of anyone telling them they cannot build a porch on the side of their house or put new railings on their staircase, real estate agents say the restrictions frequently appeal to buyers of historic homes.

"Historic home buyers prefer covenants and restrictions because they like to know that their neighbors aren't going to ruin the historic value of the place," says Mary Nordman of Historic Properties Inc. in Winchester. "Covenants in some of these new neighborhoods are bigger than historic community contracts," she says.

Annapolis Realty agent Toni Graham Bell, who has a $925,000 historic home on the market, says she has not found selling historic properties to be much more challenging than selling modern homes in the same price range.

"It narrows the market somewhat because the property has a premium," Ms. Bell says. "It makes finding the buyer a little more difficult."

Mr. Young, quoting a study that compared home values in two Virginia neighborhoods one restricted, one not says restrictions have a proven track record of improving home values.

"Values have never declined in a restricted area," he says. "In the worst-case scenario, values stayed more stable than in a non-regulated area. In the best-case scenario, the values in the regulated neighborhood rose."

On the other hand, those local preservation requirements may be costly. As the Krausses found out when they presented the city's Historic Preservation Commission with plans to lift the back of their Annapolis house to put in a basement, the homeowner is required to pay for a series of archaeological explorations.

The Krausses did not complain. They had intended to "do right by the house," but the house never made it easy on them.

The "salmon" brick inside the walls had crumbled, putting so much pressure on the lintels and doors that the library roof collapsed just months after they bought the house.

Also, no foundation existed under the back of the house, so each time workers came in to fix electrical or plumbing problems, they had to lift the original wood floors in the dining room to do it.

"Everything was wrong" with the house, Mrs. Krauss says.

The couple had expected and even looked forward to doing some renovation. After all, they had restored an 1887 Victorian in San Diego years earlier when their daughters were little. That project had been full of surprises, the most memorable being the month it took to raise the entire house off of its dissolving adobe foundation and build a new foundation.

Now, the girls are grown and have husbands and children. The Krausses just wanted a big, cozy place in which they could bring their family together for holidays and other celebrations.

Just last week, they finally did.

On Nov. 26, the moving truck arrived with furniture that had been in storage for years. The next day, their daughters' families arrived from California, and the day after that, they sat down to Thanksgiving dinner together under one beautifully restored roof.

"We learned with our first historic house that it takes three times as long and three times as much money as you expect," Mrs. Krauss says, "and this one took even more."

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