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Vermont Vintage Homes

Buying a Vintage Home in Vermont

Vintage or Antique Homes are one of my personal weaknesses and one that I succumbed to in 1997 when I purchased my very own 1820 Center hall Colonial Farmhouse on two acres. I think I can blame my parents for this love affair with architecturally significant and historic homes as they bought there first home in 1948, a 1780 Center Hall Colonial, where my mother still lives to this day.


For those of you out there who share this passion there are some basic truths that you have to embrace in order to purchase one of these homes with confidence.


Truth #1: Lead Paint: Yes there is most likely some lead paint located on the painted surface in all old homes that you may encounter. Middlebury Victorian LandmarkUnless they have been gutted to the studs and all of the original wood work removed, a Cub Scout armed with a camping knife and 15 minutes of un-supervised exploration time will find lead paint. If you would prefer an older home that has been gutted and replaced with all new surfaces then I would suggest buying a reproduction or totally new home of the style that you prefer. In my opinion, most of the charm of an older home is the old woodwork, trim, flooring, ceiling etc and most buyers are willing to put up with the older plumbing, wiring and mechanicals that often accompany the charm, in order to have it. To buy an older home with the old plumbing, wiring and mechanicals and the new interior may not be a wise decision and a new home may be a better choice.


 The danger posed by lead paint in the vintage home is most often a factor of the condition of the paint. If the paint is in poor condition and some family member decides to dine on the loose paint chips, or worse, takes to chewing the window sills as a form of entertainment, lead poisoning is the result. Neither of these activities is advisable and will result in elevated levels of lead in the blood stream. Sanding, scrapping or stripping older painted surfaces if done haphazardly can put lead dust into the air to be inhaled with the same result. In short, if buying an older home, know that lead paint is located somewhere in the home. Don’t eat the paint or remodel without taking the proper precautions and you should be relatively safe.


Truth #2: Older Homes Tend to be close to the road:  It is rare to find an old vintage home that is not located within a close proximity to the edge of the road upon which it is located. The reason for this, if you think about it, is that back when many of these homes where built, let’s say 1850 or earlier, the fastest thing that was going to pass by was a horse at a full gallop. Cars, traffic, tractor trailer trucks and road noise had not been invented yet and neither had the snow plow. How convenient would it have been to build your brand new 1800th century farm house a mile and  a half from the town road only to have to navigate your way to the road  without the assistance of modern conveniences1812 Tavern, Charlotte, VT every time you had to leave the farm? There are occasions when you Can find older homes that are now “off the beaten path” due to historic changes in traffic patterns but on the average, if you want an older home be prepared before you pull up for the first visit to deal with it’s proximity the road. Often the perception is worse than the reality, especially in the case of older brick or stone homes. These structures seem to wear the road noise well and except in warm summer months with the windows open, can be remarkably quiet in spite of their location. Whatever you do , do not discount a home due to it’s perceived proximity to what you have decided is a busy road, go see it and spend some time there before passing judgment. Go at different times of the day and weekends as well as week days. It would be a shame to pass up a classic charmer only because of the road, without at least giving it some serious consideration.


Truth#3: Not All Older homes are worth fixing up. I think there is a major misconception out there in the market place that all old homes are worth restoring. For the most part that is true. However I have found in my travels that there are two kinds of old farmhouses, those built by prosperous farmers with a good work ethic and pride in ownership and the other kind. Sometimes the actual historic period in which it was built will reflect in the original quality of the construction. Don’t assume that just because it was built back in “the day” by an old Vermont Farmer that the Old Vermont Farmer knew what he was doing , or was prosperous enough to be able to afford to do it right.  Some of the best and the worst engineered homes that I have seen were old Vermont Farmhouses. You have to remember that “back in the day” you did not need a building permit to build; there was no building code and no building code enforcement. Having said that, there is no doubt that the finest  examples of Architectural integrity and solid Vermont engineering can be found in these vintage homes and often times in parts of the house where you least expect it. So, do your research, learn about the construction methods of the day and start your search. With the right mix of persistence and knowledge, the perfect vintage home is out there just waiting for you and your family to enjoy.


Truth #4: Older homes take full advantage of their site.  It occurred to me a number of years ago that one of the art forms that have really been lost over the years is the proper siting of a new home. With the dawn of the planned subdivision and the dreaded cul-de-sac, homes have become nothing more than playing pieces on a Monopoly board. You divide the land, create the lots, (all nice equal rectangles or squares) and you place the homes on them in the center of the lots facing the new streets. Gone are the days of walking the land, observing the sun patterns through the seasons, noting the prevailing fair weather wind and the gales that accompany any storms, observing the natural Hinesburg Vintage Homewindbreaks and landscaping all before sighting your new home. The native Vermonters lived on and made their living from the land. The thoughtful sighting of their homes and farmstead was a matter of survival. It affected the heating of their homes, the productivity of the farms and in short the well being of their entire family. It was an extremely important part of the pre-construction preparation and was often done to perfection. This is one of the best reasons to explore older homes and is the one that is most often overlooked.


Truth#5: Vintage Homes are a great value: While often viewed as a “money pit”, older homes can offer you the most home and square footage for the money and here are some of the reasons why. When a new home is built buy the new home owner, the first part of the process involves finding a suitable lot, at today’s market value. Then you have to contract with an excavator to install the driveway, bring the utilities into the site and to the new home, do the site work, foundation hole, backfill, construct the septic system, all at today’s prices. The home is then built, once again, at market prices for materials and labor costs. At the end of the process, the bills are tallied and the total cost for the home can range for a low of $200/ square foot to $400/sq ft.


When an older existing home is priced for re-sale, it is compared to recently sold homes on the market with the appropriate corrections made for major differences in size and amenities. You never go back and start the valuation of an existing home by determining the current value of the lot in today’s market and then add the cost to reconstruct the existing home. In fact the land value in a comparative market analysis of an existing home is virtually discounted to zero. In the case of older homes with much of the original woodwork, built in’s, solid wood doors and hard or softwood flooring, the price to reproduce the finishes is not only exorbitant but in some case impossible.  In the final analysis, a pre-existing older home of restorable quality is most often priced far below the underlying land and construction value of the same home if built new. While the restoration of the structure and updating of the mechanical and electrical systems can be expensive, when completed you will have that special one of a kind family home to enjoy and remember forever.  


So take heart and if you have always dreamed of owning a Vermont Vintage home with all of the warmth and charm that only an older home can offer, go for it. By understanding the pro’s and cons and not setting unreasonable expectations, you can find that great older home perfect for you and your family.