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Is buying a heritage listed house a good idea?

A few weeks ago, we heard of a friend who had inherited a house quite close to Kodungallur, a small town 18 km from Kochi. He uploaded some pictures on social media and we realized that this house was more than 200 years old and was quite close to the Muziris heritage zone; it was all very exciting.

But soon the euphoria gave way to doubts as one problem after another started rearing its head. Our friend had his share of doubts. He wanted to renovate the building; first question was can he do that. This was followed by permissions, the kind of material to use and above all the costing.

Some cities in India, notably Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Muziris, Hyderabad, Pondicherry, Goa and Varanasi have heritage zones. But that is not all. Most cities and towns are likely to pass legislation declaring heritage zones as these areas are money spinners as far as tourism goes.

So is it a good idea to own a heritage property? Many heritage properties have been turned into hotels and bed and breakfast places. Of course, this depends on the size of the property. Many havelis and heritage homes in the Golden Triangle consisting of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur have been converted into hotels.

It is important to realize that there are more restrictions when it comes to the renovation and development of heritage properties. A lot of thought and research has to go into the design and the building materials used. It is equally important to find an architect who has some experience working with old buildings.

Another big headache is that the approvals for the development or renovation of the building will take a long time and the owner will have to deal not only with the local authorities but also the heritage bodies. You will need to get a civil engineer to test the foundation of the building. In a number of cases, it was found that the old foundation was quite strong and could be built upon. It will not be possible to knockdown the entire structure and rebuild. So your architect will have to come up with some innovative ideas.

Another hurdle to cross will be home insurance. This is one area which you will have to research well. Once you are clear of all the legal claptrap, you have to work towards making the house livable. Make sure that the wiring is good and effective. Faulty wiring can be hazardous. Wi-fi is another must in modern homes. Get a professional in to do the wiring so that the damage is minimal.

They say that the devil is in the detail. This can be the tricky part as you have to take care to get the details right. For instance, if a few windows have rotted, then, replace the entire window by visiting the local second hand market which can be quite the treasure trove.

The front elevation of the building is important and the old look has to be maintained. You could however, add something new and contemporary to the back of the building. If this is done tastefully it will enhance the value of the building.

Most designers advise you to open up space inside the building; though you would be advised to preserve the front rooms as it were. In many of the heritage homes, the bedrooms and other family rooms tend to be rather small, in which case, two rooms can be merged into one by removing a wall. You could preserve the heritage feel by maintaining one wall.

As long as old wooden floor boards, doors and steps are safe you should maintain them. Also retain the old stone steps, even if they are worn out as they add character to the building. Scrape off old paint off the balustrade, the ceiling and the window frames.

This house will be the link between generations and will attract a lot of attention which, if you are clever, you can turn to your own benefit.

Nina Varghese for IndiaProperty.com

Image: By Dominik Hundhammer (User:Zerohund) (Image by myself) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

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