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Determining the authenticity of heritage homes
Browse through the listings in RealtyLink - In Print or on-line and you’ll see many homes described as "heritage," usually those built in the 1930s or earlier. But according to REALTORS® who specialize in older homes, the term ‘heritage’ is often misunderstood.

"If a house is more than about 60 years old, people will refer to it as ‘heritage,’ regardless of how well it has been preserved or how much it has been altered over the years," says one West Side REALTOR® who specializes in heritage homes. He cautions buyers, "Heritage is not just about age, it’s about authenticity. The real value is in a home that has retained its original character, inside and out."

Most Lower Mainland municipalities have an official Heritage Register, an inventory of homes created by a team of historians and city planners. The Register lists buildings of special historical importance, along with those that best represent certain architectural styles. Older municipalities such as Vancouver, New Westminster, and North Vancouver have established these inventories decades ago and update them every few years. Other areas, such as Maple Ridge and Delta, have only recently completed inventories are in the process of creating a formal Heritage Register.

In cities with an official Heritage Register, buildings are categorized based on their historical importance, such as Vancouver’s A, B, and C classes, or North Vancouver’s Primary, Secondary, and Supplemental classes. These classifications reflect the building’s level of protection against future alteration or demolition. In most cities, homes in the highest heritage category cannot be altered without municipal approval. Typically, homes in the lower categories can be altered after the owners meet with municipal Heritage Planning staff to discuss ways of preserving the home’s exterior character. Owners of authentically restored older homes can apply to have them placed on the city’s heritage register, helping to preserve city history and, in some cases, enhancing their resale value.

Only a few thousand Lower Mainland homes are on city Heritage Registers, but many other older homes can legitimately be called "heritage" if they retain their original features. REALTORS® suggest looking for a home that has not been extensively remodelled, for example, where walls and windows have not been moved, original wood floors and millwork are still in place, and the exterior has not been stuccoed over. "The key is for buyers to educate themselves about the period and style of the home they’re looking for, and to develop an eye for authentic details," says one REALTOR® specializing in heritage.

(For more information on buying, restoring and caring for a heritage home, read the RealtyLink - In Print article Buying, restoring, and caring for heritage homes..see the index on the previous page)