Officially, Chicago was incorporated as a town in 1833, and became a city in 1837. Since its founding, the jewel of the midwest has seen a lot – far too much to get into here!

So here’s the important thing: Chicago is one of the most iconic and historical cities in the country – and for countless people, there is a real allure in owning a substantive part of our famous city’s storied past.

Here in Chicago, there are many properties, and even entire neighborhood districts, designated as landmarks, or else noted for having “historic or architectural importance.”

For a certain type of homebuyer, the appeal of buying a historic property, or buying into a historical landmark district, cannot be overstated – whether you’re an architecture nerd looking to claim a piece of history, a history buff looking to leave your stamp on the city, or a preservationist hoping to keep Chicago’s signature look around for generations to come.

At the same time, many developers also look at historical homes and see dollar signs, viewing these properties as a chance to make upgrades while still scoring the right buyer by preserving just the right amount of classic Chicago charm.

With that said, it’s also important to keep in mind that owning one of these historic or significant properties is not going to be the right fit for everyone. Here are three important things to keep in mind as you consider whether or not you should pursue owning or developing a historical home in Chicago:

Are There Significant Development Restrictions and Easements?

It’s extremely important to remember that buying a historic or architecturally significant property is often going to mean taking care to preserve its appearance and unique charm. If a property is a local landmark, or situated in a local landmark district, there may be significant restrictions on what you can do to the home, as an owner or as a developer.

These limits will often mean restricting the “big ticket” development projects you can do (such as expanding the home’s footprint, or, say, adding a second story to a bungalow). Meanwhile, there may also be rules in place restricting your ability to make even minor changes or updates, such as repainting, replacing windows or siding, or even altering the landscaping around the home.

Can You Handle the Fine Print and Red Tape?

In addition to limiting what you can and cannot do to change the appearance of a property, a landmark or historic home may also come with significant strings attached, forcing you to deal with more paperwork – and, potentially, more red tape – over time.

For instance, when it comes to zoning and permitting for alterations to the property, there may be additional hoops to jump through for older homes, including submitting applications for all work projects; passing plans for any changes through zoning boards, environmental groups, preservation committees, or historical commissions; and working closely with the city on matters such as easements on the property.

Before committing to buying a historical home, whether as a residence or as a development project, it’s important to remember that there’s going to be a significant amount of leg-work you may want to accomplish ahead of time, including having a thorough inspection done, ordering a plat of survey, and working with a title agent or attorney to ensure that there is a clear title on the home. It may take some time and effort to build the right real estate team and get down to work, uncovering and remedying any “hidden surprises” that could impact you down the line.

On the flip side? Keep in mind that there may be some financial incentives (such as tax breaks) available to homeowners who purchase and reside in historical homes, or who rehabilitate and preserve “commercial, industrial, and income-producing non-for-profit buildings.” Remember, though, that taking full advantage of these opportunities may mean working closely with the city, and working with an attorney to review contracts and language, at many different stages along the way.

Will It Be the Right Fit for Your Lifestyle?

Finally, it’s important to ask if owning a historic home or living in a historic district is going to be the right fit for you on a personal level. Everyone is going to have a unique answer that question!

For some, the idea of owning a real piece of local history is all the incentive they need. For others, the drawbacks may be too great. Some homeowners love the unique feel of a historic property, others ultimately find that they’d prefer the layout, space, or amenities of a newer build. Some want to invest time and money into updating important systems and working to keep a home livable, while others ultimately find that the maintenance and repair costs are just too steep.

Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong answer – it’s all going to come down to your unique wants and needs as a homebuyer or developer.

Demystifying the World of Chicago Real Estate Law

Here in Chicago and across the state of Illinois more broadly, real estate can be a tricky business, even for the savviest individuals, families, builders, or investors. It’s often going to be important to have a guide on your side, who can help you review contracts and documents, hold negotiations, perform research, and generally help ensure that you’re getting the right paperwork in front of the right parties at the right times to move your project forward – with all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed correctly.

That’s where the Gunderson Law Firm can step in and help.

The attorneys and staff of the Gunderson Law Firm possess unparalleled expertise and insight, reinforced by years of experience and long-term connections throughout Chicago’s real estate, finance, and insurance industries. In fact, our attorneys are also title insurance agents for several of the top title insurance companies in the world.

From processing purchase and sale agreements and title paperwork, to helping you get through the zoning boards, historical commissions, licensing boards, easement granters, and more, our team can help you move your real estate project forward as quickly and smoothly as humanly possible.

Whether you are a family wanting to buy or build a house, a corporation converting commercial properties to residential, or a developer looking to leave your mark on the city forever, we offer a broad range of real estate legal services that can help you achieve your loftiest long-term goals.

Have any more questions? Want to talk about your unique circumstances? Don’t hesitate to drop us a line to get the conversation started.