Historic homes fill trending market niche in Manatee

Special to the HeraldDecember 10, 2012 

MANATEE -- When Jennifer and Ryan Bremner began searching for their home, they quickly decided they would only seriously consider properties in established neighborhoods.

In May, the couple purchased a home that met their criteria: a 1,350-square-foot 1928 limestone cottage in the Ware's Creek section of Bradenton.

"We didn't start out looking specifically for a historic house, but everything else we saw lacked character," Jennifer Bremner said. "Then we found this one for sale and it worked for us."

The Bremners are among a growing group of homebuyers bypassing the suburban lifestyle and newer homes in master-planned communities in favor of older properties in established neighborhoods like Manatee County's Ware's Creek, White Bear Park, West End, Marineland, West Palmetto and Parrish Village.

These historic or vintage homes -- built in 1940 or earlier -- are in neighborhoods where house lots are large, streetscaping is lush and mature, and the local coffee shop is just a short walk away. Many of the homes feature era-specific architecture and are constructed of materials that are either unavailable or too costly to be incorporated into new home construction, said Greg Owens, sales associate for Keller Williams Realty.

"Some are built of Florida Cypress," Owens said. "You don't find that anymore."

The now-rare material contained in the Bremners' home is limestone drawn from the long-shuttered Oneco Quarry. "It's the only limestone house in the neighborhood, and we know there aren't going to be any more because the quarry isn't there anymore," Bremner said.

In the marketplace, historic home prices vary based on house and lot size and on the amount of restoration work performed on the house at the time of sale, said Maryann Lawler, also of Keller Williams Realty. For example, a 1,200-square-foot home built in the 1920s in need of significant restoration may sell for $100,000 to $150,000, while a 1914 restored 3,700-square-foot home could command a $350,000 price tag.

Buyers range from older couples seeking neighborhoods reminiscent of where they grew up or where they raised their children, to young couples like the Bremners attracted by the opportunity to own a piece of history. Since purchasing their house, the Bremners have learned that educator Martha B. King, the first principal to establish a school lunch program and for whom King Middle School is named, actually built and occupied the house.

"There's a pride in ownership knowing about that, and we're still learning about the history of this house," Ryan Bremner said.

A growing number of home seekers seem to share Bremner's sentiment. In recent years, interest in historic homes in Manatee County's long-established neighborhoods has been on the rise, Lawler said.

Between 2010 and 2011, historic homes sales accounted for 1.5 percent of the residential real estate market. That market share increased to 1.8 percent between 2011 and 2012 and is expected to continue to increase, she said.

Even so, historic home ownership is not for everyone.

"Buyers who are not financially well-established are not good candidates for historic home ownership," Lawler warns.

That's because obtaining financing and insurance coverage for historic homes can be challenging. Lenders want guarantees that these homes are insurable before approving financing. Insurers want to be sure premiums are high enough to compensate for high risk construction features such as outdated electric and plumbing systems.

"By comparison, if a buyer is going to pay $1,000 a year for insurance on a home in Lakewood Ranch, for example, they're going to pay $3,000 a year for insurance on a historic home," Lawler said.

Property taxes on historic homes are likely to be higher, too, due to municipal services provided in established neighborhoods. Based on these and other costs, Lawler advises historic homeowners to bank 2 percent of their home's value specifically for the home's maintenance and restoration.

Still, Jennifer Bremner believes the lifestyle is worth the higher costs.

"I'm rooted in this neighborhood," she said. "Not only do I know my neighbors' names, I know their dogs' names and I don't want to give that up."

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