If you’ve been paying attention to the real estate market in the past couple of years, one of the trends you will have noticed is how younger homebuyers – and the developers who want to sell them homes — are not particularly inspired by the thought of restoring historic homes.
Younger buyers are attracted to open floor plans, green building practices, contemporary design that reflects and accommodates the way families live in the 21st century, not the 19th.
Towns like Riverside, founded in the 19th century and embracing that history, still have plenty of grand Victorian and early 20th-century homes that contribute to its beauty and desirability.
But, what we appear to be seeing is that if a younger buyer is going to take on a historic home, they want some room to maneuver to make them homes suitable for contemporary living.
The most obvious case in point in Riverside is 100 Fairbank Road, a home that you might call one of the village’s foundational buildings. Its exterior largely untouched from the time it was built in 1869, it’s at once a time capsule of Riverside’s founding and an illustration of the fickle nature of real estate markets.
On and off the market for a decade, it has struggled to find a buyer. The main problem, according to its longtime owner, is that potential buyers are scared off by the home’s local landmark status, which means before anyone can build an addition, it needs to get a certificate of appropriateness approved by the Riverside Preservation Commission.
You can see the gears grinding in the head of a buyer:
“Here is this house with a direct connection to the firm that laid out Riverside, still looking from the outside much the way it looked more than 150 years ago. The village board voted to make this home a local landmark, possibly restricting what I can do to this house – against the express wishes of the current owner.
“Must be some important house to preserve if the village board made such a move. I think I’ll look for a new build somewhere else.”
The owners of 100 Fairbank Road – who moved to another Riverside home 10 years ago and have been paying two property tax bills in the meantime – want some help. Either take away the landmark designation, which we suspect the village would be loath to do given the building’s historical importance, or give a buyer some assurances you’ll let them put on an addition that’d give them some contemporary living space.
This may be the highest-profile local example of the tension between Riverside history and today’s market forces, but it won’t be the last. Historic homes require special buyers – we’re guessing the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Coonley Playhouse elsewhere on Fairbank Road will be another test case in the future – and the village is going to have to be flexible in order to preserve the historic spirit of these homes the further we move away from the eras in which, and for whom, they were built.