Buying a heritage home in Ontario? What you need to know before you buy.

Dated: May 28 2022

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There’s a unique sense of pride that comes from living in and preserving a heritage home. And there’s a growing trend to protecting historic neighbourhoods to ensure they can be enjoyed by future generations. Here are some factors to consider...

What is a Heritage Conservation District?
The charm, character and craftsmanship of homes in Ontario’s historic communities have made them extremely attractive places to live and work. To ensure that the historic appearance and special qualities of these communities are preserved, residents across Ontario are having their areas designated as Heritage Conservation Districts (HCD). 

An HCD can range from a group of houses to an entire municipality whose unique historic appearance is protected from significant alteration. Enactment of a heritage by-law by a municipality is the result of an extensive and democratic process of community consultation, with input from heritage architects and other experts. The designation promotes awareness of the local history and cultural value, and provides certainty to homeowners that any future street-facing additions or alterations in the neighbourhood will not be out of character. 

How do I know if the home has a heritage designation?
The best way to determine if a property is a 'listed property' or is located within a Heritage Conservation District is to check the local municipal register. Your REALTOR® and/or Real Estate lawyer can help you verify the status of the property as well as a list of properties in the area that are designated as culturally, historically and architecturally significant. The listing or designation will also be noted on title for each property, as per the Ontario Heritage Act Register.

The register will also include important details about listed homes, including a  description of the property and a statement explaining the cultural heritage value and a list of its historical attributes.

Each heritage district will have a detailed report and guidelines for proposed work, which can be found on the city or municipalities website. The municipality will have a heritage department that administers the heritage districts within its boundaries and can provide any information you are looking for. Often, there will also be a local neighbourhood advisory group that can answer your specific questions. 

Is additional paperwork needed to close on a purchase of a heritage home?
There is no additional paperwork required to close on the purchase of a heritage home. 

Can you customize a heritage home? 
In most cases, an HCD designation does not restrict renovations or alterations to the interior of a house or areas that are not visible from the street. It requires that renovations or alterations to the front of a house be in keeping with the character as outlined in the Heritage Conservation District Study. A proposed change may meet municipal or community resistance if the change affects the home’s heritage attributes as viewed from the street. 

A Heritage Permit is generally required for renovations that have an impact on the building’s heritage attributes, including the replacement of doors or windows and renovation of front porches. A heritage permit is often required for work that does not otherwise require a building permit. 

No heritage permit is required for interior repairs, or repairs or painting of exterior features using the original types of materials. Where a heritage permit has been refused by the municipality is because the proposal is inconsistent with the design guidelines in the HCD study. There is a right of appeal to a provincial board in this case. 

Will a heritage property hold its value?
HCD designation does not, in itself, change the value of a property. Heritage designation is likely to help a home maintain or increase its value because most property owners take pride in the character of their neighbourhood. Upkeep of the community also makes an HCD more attractive to home buyers who appreciate the stability that heritage designation brings to the built form of the community.

Will heritage designation affect my insurance premiums?
Insurance premiums should not rise as a result of HCD designation. The designation itself does not place additional requirements on the insurer and should not negatively affect premiums. There is no requirement that repairs or replacements be made with antique material. The Ontario government has a fact sheet answering questions that may be raised by insurance companies.

A variety of other factors may cause insurance companies to increase premiums for older buildings –including those not in a heritage conservation district--such as a higher level of risk due to outdated wiring that has not been upgraded or an old heating system. You should consult your insurance broker for details.

Can I get a grant for heritage conservation repairs?
In many cases yes. For instance, the Toronto Heritage Grant Program encourages the conservation of properties in the city designated under the Ontario Heritage Act through matching grant funding of up to 50% of the estimated cost of eligible heritage conservation and restoration work. 

Details about eligibility requirements, the application process, and public workshops are available on the City of Toronto's website here.

This post is in collaboration with the:

As a significant resource to the community, they advise Cabbagetown Heritage Conservation District property owners and developers on the policies and guidelines of the HCD Plan for exterior alterations and restoration. They are the conduit for community-based feedback to the City as they recognize the interest and knowledge of their committee as a source of valuable input during the heritage permit application process. Access incredible resources on heritage preservation by visiting them online.

Curious about the history of Cabbagetown? View the Old Toronto YouTube video:

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Jamie MacLean

Jamie MacLean has over 25 years of marketing experience with extensive knowledge in digital marketing, social media management, website development, public relations, re-branding, brand activations, l....

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