Selling Heritage Homes

Disclaimer: These comments are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the current opinions and policies of the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia.

Shortly after I bought my family home I received a letter in the mail telling me that the Town of East Fremantle was listing my home as a significant heritage site.

At the time, my initial reaction was, “you can’t do that” but, of course, they can and they did. I was invited to put in a submission that might argue as to why my 1916 built home should not be included on the Heritage Inventory but, upon reflection, it probably should be. I am, after all, but one of many families that have passed through the home over its 101 years.

But, I am worried that if I want to add an extension, change the roof tiles to iron, paint it a different colour or (heaven forbid) demolish and start afresh, I’ll be met with barriers, red tape, cost and challenge. My rights as a property owner have suddenly been diminished and that’s unsettling.

Cynically, it could be that East Fremantle, keen to ensure its municipality remains independent unilaterally heritage listed a bunch of property as a resistance measure against future development. Certainly, the community response when Fremantle tried to heritage list just about every second house in Hilton some years back was negative.

But, acting out of fear or ignorance is fraught and I am reminded that as a Real Estate Agent, buyers will often ask the question, “is it heritage listed?” which is code for “will I have all sorts of problems with relevant authorities if I want to renovate and/or demolish the building?” The reality is, an appearance on a council register is not usually a particularly onerous encumbrance.

In fact, as an agent, there is a palpable sense of privilege gleaned from the process of being entrusted by a relative stranger – the seller – with the sale of what is usually their most valued financial and personal asset; the family home. Selling a historic home is, in a way, even more of a privilege.

As the agent, you’re also responsible for selling a story; you find yourself in the role of “story-teller”, charged with revealing the secrets hidden in the walls of the place. Selling heritage homes is therefore not really about only selling “bricks and mortar”. Ironically, it is the building itself that is protected by a heritage listing yet, in practice, it feels far less tangible than that. It is the lives of the countless others that came before that is the essence of these homes, the intangible “something” that year-after-year entices people to buy and live in them.

by Hayden Groves
REIWA President
REIA Deputy President

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