Determining the authenticity of heritage homes in Greater Vancouver | www.rebgv.org

Browse through real estate listings and you’ll see many homes described as 'heritage', typically built in the 1930s or earlier. But according to REALTORS® who specialize in older homes, the term ‘heritage’ is often misunderstood.

If a home is more than about 60 years old, home owners may refer to it as ‘heritage,’ regardless of how well it has been preserved it is or how much it has been altered over the years.

Heritage is not just about age, it’s about authenticity. The real value is in a home that has retained its original character, inside and out, as well as its importance in the overall history of a place.

Municipal heritage registers and inventories

Most Lower Mainland municipalities have an official Heritage Register which includes homes that have been designated as heritage by a team of historians and city planners. The Register lists buildings of special historical importance, along with those that best represent certain architectural styles.

Municipalities may also designate areas as heritage zones or neighbourhoods. For example, Richmond has adopted the Steveston Village Conservation Strategy which designates 17 heritage buildings in the Steveston area.

Municipalities may also keep an inventory of heritage buildings which are considered important to the history of a place, but are not yet designated as heritage.

Anmore         Lions Bay         Port Coquitlam
Belcarra   Maple Ridge   Port Moody
Bowen Island   New Westminster   Richmond
Burnaby   North Vancouver (city)   Squamish
Coquitlam   North Vancouver (district)   Vancouver
Delta   Pemberton   West Vancouver
Gibsons   Pitt Meadows   Whistler

Anmore heritage is covered under their zoning bylaw; Belcarra, Gibsons and Whistler are
each covered in their Official Community Plans. Sechelt doesn’t have a heritage bylaw.

 

Categories and classifications 

In municipalities with an official Heritage Register, buildings are categorized based on their historical importance, such as Vancouver’s A, B, and C classes, or North Vancouver’s Primary, Secondary, and Supplemental classes.

These classifications reflect the building’s level of protection against future alteration or demolition. In most municipalities, homes in the highest heritage category cannot be altered without municipal approval.

Typically, homes in the lesser categories can be altered after the owners meet with municipal Heritage Planning staff to discuss ways of preserving the home’s exterior character. Owners of authentically restored older homes can apply to have them placed on the municipalities Heritage Register, helping to preserve local history and, in some cases, enhance their resale value.  

Provincial heritage conservation

The BC Heritage Conservation Act protects archaeological sites on private land, without requiring formal designation. This means that property owners who find evidence of an archaeological site on their property must pay for further investigation.

An archaeological site is a location with evidence of past human activity including stone carvings, remains of ancient houses, campsites or middens.

The province keeps inventories of properties that have heritage value in its Heritage Registry. The heritage designation is a form of expropriation of property rights (like a statutory right of way) and imposes certain restrictions on property owners. Once the designation is made, it appears on title.

The province has more than 21,000 records of sites and objects in the provincial Heritage Registry. 

Only a few thousand Lower Mainland homes are on city Heritage Registers, but many other older homes can legitimately be called 'heritage' if they retain their original features.

When looking to buy a heritage home, REALTORS® may suggest looking for one that has not been extensively remodelled, for example, where walls and windows have not been moved, original wood floors and millwork are still in place, and the exterior has not been stuccoed over.

The key is for buyers to educate themselves about the period and style of the home they’re looking for, and to develop an eye for authentic details.

Buyers should also perform due diligence to find out the history of a property. There have been cases where home owners have been required to hire an archaeologist to conduct in-depth examinations of their property if it is suspected to have items of archaeological value.