Buying a Historical Landmark

Aug 6, 2013

Interested in buying a home that's on a register of historic places? If so, you could be stepping into a lovely slice of  history, but it's  likely you will be expected to help preserve and maintain it. This goes for stand-alone houses and condos that are part of a historically-significant building.

Richard Hagar, a Seattle-area appraiser, says there are historical registers on the city, county, state and national level. Each one has a preservation board with a different set of criteria.

"What they're looking for," says Hagar, "are unique structures both in style and construction."

Hagar says that getting on one of these lists comes with a commitment to be a guardian of the place. The property has to remain the way it is, including the exterior and sometimes the interior. And he warns, "once your place gets vetted and put on one of these lists, it's difficult to get off." But he says on the plus side, you get a break on your property taxes.

Asked what the challenges are of appraising a property that's on a historical register, Hagar doesn't hesitate to respond.

"First of all," he says, "it takes a long time, between two and four weeks. There are so many unique features to examine. For example, I just appraised a house on Seattle's Queen Anne Hill that is a historical landmark and the whole exterior is covered in terra cotta tiles, just like pottery. So, that's truly unique. Trying to find a comparable to that is really tough!"