Historical Home Research Services: Paying Someone Else to Dig for History

By: JoVon Sotak , Contributing Writer
In: Old House History

In How to Find out if Your Home is Just Really Old or Historical, you read about Audrey Elder and Liana Twente who have the historic home research business Past to Present that serves Kansas City and surrounding areas of Missouri. Elder and Twente’s business provides owners of old homes a tidy little package chock full of information for $350. Here’s what’s included:

  • A general history of the home, including the architecture of the period and what was going on historically when the home was built, is provided. This also includes the materials used, the functionality of the home, and how it was most likely decorated.
  • You’ll learn about the genealogy of your home, including census information about the previous owners and their families. You’ll find out who these people were and if they had any kind of notoriety.
  • Including information about the local setting creates what Elder describes as “almost a walk-through to the past of when your home was built” and examines political, economic, religious and social events that influenced your home’s history. One example that Elder gave is of the Gamble-Stone house in Independence. Though many homes build by slave owners in the north had been burned during the civil war, this particular house wasn’t burned down despite the fact that Napoleon Stone held slaves. Through research, Past and Present discovered this was because Stone signed an affidavit in support of the North.
  • Information about the national setting provides context to your home in light of U.S. historical events.
  • In case you want to learn more, you’re provided with a “suggested reading” list.
  • Information is provided on how to preserve your historic home, including a list of preservation resources and agencies that can provide guidance on what materials to use and not to use, even if your old home not a designated historical property.
  • If available, the report will include historic stories and photos
  • For an extra $75, in-depth neighborhood research can also be done, including research on the origin of your street’s name.
  • For an additional fee, they’ll also help you complete the paperwork to become nominated for addition to the National Registry of Historic Places. This is a free service to anyone buying or selling a house.

So about that $350 for the non-sellers/non-buyers–is it standard? “We’re not charging enough, honestly. As we grow, that’s going to change,” said Elder, who explained that keeping their pricing very low to build business was in part due to launching a new business during the recession. She figured that her business makes a few dollars an hour when the time for researching is all tallied up.

The work involved is considerably more complex than just Googling information. On a single property, Elder and Twente spend dozens of hours at the local genealogy library, the local preservation office and historical society, county records office, “I’ll talk to anyone who will talk to me,” said Elder, who is keeping a database of local older people she has interviewed with the hopes that those interviews will be helpful when researching properties in the future.

Elder provides that same package for all of her historic real estate listings, and then the buyers then receive a full history of the house printed up in a book with photographs. Check out this example of an historic summary prepared for a 1905 bungalow in Independence, Missouri, that was the birthplace of Ginger Rogers.

How often does this team unearth historic surprises that homeowners are unaware of? “They always happen–and they’re fun,” explain Elder, who described a number of fun bits about local Missouri homes, including a home with proposed Al Capone connections and an underground tunnel.

The benefit of knowing all these accurate historical bits means more money in your pocket from a real estate perspective. ”It can help both the seller and the buyer tremendously,” explained Elder. “The proof is in the numbers.” Having a historic home with an accurate history can increase the the  market value of your home, neighborhood, and community. “If someone wants a new house, they’ll buy a new house. Most historic home buyers are buying history–they want the history. We help them sell their history–the house goes with it.”