How to Find Out if Your Home is Just Really Old or Historical

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

House prices are pretty great right now in many parts of the country thanks to the wrecked economy and interest rates are low, so it makes sense to buy if you’re in a position to. And you’d know if that old house you bought and want to renovate is a historical house right?

Not exactly.

Even people who are buying and selling homes in historical districts are trying to argue that some homes are just old not historical. Thus begins a long debate on what makes a property historical.

Even if the house has an amazing history, it won’t be on the National Registry of Historic Places unless someone collected the history and completed the paperwork so that the state historic preservation office could nominate the property for the registry. Also keep in mind that the registry wasn’t around until the 1960s, which leaves a lot of years for histories of homes to be lost along the way.

So what do you do to find out?

If you’re keen on research and love to spend time at your community’s museum or historical society and library, chances are you’re already hot on the trail and reading through back issues of old newspapers and digging into old county tax assessment records chasing down leads and figuring out the whos and the whats. (Update: If you’re interested in learning more about researching historical properties but don’t know where to start, check out the National Register Bulletin 39: Researching a Historic Property.)

If you just read that paragraph and thought, Ewwwwwww!, then you’re in the second camp: you hire someone who read the above paragraph and thought, Woohoo–exactly! Yes, they’re out there, and they have businesses.

One such person is real estate agent, writer and historic researcher Audrey Elder. Audrey opened up her business, Past to Present in February 2009 with partner and fellow historical researcher Liana Twente. Past to Present is a historic homes research service for the Kansas City area of Missouri. Elder always had what she describes as a “fascination in history” and had talked for years about specializing in historic properties. She then met Liana who has a bachelor’s degree in history from Northwest Missouri State University and discovered they had a shared passion in researching historic properties.

“I think this is a viable business,” said Elder, who shares that there are a number of businesses that that do exactly the kind of historic research services that Past to Present does, but most of them on the east coast or Canada and there are no businesses in the Kansas City area. Though their business focuses on the Kansas City area and a few nearby counties, they plan to expand to other counties and into Kansas.

As far as Elder know, there are no companies who provide these types of services nationally, so you’re better off looking locally for these types of services. What makes Elder and Twente especially unique is that they use their historical research superpowers in their real estate business as part of a specialized team for Reece and Nichols real estate. Any homeowner who lists their property gets the standard historic research package, which results in a printed book that is given to the buyer. This is the same sort of package you could purchase for the currently low rate of $350 that would save a load of time and research.

Continue to part two of this series to find out what’s included in such a package and why it may be in your best interest as an old-house owner to have this type of information.