It’s a dilemma that many people face living in an historic old house: by the time they purchase it and make the monthly payments, there is often little left in the budget for restoration costs. I have been fighting that battle in my old house for the last twenty years. It’s only going to get tougher for future old house buyers, as banks and lending institutions go back to lending standards as they used to be, requiring a sizable down payment to purchase a home. Young families wanting to experience the enjoyment of living in an old house might have to save for many years before they have the opportunity.
Yet there are old houses sitting empty and gradually deteriorating, desperately in need of a family to live in them and give them the care needed to make them what they once were. A few states have come up with a way of bringing historic properties and old house loving families together, and I look forward to it becoming a growing trend.
Historic Property Curatorship
Most states and local jurisdictions would like to preserve their historic properties: the problem is the expense involved in the venture. The current economy has most state and local coffers empty, and it isn’t likely to improve any time soon. There just isn’t any money in the budget to restore and maintain the historic old houses that these governments already own–or would potentially purchase to save if restoration funds were available. New Castle County in Delaware is trying out a program that Maryland and Massachusetts have had in place for awhile–Historic Property Curatorship.
Restore the Old House, and Enjoy a Lifetime of Free Rent
If you enjoy old houses–especially those with historical significance to your area–and like doing restoration work, this program may be for you. You can enter into an agreement with New Castle County to live in one of their state-owned historic old houses rent free for the rest of your life. Most of the houses are surrounded by protected parkland or state owned land. In return you agree to restore the house and maintain it while living there. They figure the average restoration may cost about $150,000, but a lot of that figure can be your own sweat equity. They would like to see most of the restoration done within the first five years of you living in the old house. There are a few other requirements such as opening the historic property to the public twice a year. The downside is that the property always belongs to the State of Delaware, so you aren’t building any equity, but the days of homes appreciating by huge amounts each year are probably gone for quite some time, too.
Maryland and Massachusetts have similar programs which have been in place for awhile, and each website has a list of available properties, and also some before and after pictures of old houses currently under curatorship. There is also an organization pushing for this program in other states, and providing assistance if you would like to approach another state with an offer to restore one of their old houses and live in it rent free.