The skinny on the National Register for Historic Preservation

By: JoVon Sotak , Contributing Writer
In: Historic Preservation

Now that your mind is a bit more at ease about the restrictions and benefits of having your house listed on the National Register of Historic Places, you probably want t to know about the amount of work involved to get your house listed. I’ve never personally gone through this process, but from what OHW forum members and others have shared, it’s definitely something you want to be prepared for as it can take a minimum of several months for your application to be reviewed and the work involved can be substatial.

First, make sure your house isn’t already listed on the register. As anyone involved with old houses can tell you, weirder things have happened that sellers not telling buyers important information about a house.

Before you read more about the Register application  process, know that if you have the extra funds, you can pay someone to handle the application. If you’re interested in one part of the project but don’t have the skill, confidence or time to do other parts, such as the write-ups, you can hire people to help you with specific parts of the process.

Here are the links you’ll need to get started:

Before you begin the work to complete your application, your first stop is your State Historic Preservation Office. This is for a few good reasons. When you complete the paperwork to have your property listed on the National Register, you do not submit the paperwork directly to the National Park Services office for review. The SHPO:

  • Will be the agency that passes on your completed paperwork to the National Park Services once it’s been reviewed by all the appropriate agencies required in your state
  • May already have a file on your property. It isn’t uncommon for a property to be listed with the SHPO even if it isn’t on the National Register. They could save you some work (and possibly some money).
  • Will most likely have a list of resources in your area that can help you find the information you need for your application and people or organizations you can enlist for help
  • Can answer your questions
One of the local resources the SHPO will most likely refer you to is your community’s museum or historical society and any preservation offices in the area. These organizations will most likely know if a historic structure report has been completed for your house and usually have staff or volunteers with experience completing Registry applications.
Should you choose to do the required historical research yourself, you’ll need to make friends with the people in these organizations and go and introduce yourself to the country assessor or records office. A lot of old-house owners report that they enjoy the process of chasing down clues and doing the required historical research. If you’re not one of them, there businesses who will do the historical research for you.
Lastly, make friends with other homeowners who have completed the process and can offer advice and moral support when you need it. If you haven’t yet checked out the OHW forums, it’s a great place to  start.