There are a lot of misconceptions about historic homes and historic districts in Tacoma. As a Realtor, a former board member of Historic Tacoma and a current member of the Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission, I’m often asked about the potential impact that historic designation might have on a property. Many people worry that historic designation is a negative thing. I believe (and I think the data supports me on this) that just the opposite is true. Inclusion on the historic register has been proven to increase the value of a property and also allows for property tax credits related to home renovations. For me, Tacoma's historic buildings and neighborhoods are a big part of what makes it so special, and I think it’s important to protect that heritage. Below are some common misconceptions about properties included on the historic register and homes that are contributing structures in a designated historic district.
Misconception #1 – I can’t make any changes to the house.
FALSE – Interior changes to a property on the historic register do not require any additional approval above and beyond regular city permitting. If you want to remodel a kitchen or a bathroom or upgrade plumbing, electrical or heating, the permitting and approval process is exactly the same as any non-historic home in Tacoma. Exterior changes to the home do require approval from the Landmark Preservation Commission (a process called design review). For guidelines about the type of exterior changes that require design review, visit the City of Tacoma Historic Preservation website.
Misconception #2 – I can’t replace any windows or doors in the house.
FALSE – While it's true that you can't replace existing wood windows with vinyl or metal windows, you are alowed to replace rotting or deteriorated windows with wood replacements. Existing wood windows can also be repaired. Older windows may be painted shut, sash chords and weights may not be operating properly or windows may be missing putty that holds the glazing in place. These issues can be easily and inexpensively addressed with repairs, saving you thousands of dollars in replacement costs. Of note, the life expectancy of a vinyl window is only about 20 years. Properly maintained wood windows last a lifetime. Studies also show that single pane wood windows with well fitted exterior storm windows provide the same energy efficiency as dual glazed windows. For more information about wood windows versus vinyl, please check out my blog “Why replacing wood windows is a costly mistake.”
Misconception #3 – It’s harder to sell a historic home because of all the restrictions.
FALSE – A number of studies have been done over the years showing that property values increase dramatically when a neighborhood is designated as a historic district. A study conducted in Tucson, AZ showed that home values in a historic district there were 30% higher on average than similar homes in non-historic neighborhoods and that homes in the historic district appreciated at a rate that was 15% greater than their non-historic counterparts. It pays to be historic! For additional findings, visit the American Council on Historic Preservation.
Misconception #4 – The “historic police” will tell me what I can and can’t do to my house.
FALSE – As long as you maintain your home properly, you'll never have to worry about additional scrutiny, and trees and landscaping don't fall within the scope of historic protection. The good news for historic properties located in Tacoma is that there is now a mechanism in place to protect structures on the historic register from neglect and ruin. The purpose is to avoid demolition of the structures. Click here to learn more about Tacoma’s Historic Property Maintenance Code.
Misconception #5 – All old structures are considered historic.
FALSE – There are only about 1,300 structures in Tacoma that are on the local, state, or national historic registers. Only structures individually listed on the Tacoma Historic Register or located within a Tacoma historic district are protected. Designated historic districts in Tacoma include the Wedge, North Slope, Old City Hall and the Union Depot/Warehouse district. Salmon Beach is on the Washington Register, and Stadium District is on the National Register.
I’ve outlined a number of benefits to owning a historic home – from increased property values to the protection of our city's heritage. If you’d like to learn more about how to place your home on the historic register, or would like to learn about the implications associated with buying or selling a historic home, please contact me or visit the City of Tacoma’s Preservation website at http://www.tacomaculture.org/historic/home.asp.
Jeff Williams is a top-producing Realtor with Windermere in Tacoma specializing in the purchase and sale of historic and luxury homes. Jeff is also a former board member of Historic Tacoma, and currently serves on the City of Tacoma's Landmarks Preservation Commission. Click here to email Jeff or give him a call at 253-303-1135.