Tacoma is fortunate enough to have eight designated historic districts – the Wedge, North Slope, Old City Hall, the Union Depot/Warehouse District, Salmon Beach, Stadium, Buckley’s Addition and College Park.

Common Misconceptions About Tacoma's Historic Districts

As a residential real estate broker, a former board member of Historic Tacoma and a current commissioner on Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, I’m often asked about the potential impact that historic designation can have on a property.  Some people worry that it’s a negative, but I believe the opposite is true.  Inclusion on a historic register (1) has been proven to increase the market value of a property and (2) may also allow for property tax credits related to home renovations.  For me, Tacoma's historic districts and its historic homes are a big part of what makes the city so special, and I think it’s important to protect that heritage.  To that end, I’d like to dispel some common misconceptions about (1) homes included on the historic register and (2) contributing structures in designated historic districts.

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 requirements.  If you want to remodel your kitchen or upgrade plumbing, electrical or heating, the permitting and approval process is exactly the same as it is for any non-historic house in Tacoma.  Exterior changes do require approval from the Landmark Preservation Commission (a process called design review). For information about the type of exterior changes that require design review, visit the City of Tacoma’s 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 allowed to repair or replace rotting or deteriorated windows with wood replacements.  The life expectancy of a vinyl window is only about 20 years.  Properly maintained wood windows can 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 – The value of my home will be negatively affected by all the restrictions.

FALSE – A number of studies over the years have shown that property values in a neighborhood can increase dramatically when it’s designated as historic.  One 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% higher 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 won’t have to worry about additional scrutiny.  The city is mostly concerned about protecting structures on the historic register from neglect and ruin, and they’ve put a mechanism in place to do this.  The reason?  To avoid the unnecessary demolition of historic structures.

Misconception #5 – All old houses are considered historic (and protected).

FALSE – There are about 1,300 structures in the city of Tacoma that are listed on the city, state or national historic registers.  Only structures that are (1) individually listed on the Tacoma Register and/or (2) contributing structures in historic districts on the Tacoma Register are protected.  The Wedge, North Slope, Old City Hall and the Union Depot/Warehouse District are all on the Tacoma Register – so individually listed and contributing structures in these districts are protected.  Buckley’s Addition, College Park, Salmon Beach and Stadium are only on the state and/or national registers – so structures there are not automatically protected.

If you’d like to know more about how to place your home on the historic register and/or about the potential implications of buying or selling a historic home, please feel free to contact me.

Jeff Williams is a top-producing Realtor with Windermere Chambers Bay, specializing in residential real estate in Tacoma, Gig Harbor, University Place and Lakewood.

Jeff Williams: (253) 303-1135

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