Investing in history can put a roof over your head and money in the bank

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Trenton City Museum in New Jersey. Photo by Smallbones.
By Glenn Townes

History repeats itself and buying a piece of it is money in your pocket. 
It's a simple, yet pervasive notion—especially when it comes to purchasing a home in a historically designated district. The residential housing bubble's collapse several years ago ushered in a buyer's market that is replete with creative nuances designed to attract even the most persnickety home buyer. Add a dose of historical personage to a niche marketing strategy and realtors are reaping the financial rewards of steering potential buyers to property that is located in historically designated districts.

A historic district is one that includes a group of buildings, properties or sites that have been designated historically or architecturally significant and relevant to the community, state or the country. The federal government designates historic districts through the U.S. Department of Interior. Federally designated historic districts are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are about 150 such municipalities in New Jersey, according to the National Register of Historic Places in New Jersey.

“I encourage many of my clients to consider buying a home in a historic district,” said Shelly Bryant Reed, owner of SBR Realty in Ewing—a suburb near Trenton. “Homes located in a historic neighborhood appreciate in value.” Bryant Reed said  homes located in a nationally, regionally or locally designated historic districts tend to be higher quality homes and better maintained because they are closely monitored by the city and state. For example, there are eight historic districts in Trenton. The historic designated community landmarks could include a park, community center, hospital or a health care agency. 

Buying historic is not just a regional or local perk—it's universal. According to a  study at the Department of Urban Planning and Design Center in Tucson (AZ) a comparative study of historic districts in New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, Indiana, Georgia, and Colorado showed consistent economic returns for homewoners when they buy historic. Homes with local or national designation can add as much as 20 percent to assessed property values within as little as four years. Additionally, national and state-level designations convey more prestige and distinction to an individual property and community. 

However, one drawback of home ownership in a historic district is that homeowners are often limited and restricted when it comes to making significant changes or repairs on the property, said Richard Lawson, president of the Society for Historic American Homes—a national grass roots organization based in  Owings, MD that promotes owning homes in historic districts. “Depending on the rules of your local commission, you may note be allowed to make repairs or changes to the property, even if they are for safety reasons,” Lawson said. “It's only after you begin to get into something that you realize how restricted they're going to be with the zoning.” 

In a related matter, the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB)--a Maryland based grassroots minority trade association lauded a recent report that showed an increase in the African American home-ownership. In late October, the U.S. Census Bureau third quarter data showed Black home-ownership increased nationally from 40.6 percent to 42.7 percent. The  nominal increase of 2.1 percent represented the largest uptick among all ethnic groups nationally for the quarter. Donnell Williams, president of the NAREB issued a statement following the release of the report. He said, “We know and take into consideration the volatility of the real estate marketplace and the prevailing purchasing distrust that runs alongside economic vagaries particularly in the Black community. I remain confident that concerted efforts to educate and inform Black home buyers about the wealth-building aspects of home-ownership versus uncertain and rising rental rates, will prevail.”

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