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Is Your House Historical Property

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Historical landmarks throughout the country provide all citizens with a physical, present experience of our history. Through these landmarks you can not only observe but, in many cases, feel the original work and walk the spaces of the past. Historical homes help us remember important people as we can view intimately how they lived; we get to see the most sacred of spaces, their internal sanctum, their home. Where did they read at night for inspiration, where did they write that novel, where did they meet the important guests and characters in their lives? All of these things can be glimpsed when seeing history preserved in rock and mortar. Historical homes also allow us to visualize and experience architecture, culture, events and community history. They help tell the story of how our town and communities came to be and developed over time.

Below is a summarization of how to protect an historical home, which will include information on registering the home with the state and federal government and incentives and resources available to the owners preserving these properties. Even if you do not own an historical home, it is beneficial to take a look into how this part of our history is protected, preserved, and continues to educate our communities.

Registry for Historic Places

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 provides guidelines for federal, state, and local governments to work with non-profit organizations and the public to preserve our historical places. The preservation is handled through the National Park Service, which administers the National Register for Historic Places that is made up of 79,000+ sites. Historical places can be buildings, structures, sites, and objects that speak for American history, architecture/engineering, and culture. This can be as varied as an historic home to an archaeological site. A few places that are considered to represent the nation on a whole may also be registered in the National Historic Landmarks program; however, this membership is more difficult to obtain and there are only 2,500 sites nationally. So how does one determine if a site is historical?

The National Register lists the following reasons for registering and protecting historical property:

     The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and:

          A. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
          B. That are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or
          C. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
          D. That have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

These four basic guidelines can encompass quite a bit of history. However, there are some limitations as well. Properties must be over 50 years old; to get a younger property registered an owner must prove "exceptional importance" such as might be recognized immediately for its reflection of an extraordinary political event or architectural innovation. Other limitations may include cemeteries, historical figures birthplaces and gravestones, religious structures, moved or reconstructed structures and commemorative structures. As with the 50 year rule there are exceptions for these limitations. In conclusion, if an individual or group feel a property meets the right criteria and should be registered they will need to nominate the property for review.

Any person or group may nominate properties for the National Register. Nominations, depending on the properties significance and location, are nominated through theState Historical Preservation Officer (SHPO), the Federal Preservation Officer (FPO)or the Tribal Preservation Officer (TPO). In most instances nominators will start with the SHPO for their state. The officer will then recommend the nominated property be reviewed by the state review board which consists of historians, architects, archaeologists and other professionals. The board then makes the recommendation to approve or disapprove the registration back to the SHPO. During the time the property is being reviewed, the public is notified the property may be registered. This may include the property owner, who may not have nominated the property themselves. If the owner at that time does not wish the property to be registered they can reject the proposal. The property will not appear on the national register, however, the nomination may be forwarded to the National Park Service only as a determination of eligibility in case a future owner would wish to have the property registered. Although the process varies from state to state, there is usually a minimum of 90 days to process. Once a recommendation is made to the National Park Service, the nominators will know the decision within 45 days. Once a property is registered the owner may expect some changes.

Owners of registered historical places may find both benefits and restrictions from state and federal programs. Surprisingly, on the federal level, once a home is registered owners may choose to change very little about their property:

Under Federal law, owners of private property listed in the National Register are free to maintain, manage, or dispose of their property as they choose provided that there is no Federal involvement. Owners have no obligation to open their properties to the public, to restore them or even to maintain them, if they choose not to do so.

However, state and local preservation laws may be more restrictive of what property owners may do once a the property is registered (the SHPO will have further details about the restrictions in your state). Some properties will obtain Federal historic preservation grant funding or investment tax credits for rehabilitation. Participation in these Federal programs may include more restrictions. As for changes to a structure or site, drastic alterations or physically moving a property when not absolutely necessary may effect the property's status. If, for example, the remodeling of the structure is enough to destroy and remove its historical significance, the property may be removed from the registry. Finally, a property may be affected by recommendation of the Advisory Council on Historical Preservation's recommendations at the federal level. However, inclusively, federal, state and local governments want to work with historical property owners to entice them to preserve our history. Property owners should contact the SHPO for more specific answers about local and federal benefits and restrictions.

Registering a home on the National Register for Historical Places is a relatively straight forward process. Contacting SHPO (or FPO or TPO) is the first step in reviewing what changes to expect and what forms need to be completed. With a little patience and research a home can be registered and protected as a part of our history. Now that it is registered, let us examine what resources are available for the renovation and upkeep of these places.

Resources for Historical Properties

The restoration of historical homes can be both overwhelming and expensive. Obtaining expert advise from contractors, architects, and historians (to name a few) can be invaluable to the homeowner. Research may be necessary to understand how the home looked, was furnished and functioned in the past. Also, it may be necessary to update older systems of plumbing, wiring, and replace lead-based paint (again, to name only a few). To begin the renovation process the home owner will first consider where the funding will come from, what projects need to be done, and finally, what the ultimate function of the historical home will be. There are many grants and sources of funds to help ease the impact of these improvement costs.

The funds available to owners of historical properties vary both nationally and locally. Nationally the most common is the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive which entitles those qualified a 20% tax break. However, to obtain the credit the property does have to be used commercially for at least 5 years; usually as a rental or an apartment, in some cases use as an office may be sufficient. Local grants, loans and state tax incentives are not always available. To find what locally based programs there are contact your local government agencies such as the Historic Development Commission, Department of Planning and Economic Development, Housing and Redevelopment, and State Historic Preservation Office. When they are available the funds may come with certain restrictions or requirements. For example, some funds are only available to non-profit organizations or a grant may be offered that requires owners to share property with the public through tours or other educational outreach programs. Finally, involving family and community in the restoration project can help tremendously. Receiving help from the community may again mean opening up your home to educational programs or tours. However, when owning a historical home, sharing the history is part of the fun! So you have some money in your pocket; now you must decide what you want to restore first.

There may be many renovations needed for your historical home ranging from wiring to lead-paint removal. So overwhelming are the renovations at times that there is the tendency to over renovate homes.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has this top ten of Do's and Don'ts:

  • Make every effort to use the building for its original purpose.
  • Do not destroy distinctive original features.
  • Recognize all buildings as products of their own time.
  • Recognize and respect changes that have taken place over time.
  • Treat sensitively distinctive stylistic features or examples of skilled craft work.
  • Repair rather than replace worn architectural features when possible. When replacement is necessary, new material should match the old in design, composition, and color.
  • Clean facades using the gentlest methods possible. Avoid sandblasting and other damaging methods.
  • Protect and preserve affected archeological resources.
  • Compatible contemporary alterations are acceptable if they do not destroy significant historical or architectural fabric. Build new additions so they can be removed without impairing the underlying structure.

Once you have clarified the tasks that need to be done, hiring a contractor, plumber, architect or electrician (to name a few) will be an important step in the renovation of your historical home. Make sure to take time to interview and speak with several professionals to find one with the most experience and knowledge about historical homes. Again, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has compiled good short summaries about choosing professionals. When making any renovations to the historic home it is important to keep in mind the purpose of the house. The functions of a historical home can be varried. For some home owners they simply want to renovate and enjoy the historical building as their home. When making improvements, owners will be more concerned about updating creature comforts and creating an esthetic environment for their family. On the other hand, some will choose to live in the historic home but also dedicate rooms or floors as public museums. When making renovations for these homes a balance should be kept between updating the living space that will be used while keeping museum spaces closer to the feel and accuracy of the time they represent. Brand new faucets upstairs in the family bath are great but a stainless steel countertop in a 19th century room may look a bit out of place. Finally, others will live in the historic house but also rent out rooms for guests and small conferences. Historic homes can make an ideal bed and breakfast. This may create additional renovation challenges such as access ability and practical updates for the comfort of guests (i.e. adding and updating a bathroom or two). However, owners will want to keep in mind the historic atmosphere of the home. Visitors are drawn to historical B&Bs because of the sense of walking into the past. Keeping antiques relevant to the time or using period correct wall treatments (i.e. wallpaper patterns) are just a few ways to help keep the historic feel of the home. If creating a bed and breakfast out of a historical home is the goal, then reading about the B&B business will be helpful. Whatever the function of the historical home, the project should remain fun and rewarding.

The restoration of a historic homes can be expensive and daunting. However, it is also very rewarding, a wonderful chance for connecting to the past and community (and can be a great home too!). Whether your historic building will be a home, museum, B&B or all the above, having a game plan before starting renovations is a great idea. Make sure the plan protects the hisotry of the home so that the character and craftsmenship of the home is not lost in the renovation. Enlisting professionals and the community will help. In the end it really can be very rewarding!

A lot can be said for the structures a society builds. When looking at buildings from the past one can get a sense of style, comfort and culture from previous generations. A family and/or a community may learn more about where they came from. To preserve historical homes, individuals or communities need to take the time to submit the home to the National Register for Historical Places. Once this is done the home may still be used for varying purposes from a living space to a museum. In some cases funding is available to help in the daunting task of renovation. In the end historical homes are a tough investment that with a bit of research can turn in to a rewarding home and much more.

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Home Appraisal Your Property's Market Value

Authored by | Published: Home Check
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The Appraisal Foundation - USPAP (Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice) defines an appraisal as "The act or process of developing an opinion of value."  This valuation is a determination of your property's market value - what it will likely sell for on the open market.  How is this "valuation" determined?  Why does the idea of getting an "opinion of value" create so much apprehension about the process?  What can you do to make your home appraise better, if anything?  These are some of the questions commonly asked about home appraisals.  Hopefully, the questions and answers below will give you more clarity on the subject.

What is a home appraisal?
A home appraisal is a survey of a home by a professional for their opinion of the property market value.  In most cases, an appraisal is done for a bank when a home is being approved for a loan for the home buyer.  The home appraisal is a detailed report that looks at such items as the condition of the home, the neighborhood, what comparable homes are selling for, and how quickly similar homes are selling.  The appraisal may be a sales comparison or a cost/replacement opinion of value.  There is also an income appraisal, but this is done primarily with commercial properties.  The sales comparison will look at other properties in your neighborhood and what they are selling for and then figure how they compare to your home.  With a cost/replacement opinion of value, the appraiser is looking at what it would cost to replace the home if destroyed; this is more commonly used for new homes.  Important To Note: An appraisal is not a home inspection!  Appraisers only look for major concerns; they do not examine the home's full condition (i.e., examine the roof, appliances, etc.).  For this reason, a home inspection should still be requested by the home buyer before purchasing the home.

Who is an appraiser?
Appraisers are licensed by individual states and are held to strict ethical standards.  Appraisers are the third-party whose purpose is to give their opinion of the market value of a home.  Ideally, the appraiser should not be connected to anyone involved with the home transaction.

Who picks the appraiser?
When an offer is made on the house, the appraiser will normally be determined by the lender.  The lender may have their own appraiser or contract with an independent party.  Sometimes the bank will allow the seller to choose an appraiser, but only when that appraiser is already well known to them.

Can the seller get their own appraisal done?
Yes, the home seller may commission their own appraisal before selling the property to determine cost.  However, this will cost anywhere from $300-$500 and the bank will most likely not accept this appraisal but will request another to be done by their own contact.

If not by appraisal, how do I set the price for my home?
Home sellers can set the price of their home with the help of a REALTOR® using a comparative market analysis (CMA); the CMA is not a substitute for an appraisal but will give a good idea on setting an asking price (usually 5%-10% more than the market price for your area).

How can you prepare your home for appraisal?
Prepare for your home appraisal as you would for a home sale.  You are in essence re-selling your home.  Make sure all of the maintenance you can do is done; this includes clearing out and trimming landscaping, cleaning the gutters, powerwashing or painting the house, etc. - hopefully, most of this was already done for the sale and should only need a minor touch up.  Be polite to the appraiser and give them full access to your home; work with, not against, them.  Inform the appraiser of your home improvements.  Let them know about the new windows, new floors, the finished basement, etc.  And finally, don't be caught off guard.  Do your homework and know what similar homes are selling for in your neighborhood.  This is something that should be done before setting your selling price.  In case your home has been on the market for a month or two, keep your research current.  Let the appraiser know about the selling price of homes that are comparable to yours that have sold.  If you know of a particular home that sold for less but is similar to yours, point out any beneficial differences that set yours apart such as, better curb appeal, underground sprinkler system, attached garage, gas stove, etc.

What if the appraisal is low?
An appraisal that comes in lower than the asking price can jeopardize the loan and ultimately the sale. The lender will generally only loan up to 80% of the appraiser’s opinion of the home's value. The most common result is that the seller can lower their asking price. Or the seller and buyer can negotiate and meet at a price in-between. If the buyer still wants the home badly enough, they may put more money down; but this may still not guarantee their loan as the lender will still view it as negative equity. The final option is to dispute the appraisal. Before disputing an appraisal, do your homework. Look at the homes in your community that have sold in the last 6 months and see what the differences are that may make your home more valuable. Perhaps there is a sale that the appraiser missed, perhaps other homes do not have the renovations and improvements you have done, perhaps the appraiser is not familiar with your type of home or neighborhood, etc. Building this case may be a good idea even before the appraisal. This will prevent you from getting rushed by the timeline after the appraisal is done. This is something you can ask your REALTOR(r) to help with as they usually have a vast knowledge of your market area. Once you have prepared your case, present it to the lender. They will likely get a new appraiser or request the same appraiser to reconsider it. If you do not want the same appraiser, make sure to specify this and ask for a second opinion.

What other aspects of the appraisal can hurt the loan?
By far, the appraiser's opinion of the home's value being lower than the asking price is the most detrimental.  However, other factors may cause the lender to refuse the loan or require further negotiations. These concerns would result from property conditions that may require the home buyer to do more investing in the property to keep it valuable, such as upkeep on a private road.  Your REALTOR(r) can help you with these types of objections and altering the contract to alleviate the lender's concerns.

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Winter Driving

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A little groundhog has predicted another six weeks of winter! Already a tough season, many of us experienced firsthand or saw news coverage of winter storms bringing cities and counties to a virtual standstill. Whether you live in a winter weather state or are just visiting, winter weather can drastically affect your ability to get around and keep to a schedule. Learning some basic driving safety measures and coping tips can help alleviate some of the aggravation. Although varying by state, understanding winter related laws or ways laws are interpreted to include winter conditions is vital to enjoying a safe winter. Hopefully you'll find the safety information in this article useful. Drive safe!

Winter Driving Safety Measures

Winter Inspection: Prepare your car ahead of time for winter road conditions. Check the levels of antifreeze, oil, and wiper fluid. Examine your windshield wipers for wear and replace them if necessary.

Tires: Examine your tire treads. If you buy snow tires or studs, get your appointment scheduled before the tire stores are inundated. If you are in a state where you can use chains or cables, inspect these when you pull them out of storage. Take time to review how to put them on before the first snow fall.

Journey Prep: Before driving out into a winter wonderland, make sure you are prepared. Clear your car of any snow and ice so you can see clearly - this includes any snow around your headlights and brake lights. How much gas is in the tank? If you are getting low, plan your route to make this your first stop. Consider your physical condition - are you awake and alert?

WEK: Don't be weak - have a Winter Emergency Kit! Some items to include in your kit are:

  • First Aid Kit
  • Travel Toolbox
  • Blankets
  • Gloves, Hats, Scarves, Jackets/Sweatshirts, etc.
  • Jumper Cables
  • Flashlight and Spare Batteries
  • Road Flares
  • Matches
  • Sand and/or Salt/Ice Melt
  • Ice Scraper and Snow Brush
  • Small Shovel
  • Water
  • Energy Bars, Nuts, Trail Mix, other High Calorie Foods (Nonperishable)
  • Cell Phone and Charger

Dress Sensibly: As we hop from one heated building to the next, we don't often consider how we are dressed for the winter weather. Adjust your wardrobe for unexpected winter weather. If you insist on traveling in the car in flip flops because they are comfy, make sure you pack thick socks and warm boots in case your car breaks down. Dress in layers and have spare gloves, a hat, and a scarf in the car.

Weather Forecast: Check for road condition updates and possible closures. Before driving in winter weather, make certain to check the local forecast.

Go S-L-O-W: Accelerate, brake, and turn slowly. Travel at slower speeds. Enter the time warp willingly, be patient, and stay calm. Trying to rush through anything during poor winter weather is the number one reason people slide off roads or skid into other cars.

Personal Bubble: Allow those around you plenty of space. Don't crowd other cars. Increase the car lengths between you and the next car.

Icy Conditions: If the forecast calls for freezing rain, the best option is not to be on the road - period. Be cautious when you consider the roads drivable again because there can be patches of ice and black ice that pop up unexpectedly. Keep in mind that ice forms quickest on bridges and overpasses. Also, as the temperatures begin to rise the thawing ice will be much slicker as it melts. If you see ice ahead of time, keep your speed slow. DO NOT hit the brakes! If you suddenly can't hear the road, which is often the case when you drive over black ice, continue forward and take your foot off the accelerator. DO NOT hit the brakes!

Look Up: Many times, the winter weather makes us concentrate on the road in front of us so much that we forget to look ahead. This is precisely the time you should be looking up and ahead; look farther than you would normally. This will give you more time to react to possible sliding cars or hazards in front of you.

Main Street: Plan your routes on main roads. These will be traveled more and are the first to be cleared and sanded.

Share the Road: Give plows and sanders plenty of space. Three car lengths is the standard suggestion. Be patient - many will get over to let traffic pass. Always pass with extreme caution and never pass them on the right as that is where they are pushing all the sludge!

Double Your Time: As a general rule, double your travel time for all your commutes and usual destinations.

Share Your Plans: Let others know of your travel plans - especially for long distances or during a weather event. Let family and friends know where you are going and the route you expect to take.

No Cruising: As with heavy rain, do not use cruise control on winter roads. If you begin to slide you may not be able to get out of cruise control quickly enough. Also, depending on the slide/skid, tapping the brake may be the last thing you should do!

Form a Pack: Have a commute group for severe weather. You can alternate drivers as you battle the extra stress and fatigue of driving in bad weather. Encourage it in your community and this can help keep more cars off the road.

Think Outside Your Car: Consider other modes of transportation altogether. If available, consider the bus or train. Get creative - do you like to cross country ski? Just stay on the sidewalk!

Flex Time: If your employer will allow you to change your hours to accommodate bad weather, wait until the plows have cleared your neighborhood and go in later. Even better, if your job can be done from home, work remote from the comfort and safety of your house.

Melting Snow and Thawing Ice: Be cautious even after the snow begins to melt. Puddles can easily hide monster potholes that grew under the ice. Potholes are not only jarring, they can do real damage to your car. In addition, be careful of hydroplaning. As the ice thaws, water may be caught between mounds of slush creating the 'perfect storm' to send your car sliding.

Blizzard Conditions: According to FEMA, "If a blizzard traps you in your car, pull off the road, set hazard lights to flashing, and hang a distress flag from the radio aerial or window. Remain in your vehicle; rescuers are most likely to find you there. Conserve fuel, but run the engine and heater about ten minutes each hour to keep warm, cracking a downwind window slightly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Exercise to maintain body heat but don't overexert. Huddle with other passengers and use your coat for a blanket. In extreme cold use road maps, seat covers, floor mats, newspapers or extra clothing for covering--anything to provide additional insulation and warmth. Turn on the inside dome light so rescue teams can see you at night, but be careful not to run the battery down. In remote areas, spread a large cloth over the snow to attract the attention of rescue planes. Do not set out on foot unless you see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Once the blizzard is over, you may need to leave the car and proceed on foot. Follow the road if possible. If you need to walk across open country, use distant points as landmarks to help maintain your sense of direction."

Legal Concerns

Car Snowballs:

You should clear off all of the snow on your car to make for safer driving - but is it required legally? Technically, in most states, there is no law that demands snow be brushed off your car completely. Instead, other laws may be interpreted to include snow as a hazard. To be safe, uncover your car completely so your view is not obstructed and you don't inadvertently cause hazards. Consider these scenarios:

  • Windows.  In many states you can be cited if your windshield, rear window, and side windows are obstructed so that you cannot see the road. This is often interpreted to include snow, ice, and fog that disrupt the driver's view.
  • Roof and Hood.  Snow left on your roof or hood, in most states, will not necessarily result in a citation; however, if the snow blows off your car and damages another car (i.e., smacks into and cracks the windshield of the car behind you), you are liable for any damages. Some states are clever and cite snow falling from your car as littering! 
  • Lights.  In some states you can be cited for not clearing snow from your headlights and brake lights. Be safe and clear all lights. If nothing else, this will ensure a brighter path to lead you down the road.

Tire Enhancements:

SNOW TIRES: Standard in many snowy states, there are usually no penalties for having snow tires on past a certain date. Check with your local tire stores as they will often store your summer tires during the winter season and vice versa.

STUDDED TIRES: States that allow studded tires for winter travel often have a set timeline when they may be used (i.e., In Alaska they may be used from September 15th to May 1st - most states in the lower 48 will have a shorter time allotment). This information can be found on the website of your state Department of Transportation.

CHAINS: If traveling in mountainous states, verify if chains are required to be on your tires. If so, make sure you have the chains in your car and you are familiar with how to put them on your tires. Some flat states will allow chains under certain conditions. Check with your state Department of Transportation for specific requirements or limitations. The following YouTube video, sponsored by the Oregon Department of Transportation, illustrates how to put cable style chains on your tires:


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