The Preservation of Historical Homes & Communities

By: Steve Kozachik

In many cities across the country there’s a built in tension between growth and preservation. In Tucson, the University of Arizona is surrounded by 9 residential neighborhoods, each with homes registered as historic. Neighbors have invested in historic neighborhoods with the expectation their character will be preserved. That stability assurance is key to their investment choices. In the alternative, the University wants to grow. Therein lies the tension – a balancing act in which the interests of neighbors are pitted against institutional inertia. Growth, change, and preservation. In a real estate market that’s hitting new highs every day, buyers, sellers and policy makers each have a responsibility to learn at least the basics of owning a home with an historic designation attached.

Let’s start with the basics. What is considered a historic home? It’s a home that is at least 50 years old, without any significant changes to the home, and from a period with architectural significance. Registered Neighborhood Associations apply through the State Historic Preservation Office for recognition as a historic area. Residents of a historic home are required to submit a photograph of the exterior of the home every 10 years to the State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPO). If significant changes are made to the exterior of the home, so much so that it changes the original character, SHPO will delist the property from the historic registry. 

While you can’t change any part of the exterior of the home as part of a Registered Neighborhood Association, you can change the back yard and any part of the interior. For example, if the surrounding historic homes don’t have a front porch, you can’t add one. But you can remodel the kitchen or any other part of the interior.

As a seller’s agent, it’s crucial to work with your sellers to inform potential buyers of the status of the home. Every neighborhood association is registered with the City of Tucson and you can view the city’s website to determine which properties are in a NPZ (Neighborhood Preservation Zone) or HPZ (Historic Preservation Zone). You can also find out what the design guidelines are so you can disclose them to buyers.

As a buyer’s agent, make sure you are familiar with the local historic areas so you can inform your clients what it will mean for them to live on that kind of property. While there are restrictions, there are also benefits you can share, aside from just the tax benefits. They’ll be buying into an area with existing character that will be retained not only at their house, but the surrounding neighbors, which will continue to increase the property value. 

It’s important that we preserve the character of these historic neighborhoods in the face of all the challenges we have because, as stated before, once they’re gone, they are gone forever. Under law, when a historic property is demolished, the property owner is required to document the existing structure through photographs and archive it. The archives exist for historical documentation, and from there the owner can, under law, do what ever they’d like with the property.

While there are instances where the value of historic properties is challenged, there are also stories that give us hope for how we can best preserve history and look to the future. Oftentimes, it’s a story of compromise. A great example of this would be the Benedictine Monastery, which sits on roughly six acres of land less than a mile from The University of Arizona. When the nuns of the monastery sold the property, they didn’t put a historic landmark designation on it. Given the zoning conditions and the fact that it hadn’t been preserved, the developer could have sold the property to an out of state student housing development company and knocked it down to build student housing on it. Instead, the property was rezoned, and the developer has committed to preserving the structure and building around it. The result is a beautiful complex where everyone can enjoy the history of the Benedictine Monastery in addition to the 21st century added amenities.

As the real estate industry continues to boom and there are many pieces and parts on your checklist, be sure you are doing your part as agents to make yourself aware of these historic areas. Know the steps involved on both ends of buying and selling so you can prepare your clients for all that’s involved with Registered Neighborhood Associations.