Friday, October 12, 2007


One of the many, many things that appealed to us about the House of 42 Doors is that it is on the National Register of Historic Places. From the website:

"The National Register of Historic Places is the Nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. Authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect our historic and archaeological resources."

This was very clearly spelled out in the conditions report provided to prospective buyers and I believe it was also one of the things that scared away a lot of those same prospective buyers. There is a common misconception that a listing on the National Register means that you can't do anything with your property; that you are somehow bound to living in a museum. Or that if you do want to make a change, you need to scrape and bow before some committee of gray bearded academics who require extensive knowledge of 19th century plastering techniques. "Yes, but what kind of horse hair should you use in the plaster? Plow? Quarter? Arabian?"

As I did some research, I found out that nothing could be further from the truth. Digging around the Wisconsin Historical Society's website found this great FAQ. As long as the property is a privately owned residence, you can do whatever you want to; wrap it in siding, add a futuristic addition, paint it neon yellow, even knock it down and put a garage in it's place. It's your property. You can do what you want.

Having said that, nothing is ever what it appears. Different rules apply if the building is commercially or governmentally owned. Different states and cities may have laws that apply in addition to the national laws. There are government grants, loans and programs available to assist with properties on the National Register. Accepting or applying for those grants, loans or programs comes with conditions. I looked carefully at these programs to see if any would suit.

The state of Wisconsin has a program that gives private owners of historic properties a state tax credit for monies spent on restoration and repair. What qualifies is very clearly spelled out. Primarily it is structural and mechanical expenses that qualify. Cosmetic expenses generally do not qualify. It requires a minimum $10,000 investment spent over two years. There are forms to fill out. Pictures of before and after have to be provided. All work indicated on the forms must be completed in the two year time frame. If approval is granted, the owner has to maintain the property as a historic property for five years, otherwise the tax credit has to be paid back. If the house is sold prior to the five years, the tax credit has to be paid back. The work must be approved before it can be started, otherwise the tax credit won't be granted for those items already started.

Reading the fine print, I couldn't see anything in the program that made me uncomfortable. It looked like a great perk to owning the house. It might require us to use a higher quality of materials and workmanship than we normally would, but that's OK. The downside was that we had to identify all the projects that needed doing at the house, prioritize them and then get rough costs for each so that we would know what to put in the application. This has taken a lot of time. We met with electricians, plumbers, roofers, carpenters, handymen, masons, and restoration specialists over the last six weeks. We identified what projects we'd take on right away. And we applied for the state tax credit. And we waited.

Yesterday at the end of the day we got the official nod from the Wisconsin State Historical Society that our projects were approved! Which means finally after six weeks of waiting we can start lining up contractors and start the work. We'll be rewiring the entire house, or at least as much as we can without ripping into the plaster and we'll be replacing all of the sewer lines underneath the house and out to the lateral. And the best part is that we'll get a $0.25 tax credit on our state income taxes for every $1.00 spent.

We really should have focused on the roof and gutters first, as those are structural issues, but the sewer and electrical are required to make the place inhabitable. The gutters and roof will have to wait for next year. The application for the roof will be a bit tricky as it is a visual component of the house and will be subject to much closer scrutiny by the Historical Society. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Oh and the current mouse count is 28. We're getting ahead of them or they are getting tired of peanut butter.