How to Save a Historical House While (Technically) Living Rent-Free

How to Save a Historical House While (Technically) Living Rent-Free


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Spending so much time at home during the pandemic has made a lot of people rethink how and where they live. It can be hard to justify the high cost of rent for a small apartment in a city, when most of the appealing parts of urban life (going to bars, restaurants, museums, drag shows, socializing in general, etc) are off the table.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the money—or ability to take the time and effort required—to pack up, move to the country, then purchase and lovingly restore an old home. But if you happen to have the ability to put the time and effort into bringing an older house back to its original glory, you may be interested in becoming a residential curator.

In a post for The Escape Home newsletter, Danielle Hyams explains what this arrangement involves, including the costs of living on a property often advertised as being “rent free.”

What are resident curator programs?

Primarily offered in Eastern states including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland, resident curator programs are public-private partnerships aimed at preserving historical homes and buildings that probably wouldn’t get the funding needed for restoration, and would otherwise sit vacant.

“How the programs work is that resident curators—which can be individuals or commercial and nonprofit entities—receive a long-term lease on a publicly owned historic building in exchange for restoring the property and providing ongoing upkeep,” Hyams writes.

Is it really ‘rent-free’ living?

Though many people are attracted to the idea of living rent-free (or having low rent payments), Hymans stresses that participating in resident curator programs does come with costs. This is also something that varies depending on the location of the property.

For example, houses in Massachusetts come with leases ranging from 10 to 50 years, during which time resident curators of single-family properties typically spend between roughly $500,000 and $1 million on restoration and upkeep. Meanwhile, in Virginia, where leases range from 10 to 20 years, resident curators spend an estimated $150,000 to $400,000, Hyman reports.

Although resident curator programs aren’t feasible for many people, they present once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for those interested in preserving historical buildings for future generations to enjoy.



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