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How to Use Grants to Renovate Historic Homes

Many states have programs in place to provide homeowners with grants to renovate historic homes, but these programs typically have strict guidelines to determine fund eligibility. If you’re interested in learning more about using grants to renovate historic homes and how you can apply, here’s a brief overview of the programs and conditions.

Who provides the grants?

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 provides guidelines for federal, state and local governments to work with nonprofit organizations and the public to preserve historical places. The act authorizes a program of federal matching grants, known as the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF). If you own or purchase a home or historical building, you may be eligible for a grant from the HPF to restore the property.

Roughly 20 states currently offer some kind of grant, loan or funds matching program for homeowners looking to renovate historic homes. What these programs will contribute to your restoration project can depend largely on the specific program. For example, Tennessee offers 50/50 matching grants, Kansas offers up to $90,000 in matching grants, and so on.

What homes are eligible?

One of the primary conditions to determine eligibility for funding from the HPF is that the property be listed in the National Register for Historical Places. If your home or property is not currently listed in the registry, you can apply to be listed. Typically a home can be classified as historical if it is associated with people or events that are significant in history, has distinctive historical characteristics, has high artistic value or yields information that is important to history. If your property meets the eligibility criteria, you can apply for funding with the state or national office.

How do I apply?

Once your home is on the registry, or if it’s already part of the registry, you can apply for funding. Typically, to apply for one of these grants, you need to apply for funding with your state historic preservation office or the National Trust Preservation Fund.

The specifics of the grant or funds matching process can vary, but in some cases, you may have to qualify that you have the funds for your portion of the restoration project before you can receive additional funds. If you plan to go through with a renovation regardless, it’s likely you’ll need to possess or secure this funding anyway.

Depending on the requirements of the organization issuing the grant, additional stipulations may apply in order for you to receive a grant for renovation. For example, you may be expected to open your home to the public a certain number of days per year or make the space available for educational purposes as necessary.

Something to keep in mind when renovating a historic home is that many programs require that you keep the home as true to the original structure as possible and meet strict guidelines for renovation, maintenance and repair. This can include requirements to use materials that are similar, if not the same, as the existing materials in the building, and those materials can often be hard to find, requiring special manufacturers or artisans. In short, these specifications can mean a costly build process, and if you have a set picture of the final product’s interior design, you might have to scrap it if it differs too greatly from the home’s original design.

What about tax credits?

If you live in a state that doesn’t have a grant making program available, or you’re not selected for funds, there might still be a way to save some money on your renovation. Many states offer tax credits and incentives to renovate historic homes. For instance, if you plan to renovate a property that will be used for commercial purposes, whether the entire home will be a business or you have a first floor retail space and a second floor living space, for example, you may be eligible for tax credits for expenses used to renovate the space. Again, typically to qualify for these credits, the building must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and you will often have to meet specific criteria or stipulations.