Monday, September 24, 2007

Resident Curatorship Programs

The housing market is in a slump. The days of easy mortgages at "too good to be true" rates are over. If the thought of buying a house has you down, how about becoming a curator? You can get a charming house by the state, free of charge, with the caveat that you restore it. NPR's story Living History in a Maryland Farmhouse was intriguing. Maryland's Resident-Curatorship Program was set up because the state owns many historic properties on public parkland that it refuses to sell. However, some of the properties were falling into severe disrepair due to the lack of maintenance. The solution: contract a "resident curator" who is granted a lifetime leasehold to the home free of charge (i.e., no rent, mortgage or property taxes for the curator(s) lifetime(s)) in exchange for an agreed amount of restorative work that will be performed on the property. For example, the curator agrees to spend $150,000 over the course of 5 years to get the property into shape, and is responsible for all future repairs and maintenance.

On the one hand, the lack of equity for this investment might sound senseless. However, how many opportunities do you get to live in an idyllic, historic house (e.g., 200 year old farmhouse) without a mortgage or property taxes? If you plan on buying and staying somewhere, why not there? Most of the properties are in rural settings and are buffered from development threats because public lands dedicated to natural conservation purposes surround them.

Things to Consider:
  • No rent, mortgage or property taxes
  • It would be difficult to afford both the mortgage and restoration on such a needy structure
  • Any restoration expenses can be written off as charitable deductions to the state (per NY Times)
  • Invest your savings. You won't have property to leave your kids, but you'll have a much bigger nest egg
  • These are serious fixer uppers; not for the faint of heart
  • Opportunity to preserve a historic property
  • Renovations are bound by principles to be followed, but not a detailed set of rules
  • You've live near deer!
  • If you opt to live in a farmhouse, and you have a barn, think of the possibilities. Chickens to supply your omelette habit, a pet pig (yes, a pet), gardening and composting!!
Policies, some of which are less than optimal:
  • Generally a curatorship proposal must represent at least $150,000 worth of improvements to the property.
  • Improvements must be completed within five years.
  • The curatorship is subject to periodic inspection by state officials, and can be terminated for non-compliance.
  • Resident-Curators agree to open the property to the public three to five times each year as required by DNR.
  • Restoration standards must comply with “The Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation.”
  • Minors cannot be parties to a Curatorship Lease Agreement.
This program is not suited to our needs. I still have nightmares about that time 10 years ago when my cat brought in a dead mouse from who knows where. I just don't see myself settling well in such a rural setting. I'm also worried about lead paint since the removal of lead pain in older properties can be really difficult, sometimes leaving microparticles of lead in the home, which can settle on everything. Yes, I'm paranoid. And yes, that would stop me from considering this program. At least while MetaBaby is a baby. Perhaps when MetaDaddy and I are retired and looking for a nice, cozy home and are willing to put in some serious sweat equity, which would be much required. That said, Spain sounds nice, too.


Other states that have or are starting up similar programs: Delaware, Massachusettes, Vermont, and Pennsylvania. Other states might be willing to consider such programs if you approach them with the idea. After all, that's how the program started in the first place.


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