Old homes, historic homes in Cambridge, Somerville & Boston

One of the things I love most about real estate in the Cambridgeville / Boston area is the amazing architectural diversity and history that comes from the fact that — let’s face it — our homes are OLD. And I say old with the utmost respect, being the owner of a 150+ year old home which I fell completely in love with the minute I walked in the door. So let’s talk about this *old* thing…

Massachusetts as a state has the second oldest housing stock in the country, after New York. But it was funny for me to learn that the median age of our homes is just 54 years old, which may be old by comparison to other states and may even seem old out in the Massachusetts burbs, but in the metro area where I do business, a 54-year-old house is practically brand new. Case in point:

Of the 110 single-family homes sold in Cambridge over the past year, 74 (67%) were built prior to 1916, making them AT LEAST 100 years old. In Somerville, 73 of 89 (82%) were 100+ years old. And likewise in Boston, 450 of 1012 (44%) were centenarians.

Just for fun, here’s a look at the oldest single family homes sold in each of these cities in the past 12 months:

Cambridge — 145 Elm Street — built in 1839


Listed by Robert Filene, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage

Somerville — 64 Dane Street — built in 1850


Listed by Margo Delaney, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage

Boston — 63 May Street (Jamaica Plain) — built in 1790 (!!)


Listed by Lynette Glover, Hammond Residential

So, we have some pretty old houses around here. And in some respects, all old houses are a part of our history. But not every old home is designated *historic,* and since an official historic designation may have implications for homeowners, let’s take a look at the different designations:

Historic Designations

National Register of Historic Places — This national designation recognizes individual properties as well as districts that are in some way significant to local, state or national history. If your home falls under the National Register but does NOT also fall under any sort of local historic designation, then you are not subject to any sort of requirements or limitations for maintaining/renovating your home (as long as you aren’t using public funds or needing federal or state permits or licenses). On the other hand, the area gets some protections and income-property owners may also get tax incentives for rehabbing their properties.

FYI, there are 900 National Register Districts in Massachusetts, which are administered by the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

Local Historic District — If you own a home within a Local Historic Districts (LHD), any exterior changes to your property are subject to public review. Most renovation / addition projects must be run through your local Historic District Commission, which will determine whether they are *appropriate* for the area. The process generally involves a formal application, a public hearing, and (hopefully!) certification that the work has been approved and may progress. Although it sounds cumbersome, if you loop the Commission in early on, they can help guide you in your planning, making the whole thing go more smoothly. AND, by the way, homes within historic districts have higher property values, so at the end of the day, it is worth a bit of red tape.

For more information, here are links to the local historic commissions for Cambridge, Somerville & Boston:

Cambridge Historical Commission — Note that Cambridge has two Historic Districts and four Neighborhood Conservation Districts (often less “strict” than Historic Districts). Specific properties may also be protected via a preservation easement or landmark status.

Somerville’s Historic Preservation Commission — Somerville has many Local Historic Districts (LHDs) that may consist of in some cases, a single property. You can access a full list of Somerville’s LHDs here.

Boston Landmarks Commission — The Boston Landmarks Commission works in conjunction with nine local Historic District Commissions.


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