Preservation Easement Program

Make sure your home stands the test of time

Preserving privately owned properties throughout New England

Historic New England works with concerned property owners to ensure that their historic houses and landscapes are protected from insensitive alterations or neglect. The 100 properties currently protected through preservation easements with Historic New England reflect a range of architectural styles and time periods in rural, suburban, and urban locations. The Preservation Easement Program is a national model for preservation of privately owned properties.

For additional details and information about the Preservation Easement Program, contact us at [email protected] or 617-994-6642.

Emery House, Newburyport, Massachusetts

Emery House in Newburyport, Massachusetts


History and FAQs

Learn more about participating in this program

Historic New England’s Preservation Easement Program is one of the oldest and most recognized preservation easement programs in the country. The first easement agreement was signed in 1947, several more were secured in the decades to follow, and easements were used in the 1970s as a way for Historic New England to responsibly sell nine historic museum properties that could be better maintained and preserved under private ownership. It was not until 1981 that a formal Preservation Easement Program was established. Motivations for creating the program in 1981 included: (a) filling a need at the regional level for an organization to accept preservation easements (one with the expertise and resources to work with property owners, and to enforce the easements themselves); (b) promoting a preservation tool that allows properties to remain on municipal tax roles and does not incur maintenance costs for the easement holding organization; and (c) to provide potential tax advantages to historic property owners. Initial discussions centered on the belief that the credibility of the program would depend on Historic New England’s vigilance in administering the easements and the ability to pursue legal action for violations. Contribution endowments, deposited into a restricted fund, have always been a crucial part of the program. This fund allows the program to function in a self-supporting capacity and have the necessary resources to pursue legal action when necessary. Finally, the program was seen as a critical method for increasing the organization’s ability to preserve and protect significant New England architecture. That objective remains true today. Many of the early easements in the program resulted from the deaccessioning of historic houses acquired by Historic New England that did not meet museum criteria or had very small or no endowments to cover maintenance expenses. We accepted our first private donation of restrictions in 1982. From the beginning, easement coverage has included exterior, interior, and landscape elements in order to provide comprehensive protection. The first full-time professional staff member, responsible for managing acquisitions and administering existing easements, was hired in 1983. Today, the Preservation Easement Program is administered by a full-time, professional staff. To date, Historic New England’s Preservation Easement Program currently holds more than one hundred easements.

What is a preservation easement? A preservation easement, also known as a preservation restriction in some New England states, is a legal agreement used to protect significant building and landscape features of a historic property. The property owner (easement donor) and a qualified preservation organization (easement holder) sign a legal document, recorded with local land records, that gives the easement holder certain rights and responsibilities associated with perpetual protection. The easement does not prevent future sales, leases, or estate planning, and the owner remains responsible for maintenance and taxes.

Why donate a preservation easement? Easements prohibit demolition of historic resources and can prevent lot subdivision. Historic New England’s easements also provide for project review to ensure that any proposed changes to the historic house and/or landscape are carried out sensitively and do not damage or destroy protected elements. Generally, our easements protect exterior and interior architectural features as well as open space and designed landscape features. We are one of the few organizations in the country to consistently protect significant interior elements and finishes, including staircases, floors, woodwork, fireplaces, historic wallpaper, decorative painting, and early hardware. Historic New England also frequently protects significant landscape features such as fences, stone walls, and designed gardens. While protected features vary by property and are determined based on each property’s historic and architectural significance, Historic New England does not accept façade-only or term-limited easements.

Why donate to Historic New England? We are the region’s oldest holder of preservation easements. Additionally, we are one of the few organizations in the country to protect not just exterior architectural features, but also interior details and finishes, including staircases, fireplaces, moldings, historic wallpaper, decorative painting, and early hardware. Advantages of Historic New England’s Preservation Easement Program include:

What properties are eligible for Historic New England’s Preservation Easement Program? Eligibility is determined by Historic New England on a case-by-case basis. Generally, a property should be listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, but this is not required. We are interested in working to preserve a variety of architectural styles that represent all regions of New England.

What is the application fee? A $500 application fee is required after Historic New England has decided a property is eligible for the Preservation Easement Program. This fee is designed to cover a portion of the initial costs of preparing the preservation easement document.

What are the costs of creating an easement? Historic New England incurs a variety of expenses in creating a new preservation easement. These costs usually include: travel expenses and staff time for site visits, meetings, and drafting the easement document; documentary photography of the property by a professional photographer; and legal fees associated with review of the easement document by our legal counsel, including the title search, and recording fees (Historic New England does not cover any costs associated with an owner’s legal counsel).

What is the endowment fund? The endowment fund is a restricted pool of money designated for the ongoing administration of the Preservation Easement Program, including support of the full-time professional staff that monitors the easements held by Historic New England. The endowment fund is also used to cover the up-front costs of incoming properties into the program and as a legal defense fund, which provides money to enforce our existing easements when necessary.

What does an easement allow? Preservation easements do not prevent the sale or lease of a historic property or hinder estate planning. Historic New England’s easements also do not require a homeowner to receive approval for completing basic maintenance of their home, such as painting or minor repairs. In most cases paint color is not restricted. Restrictions to certain spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms are typically minimal, allowing a homeowner to upgrade these spaces for modern living. For projects that may affect protected features, our staff works with the property owner to make sure their needs are met without removing or damaging these features.

Is public access typically required? Public access is not typically required for a preservation easement. In some cases, where a homeowner is seeking a tax deduction, some form of limited access may be required. This may be met in a variety of ways, such as depositing photographs in a local library or selectively opening the house for researchers or the general public.

How long does the donation process take? Depending on the donor’s circumstances, the donation of a preservation easement may take several months to over a year to complete. For complex property interests, and for owners seeking listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the process requires a minimum of twelve months. Additionally, the various laws in the applicable state will determine the speed of the process. For any additional questions, please email [email protected] or call 617-994-6642.


Bell House in Little Boar’s Head, New Hampshire


Donation Process

How Historic New England evaluates potential properties

Historic New England seeks preservation easements on the wide range of domestic structures in New England, including but not limited to buildings listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and those located within national, state, or local historic districts. We evaluate each offer of a preservation easement based on its own merits, regardless of the property’s other designations or protections. Our determination regarding the acceptance of a preservation easement is made on an individual basis and closely follows the criteria used for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. This timeline is a general reference only. Depending on the donor’s circumstances, the donation process can take several months to over a year to complete. For complex property interests, and for owners seeking listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the process requires a minimum of twelve months. The following steps describe the typical process that we use with donated easements. Depending upon the property and the state in which it is located, additional steps within the donation process may be involved.

  1. Application and initial consultation. Following an initial telephone inquiry or written correspondence, a prospective donor is asked to complete and return a Preservation Easement Program Application, providing background information on the historic property. Once the application is received, program staff will visit the property to evaluate significant features and discuss the donor’s preservation goals. There is no fee for this initial visit.
  2. Preservation Easement Program staff compile architectural and historical background information about a prospective property, including a preliminary title search.
  3. Staff submit a recommendation to Historic New England’s Preservation Easement Committee, which then votes to enter into negotiations with an owner to create a preservation easement on the property.
  4. Once a property is approved for negotiations by the Preservation Easement Committee and the property owner decides to proceed, a $500 nonrefundable application fee is required.
  5. Negotiations begin between Historic New England and donor, including initial legal review and drafting of the preservation easement by the Preservation Easement Program staff.
  6. Staff present a final recommendation to Historic New England’s Preservation Easement Committee. The committee will then vote to recommend acceptance of the easement donation by the Board of Trustees.
  7. Staff coordinate professional photography, develop floor plans, site plans, and other supporting documentation recorded as legal exhibits with the preservation easement.
  8. Final revision of legal documents by Historic New England for review by donor and the donor’s attorney/advisors.
  9. Historic New England’s Board of Trustees votes to accept the donation of the preservation easement as negotiated between Historic New England and the donor.
  10. The Preservation Easement Agreement and Contribution Agreement are executed (signed) by Historic New England and donor.
  11. These legal documents are then recorded in the local Land Records.
  12. Historic New England’s ongoing administration and enforcement begins upon recording of the legal documents.

Throughout the process, we encourage prospective donors to consult with their attorneys or advisors as well as with Historic New England staff. In the course of preparing various reports and pertinent legal documents, Historic New England may seek the assistance of the donors or their advisors. Potential Tax Advantages: Preserving historic properties through the voluntary donation of preservation easement to Historic New England, a qualified charitable organization, provides a demonstrable public benefit by protecting significant components of our built and natural environment for generations to come. The federal government has recognized the importance of these donations by establishing advantageous income tax incentives which are available to taxpaying donors who meet specific federal statutory requirements. These allow a qualified donor to take a charitable contribution deduction for the appraised value of the legally binding preservation easement placed in perpetuity on an historic property; however, to qualify, the property must either be (1) listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places or (2) certified as contributing to the significance of a designated historic district. Donors wishing to seek a federal tax deduction for the donation of a preservation easement to protect a National Register of Historic Places-listed historic structure are advised to obtain professional advice on satisfying the appraisal requirements of the Internal Revenue Code. The donation of a preservation easement may also give rise to favorable property, estate, and other tax treatment. Each prospective donor should consult with qualified professional advisors to determine the tax and legal consequences of the donation of a preservation easement to Historic New England.

Administration of the Easement Program

One of the critical advantages to donating a preservation easement to Historic New England is the that we maintain a full-time, professional staff to negotiate and monitor our Preservation Easement Program. In addition to conducting routine site visits and assisting property owners with routine maintenance advice, program staff can help determine good methods of repair for fragile building elements. Administration of the Preservation Easement Program includes: (1) monitoring of easement properties, (2) approval of proposed projects as permissible within the restrictions of a specific easement, and (3) enforcement of easements.

Monitoring of easement properties: Each year, one of the Preservation Easement Program’s highly qualified staff members will contact the property owner to schedule an annual site visit at a mutually convenient time. The visit, which generally lasts one to two hours and is conducted with both the property owner and program staff, consists of viewing the protected features of the building, reviewing overall maintenance issues, and discussing upcoming work. Because assessing the building’s condition under varying weather conditions is preferable, the annual visit is undertaken at different times each year. After each visit, a written report is prepared by program staff and a copy sent to the property owner.

Project approval Repairs and alterations: In addition to routine maintenance, owners may occasionally need to conduct larger renovation projects that may affect protected features. Proposed projects should first be discussed during the annual visit or with prior consultation with Preservation Easement Program staff to determine whether protected features will be affected and/or if Historic New England’s approval will be needed. If so, owners must submit a Request for Project Approval Form. Once received, Historic New England’s Preservation Easement Committee will review all proposals within thirty to ninety days (Historic New England will work as expeditiously as possible to review all requests). Work may begin once the property owner receives written approval for a project from Historic New England. During larger or more complex projects, Preservation Easement Program staff may document the ongoing work, usually through measured drawings or photographs. Staff are also available to assist with unforeseen issues that may require Historic New England’s prompt review during the course of a project. Emergency repairs: Preservation Easement Program staff are available on short notice for on-site review of emergency repair work that may affect protected features of a historic building.

Enforcement: A critical element to a successful easement program is whether the easement-holding organization has the resources and willingness to enforce the easements it holds should violations occur. Historic New England has both. We consider a strong enforcement policy vital to maintaining the integrity of our program. We believe we have a responsibility to ensure the preservation of the properties we have promised to protect, and recognize the great trust that has been placed on our organization by easement donors. For additional questions, please email [email protected] or call 617-994-6642.

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