Old and new: This stretch of Walnut Street in Montclair is not in a historic district.

Homeowners ask how being in a historic district will affect their property values or the ability to sell their home. Philip Berman, the immediate past president of the West Essex Board of Realtors, addressed these concerns in a letter to the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission in November 2019. Here are his comments:

Value in Historic Districts

While many see inclusion of their home in historic districts as deleterious to the value of the home, in fact the reverse is true.

Approval from historic preservation authorities may add some burden to the process of upgrading or modernizing the home, but in no areas excepting designated historic districts can it be guaranteed that neighboring residents will not undertake redesigns or additions that are not in keeping with the general nature of the immediate area and are in fact unsightly, use components that are similar but not equal to the original, or otherwise compromise the architectural beauty of the neighborhood. Planning and zoning boards can prevent a charming Victorian from becoming a bagel store, but they cannot prevent a homeowner from choosing to do away with fish-tail cedar shingles in favor of basic vinyl lap siding.

The value of a neighborhood is based on the value of the individual homes in that neighborhood and one home that becomes an architecturally unappealing mess or one that just doesn’t harmonize well with the surrounding homes devalues every home in that neighborhood. Studies have shown that homes subject to preservation rules increase in value at a greater rate and are less subject to declines in value during a recessionary housing market.

There is a subset of future homeowners that is specifically looking for the classic architecture, the historic materials, the craftsmanship of times past, the genteel sensibilities of the early 20th century and the escape from the chaotic 21st-century life they’ve been living. Important to everyone? Hardly, and one isn’t better than the other, but the loss of this appeal will change the nature of Montclair and its residents.

Finally, on a more philosophical level, the loss over time of past practices, past styles, just our past in general, is impactful on our future. Where we came from, where we’re going, and how we got to where we are today, cannot and should not be lost, evidenced by the musicians taught Bach and Bernstein, fine arts students taught van Gogh and Picasso, furniture makers taught Chippendale and Phyfe, and architects taught Vitruvius and Adam.

Securing approval to replace windows is a small price to pay in exchange for improved property values, cushioning of declines in value, increased liquidity due to a harmonious, appealing neighborhood, and a small contribution toward the historic record of the advancement of an art form.

Respectfully submitted,

Philip Berman

Realtor Associate, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Montclair

Immediate Past President, West Essex Board of Realtors

Regional Vice President, New Jersey Realtors

Member, Society of American Period Furniture Makers