Wake County

Buyers and neighbors of historic homes frustrated by slow pace of sales

Historic Tarlton House moved across downtown Raleigh

VIDEO: Watch as the historic 75-ton Tarlton House, built in 1914, is moved from North Harrington Street to a new lot on New Bern Avenue in downtown Raleigh, NC Saturday, February 20, 2016.
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VIDEO: Watch as the historic 75-ton Tarlton House, built in 1914, is moved from North Harrington Street to a new lot on New Bern Avenue in downtown Raleigh, NC Saturday, February 20, 2016.

The state has found buyers for a dozen old and historic homes in downtown Raleigh since last fall, but none of the houses has actually changed hands yet.

Buyers such as Matthew Brown, whose $536,000 offer on a house on North Person Street was accepted in November, are frustrated by the time it’s taking to complete the sales. So are others in the neighborhood who are anxious about the continued deterioration of the empty homes, most of which are in the Blount Street Historic District between Oakwood and the State Government Complex.

“The state acts when it wants to act. Evidently this is not an urgent matter to them,” said Sandra Scherer, president of the Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood. “Every day those houses fall into greater and greater disrepair.”

Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina, an advocacy group that has long urged the state to sell the houses to people who will restore them, notes that the state accepted offers on all but one of the houses six to eight months ago.

It’s not quite like you’re going to Holly Springs and buying a house in a subdivision.

John LaPenta, N.C. deputy secretary of administration

“These properties should have closed by now,” Howard said. “And in the private sector you fully expect closings like this to take place in 45 or 60 days without issue. I don’t know what the hangup is.”

John LaPenta, the deputy secretary of administration overseeing the sales, says he understands the frustration. He says that after years of neglect by the state, the McCrory administration has made sales of the houses a priority and that state officials are eager to collect the nearly $7 million the sales will generate and get the homes into the hands of people who can use them. But, he says, the transactions are much more complicated than most.

“It’s not quite like you’re going to Holly Springs and buying a house in a subdivision,” LaPenta said.

For starters, the sales needed the approval of the Council of State and the legislature, which had 90 days to raise objections. Because the homes are historic, each property will come with customized covenants governing renovations and uses that must be approved by the State Historic Preservation Office and then incorporated into the deeds.

All of the properties must be surveyed and new lot lines drawn to replace the ones that were erased as the state purchased the properties over the years. And new easements for shared driveways and parking areas must also be negotiated.

“When you aggregate all these different nuances, it takes time,” LaPenta said, acknowledging that “you’re dealing with the state bureaucracy.”

All of the buyers have put down deposits of about 1 percent, LaPenta said, and no one has dropped out.

Three of the houses are ready for the final step: contracts going to the governor’s office for Pat McCrory’s signature.

LaPenta can’t say when most of the transactions will take place, but he says three of the houses are ready for the final step: contracts going to the governor’s office for Pat McCrory’s signature, which LaPenta said should happen this week.

They include the Lamar House, a Queen Anne-style home built about 1900 at Person and North streets, a block north of the Executive Mansion. Brown made an offer on the house in July 2015, and it was accepted Nov. 6. He says he was told the deal was ready for the governor’s signature a month ago.

Brown, a historian who works for the state Department of Cultural Resources and lives a few blocks away, has had his eye on the Lamar House for years as the state contemplated putting it and others in the neighborhood on the market. The paint is peeling badly, and he’ll need to put in all new electricity and plumbing. But the state never renovated the house for offices, like it did many of the others, leaving intact most of its interior woodwork and a stained-glass window over the main staircase.

“It is so beautiful,” Brown said. “It’s dilapidated, but they haven’t messed it up.”

Brown, 55, has a key to the house and has taken some minor steps to stave off further deterioration, such as trimming tree limbs and putting plastic over some rotten exterior wood to keep the rain out.

But Brown hesitates to do too much, or spend any money, until the deal is done. When he discovered a sleeping bag on the front porch this week where someone had evidently taken refuge, he let it be.

“I’m not moving it,” he said. “It’s not my house.”

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling

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