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How tenants help maintain historic New England homes

Tenants help preserve historic Massachusetts homes
Tenants help preserve historic Massachusetts homes 02:21

WATERTOWN - Finding a place to rent is hard. Spots may feel old or outdated, but what if you wanted it to be that way? What if you wanted that old world charm? There are 30 historic homes across New England that allow you to rent the home, so long as you help to preserve it. A location in Watertown just had a tenant sign on to move into one such home.

"This is the 1698 portion of the house. It's one of the oldest houses in Watertown," says Wendy Hubbard, the Historic New England Lincoln Site Manager.

Browne House Watertown
Browne House in Watertown CBS Boston

It's called the Browne House, and while it is actually brown, it's named after the original tenant. He was a surveyor named Abraham Browne. In the early 20th century, Historic New England began preserving the property.

"There were no Browne Family artifacts left in the house. All of the objects in the Browne House were donated by various collectors over the course of time," explains Hubbard. "They used [the parlor here] as a bedroom, as a storage room, as a cooking space. They used it as a dining room."

There was an addition put onto the home around 1730. Many aspects of the property are original, but others are reproductions using materials from that time.

"Abraham Browne was a surveyor in Watertown, and he actually laid out some of the streets you probably travel on today," explains Hubbard.

24/7 job to care for property

Taking care of this property is a 24/7 job, and it's one that they can't do alone. This is why they rent a portion of the home to someone who can live here and help to maintain it. The area they live in has been modernized.

"Our tenants have a unique set of responsibilities. We train the tenants different than our own staff because they live in these spaces," said Marissa Mayo, the Property Care Operations Manager for Historic New England.

30 historic homes have tenants  

They have 30 historic homes in New England with tenants living and working to maintain the properties. A lot of the tenants are long term, and the openings don't pop up often. You can check their website for potential openings. They have had leases from 5 to 35 years long. When we originally set up this story with Historic New England, they were in the process of looking for a new tenant, but someone jumped at the opportunity before we even told the story.

"It's one of those things that when news gets out, it travels fast. We get a lot of interested parties," says Mayo. "It's individuals who usually have some sort of connection to history or have a passion for it."

We asked about rent costs, but Mayo and her team remained coy.

Browne House parlor
Parlor of the Browne House in Watertown CBS Boston

"That varies depending on the location and what we do," explains Mayo. "We want to make sure rent is affordable, and below market rate, but so we still can protect this property."

This tenant will now be their first line of defense against issues like intruders or water damage.

"We share our preservation philosophy with them, so they understand why spaces look a certain way. We want to teach them how to safely use the spaces and identify when there are problems," said Mayo. "Some tenants we give [higher level preservation] training to, but it just depends on their level of comfort and investing that training in them."

We asked to speak with the tenant moving into the Browne House, but they did not want to talk with us for the story. 

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