Insuring Historic Properties: Preserving the Past, Insuring the Future


FEH Editor’s Note: Most museums and historic properties have serious gaps in their insurance coverage and don’t even know it. Standard policies often do not cover the features that make historic properties special whether they are residential or commercial — raised panel wainscoting, hand-hewn true dimensional lumber, artifacts of local significance, collections borrowed from other organizations and your collections loaned to others. Non-profit organizations, as a whole, have their own unique exposures, such as injuries to volunteers, decisions made by a board of directors, and liability for fundraising and other events. Whether you are a home owner, a museum, historic preservation non-profit or a business located in a historic property it is crucial that your assets are covered appropropriately for those unforeseen issues where you need to tap into your insurance coverage.

Historic properties are beautiful. The intricate architecture and overall charm can draw anyone in. Historic property owners and preservation organizations will agree that there is something very appealing in owning a piece of history and retaining the stories of the past. Many of the features that make a property historically significant though, often make it difficult for the owner to obtain adequate insurance coverage.                                                                          

National Trust Insurance Services specializes in insuring historic properties, however that doesn’t mean we insure everything that’s old, and issues with certain aspects of the structure can be cause for a property not fitting into our program. Antiquated plumbing, knob and tube wiring, a roof older than 25 years and a property isolated from a water source are all issues that could be hard to place with an insurance company.

We all have our own deal breakers and it’s important to have those listed prior to viewing a potential property. We’ve asked one of our Risk Services Consultants for a general outline for assessing conditions of a historic property. This is a pretty thorough list and should be edited to suit your best interests. Hopefully, it will help to address any potential issues up front and ultimately aid in making a decision whether looking to buy, rent or remodel a historic property.

One of the main things the checklist points out would be the age of the roof, electrical, plumbing and HVAC system. Asking for the latest updates or professional evaluations would help nail those dates down. A few things to keep an eye out for would be any alarms, sprinkler systems and general upkeep of the property by the current owner.

As for the basic liability aspects of the checklist, it comes down to safety. Where are the trip and fall hazards inside and outside of the property? How are the stairways and ramps configured? Many older buildings have smaller stairwells and uneven walkways. Many historic homes are not up to present day building codes which may not be a problem because they can be grandfathered in, but that doesn’t mean the potential for accidents goes away. This also leads to Life Safety and ADA considerations. Noticing whether exits are appropriately marked and whether areas, especially restrooms and exits, are handicapped accessible is important.

As you review the items on the list, we highly recommend taking photographs to document the property and its unique features. This process is best utilized when viewing a potential property. Once you commit to a property, a formal inspection and appraisal by a qualified professional will be required.                                                              

National Trust Insurance Services LLC, is the nation’ leading distributor of insurance products specifically designed for historic property owners and preservation organizations. In conjunction with our carrier partners, we’ve come up with solid products and solutions for historic theatres, hotels, country clubs, condominium/apartment buildings, Main Street organizations, historical societies and museums. For more information, visit our website: