Maine Preservation wants to help preserve your historic property so badly, it might even offer to buy the place if it can line up the right buyer to whom it can turn around and sell it.

The historic preservation group, based in Yarmouth, has expanded its role from that of an advocate to include being a direct facilitator of sale transactions involving historic properties in need of preservation or rehabilitation. Its Protect and Sell program markets historic Maine properties and secures buyers committed to maintaining or refurbishing the buildings if necessary.

In some cases, Maine Preservation purchases and then immediately resells properties to secure financial incentives for the deal such as historic preservation tax credits or grants.

The program matches sellers who want to safeguard their property’s future with preservation-minded buyers. Since 2015, Maine Preservation has facilitated the sale of six historic properties, including the Grand Trunk Railroad Depot in Yarmouth and the Cosmopolitan Club in Bath. The group said it would like to be doing a lot more deals and is trying to raise awareness of the services it offers.

“Most historic buildings are being preserved by the private sector, and this is an opportunity to transfer properties from the hands of an owner that may not be able to rehabilitate and maintain it to an owner who not only has the ability but also agrees to acquire it with a preservation easement,” Maine Preservation Executive Director Greg Paxton said.

A preservation easement is a legally binding agreement entered into voluntarily by a property owner to ensure that the architectural and landscape qualities of a historic property will not be destroyed, according to the group. An owner grants the responsibility to protect the historic property to Maine Preservation without relinquishing ownership.

A preservation easement is filed with the deed to the property, attaching itself permanently to the deed and thus protecting the property forever, even through subsequent sales. Preservation easements protect historic properties in a manner similar to how conservation easements protect land and natural resources. Since many historic properties are located in natural settings worthy of conservation, the two easements can be combined to ensure the protection of all historic and natural features of a property, according to Maine Preservation.

Maine is littered with historically significant properties that would benefit from preservation easements, but there are a number of barriers to historic preservation. Ali Barrionuevo, Maine Preservation’s real estate manager, said not every property owner has the financial resources to make such a binding commitment.

Maine Preservation’s office is located in this historic building on Main Street in Yarmouth. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“A lot of people in Maine are strapped,” she said. “They don’t have a lot of money to put towards rehabilitating a home, (which is) sometimes a really difficult thing to do, generally. And that’s where I think this program could come in and help them.”

The Protect and Sell program helps property sellers expand their marketing beyond the typical viewers of real estate listings to reach an existing community of potential buyers who are focused on historic preservation, Barrionuevo said. In addition to engaging real estate agents, Maine Preservation also markets Protect and Sell properties through its own historic preservation community channels, she said.

The group also offers its expertise in dealing with historic property sale transactions, which came in handy when the Yarmouth Village Improvement Society decided to sell, in 2018, a historic train depot it had owned for five decades. Prior to the sale, the building had been leased to a local florist that decided not to renew its lease in 2015, said Linda Grant, the society’s then-president.

“The building needed quite a bit of restoration and rehab work, and the Village Improvement Society felt that we could not pay for all of that,” Grant said. “And we decided that we would sell it, but we wanted to preserve it because that is what the people earlier, 40, 50 years ago in our organization, wanted to have happen.”

Grant said the group had worked with Maine Preservation before, so it approached them about obtaining a preservation easement, for which it paid $25,000. But Maine Preservation did a lot more than just helping with the easement, she said.

“They helped us in setting up our sale, they helped us … with an open house to have people look at the building, and they helped us with making our decision as to whom the purchaser would be,” Grant said.

Retired businessman Ford Reiche of Freeport was chosen as the property’s buyer from a group of 14 bidders. Purchasing the former depot in downtown Yarmouth and the land on which it sits was a complex process that involved multiple parties including the Village Improvement Society, two railroads, the town of Yarmouth, the state of Maine and the federal government, he said. The Yarmouth tax assessor’s office shows the property was purchased for $350,000.

Reiche, who has purchased and rehabilitated multiple Maine historic properties, said the buyers of such properties generally are taking on a large responsibility.

“They (the properties) come with physical problems because they frequently have been neglected or drastically modified from what they were historically, and they also come with a whole host of legal problems,” he said.

Reiche credited Gorham Savings Bank, the property’s new tenant, for restoring the former depot to its original state and bringing its interior up to modern standards without drastically altering the aesthetic. He said the building has been described as “half commercial property and half museum.”

“That’s optimum when you can find a tenant that is a good match for the building and a good match for the community,” Reiche said.

Paxton said that with his organization’s help, buying or selling a historic property with a preservation easement doesn’t have to be as difficult or expensive as people might think. The properties don’t have to be turned into museum pieces and can still be perfectly suitable for modern use, he said.

“You take it from where it is, rather than, if you will, imposing the historic on it and saying you’ve got to take it all the way back,” Paxton said.

Barrionuevo added, “From my perspective, the (property) has to evolve to be useful.”

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