Historic homes carry tons of charm, but here’s the thing: They often come with truckloads of hidden or weirdly unexpected issues—and may require exorbitant upgrades. But with smart planning and a few expert tips, you can renovate the historic home of your fantasies. And, hey, why not create some new history while you’re at it?
Sgaunna and Matt West, the restoration team behind the HGTV show “Sweet House Alabama,offer these guidelines:
1. Don’t fall in love before you really know the deal
Matt says historic homes requires more than a standard inspection.
“Have a team of top-notch professionals—an agent who specializes in historic neighborhoods, a good home inspector, and a general contractor with experience renovating older properties—walk through and identify all critical issues.” He cites these items as most important to look for: lousy wiring and plumbing, drafty or otherwise inefficient windows, badly sloping foundations. Also, get estimates from at least three contractors for repairs.
The DiGonzini Group is well-versed in guiding newer owners of historic homes. Recently, we assisted two sets of buyers with purchasing and restoring their homes in southern California.
Also, West recommends tapping your city’s code enforcement office as a resource for determining whether a historic property is up to code. If you’re obtaining an FHA loan and don’t have the extra cash for renovations, ask your lender if you qualify for the 203(k) loan program. The program allows borrowers to wrap renovation costs into their home loan if the property meets FHA standards.
2. Don’t create a budget with no wiggle room
As with any historic home renovation, expect the unexpected when you open up walls and floors, West cautions. Chances are, something’s lurking behind them.
“You always need to leave some space in the budget for those unforeseen hiccups, like a lead pipe in a wall you were going to tear down, or water damage in a ceiling,” he says. “Factor in an extra 10% into the budget to tackle those problems, as well as some extra time to get unplanned work completed.”
3. Don’t lose sight of the place’s character
What makes historic homes so enticing? They have personality, uniqueness—and most important — history. Preserving all those characteristics while refreshing the look and floor plans is an important piece of the renovation puzzle.
“Some of these homes have design elements that can’t be replicated easily such as detailed crown moldings or ornate fireplaces in nearly every room,” West says. “Design around those details instead of removing them.”
Keep in mind, too, that there might be limitations on what you can change if the surrounding area is designated as a historic neighborhood by your city or state, or if it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which contains more than 90,000 listings across the United States.
4. Don’t try to save money by doing it all yourself
You might be proficient when it comes to painting walls and installing light fixtures, but leave the major projects to the pros. Electrical rewiring, foundation and structural repairs, and reconfiguring plumbing aren’t tasks suited for the casual DIYer. Bring in experienced contractors who have worked on historic homes before – and ask for references!
5. Don’t ignore the things you can’t see
Asbestos, lead, radon, wood rot and mold are common environmental issues that crop up frequently in historic home renovations. Hire a licensed home inspector who can catch these issues early on and recommend companies to address them. If significant mitigation work is required, you’ll be in a good position to negotiate those items (or the price) with the seller.
To obtain a list of professionals who can help you assess the condition of your historic home prior to renovating, or to learn about available properties that are not currently listed on-line contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org (949) 607-8543. Or visit us online at www.digonzinigroup.com & www.dighomes.com.
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Kearns, Deborah. “5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Renovating a Historic Home.” Real Estate News and Advice Realtorcom. Realtor.com, 14 July 2015. Web. 24 July 2015.