Renovating a Historic Home Can Be Exciting, but You Have to Be Cautious

Historic homes carry tons of charm, but they are old and that means they often come with truckloads of hidden or unexpected issues, and may require exorbitant upgrades. However; by smart planning, you can complete your project.

Before you start your project, read the following:
1. Do not fall in love before you really know the deal
Before you make an offer, know what you’re getting into. Sure, you (presumably) already know about getting a standard inspection, but a historic home requires something more.

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 the critical issues. Old wiring and plumbing, drafty or otherwise inefficient windows, badly sloping foundations. Get estimates from at least three contractors for repairs. You might find that the extra costs and time involved are just beyond your reach, but they will all payoff at the

Also, make sure to contact the city building department to get the current codes and regulations for historic home restoration codes. If you are obtaining an FHA loan and do not 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. Create a budget with lots of wiggle room and allow extra time
As with any older-home renovation, expect the unexpected when you open up walls. Chances are you are going to find things that are not up to the code or things that you will go “What…”

When you undertake any renovation project, you always need to leave some space in the budget for those unforeseen situations, like a lead pipe in a wall you were going to tear down, or water damage in a ceiling. Factor in at least an extra 10% into the budget to tackle those problems, as well as some extra time to get unplanned work completed.

Chances are the project schedule is not going to be on track, factor in delays and allow yourself additional time for completing the project.

3. Always keep the character of the house
What makes older 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.

Select finish materials that will match the character of the house and will fit in with the era that the house was built, but give the contemporary feel at the same time.

Some of these homes have design elements that cannot be replicated easily such as detailed crown moldings or ornate fireplaces in nearly every room. 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 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Make sure you run your renovation plans by code enforcement and your local historic preservation board before any work gets underway.

4. Do not try to save money by doing it all yourself
Hire a licensed contractor. Go over all the details of the project and sign a contract with the contractor. The contractor will hire licensed subcontractors, architect, and engineer as necessary and applicable.

Do not even attempt to do it yourself. You will end up hiring a contractor any way.

5. Do not ignore the things you can not see
Asbestos, lead, radon, wood rot, and mold are common environmental issues that crop up frequently in historic home renovations, especially if a property has been vacant for a long time. 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 will be in a good position to negotiate those items and the or the prices with the seller.