So you have been watching HGTV and think it would be fun to restore an old house. You envision the painting, remodeling and restoring. It will be so charming and everyone is going to go wild over the end product. The reality is the job is often much much larger than originally thought. You will have to deal with plumbing that is corroded, electric that is brittle, windows that need replacing, floor boards that need removal, roof that needs shoring up and insulation that must be removed and replaced. Cabinets may have good basic shape but require new doors to become functional. And then there are handles. (which are surprisingly expensive!) Often the entire house needs leveling. Even a newer roof may require replacement after it is all said and done. Everything will need to be up to code.
Keeping up on an older home is going to cost more than a newer home because of the age of the home and the materials it’s made with. It’s a good rule of thumb to budget 1% of your home’s value to annual maintenance. On an older home, the cost of annual maintenance can actually be as much as 50% higher.
Our lifestyles and our needs have changed a lot over the last 100 years, so older homes usually come with some hurdles with regard to our modern lifestyle. Oddly placed rooms, tiny closets, lack of garages, single bathrooms, and less usable square footage are a some of the big complaints you’ll hear about older homes.
In my experience, the functionality of the home is one of the most often overlooked issues that buyers regret after they move in. Fixing a functionality issue can be very costly and usually won’t raise your home’s values like a typical upgrade would.
Let’s face it, old homes are drafty. They’re not sealed up as tight as new construction and typically cost more to heat and cool. However, it’s important to keep in mind that old homes were built for efficiency. Long before we had A/C, builders had to be more intentional about how they kept the homes cool. High ceilings, transom windows, large overhangs, window orientation and a host of other things that can often go unnoticed were all very intentional features to help make the home efficient. Attic insulation is probably the best “bang for the buck” as far as making your home more energy efficient. Once your new plumbing and electrical is all in place, applying a spray foam insulation under the house (pier and beam) greatly increases efficiency.
There are also environmental issues that may have to be dealt with such as lead-based paint and asbestos. Unless the house has previously been gutted and remodeled, you will find yourself dealing with these issues. Depending on where you are located, restrictions on removal may apply. Be sure to read how to protect yourself and your family while you complete the work.
And so…hum?!? Have I got you thinking?
If you think you might be getting in over your head… you may be right. If you’re hoping to DIY a remodel on a 100yr old home (been there) and you think the projects may be outside of your comfort level, it might be a good time to hit the brakes. If you still want to go this direction, this might be a good time to get commitments from qualified reliable family and friends. Many hands make quick work, and of course a whole lot less expensive. You will need a crew!
The good news is, it CAN be done!
And, the RESULTS will be FABULOUS!
(I have done it myself!)
SO LET’S LOOK AT SOME OF THE PROS
They absolutely do NOT build them like they used to! There is a craftsmanship that just does not exist today. In the old days the carpentry craft was passed down from father to son, and great pride was embedded with each hand-hewn nail and sturdy hand-milled timber. Many walls in a older home were actually tongue and groove! Today we are in a mass produced society. Time is of the essence and the bottom line is to finish and close as quickly as possible. So even though some of the “CODE” requirements are stricter, lumber is light-weight, mass produced and imported nails bend at the first sling of the hammer. There is often a sturdiness that can only be found in an older house.
The level of craftsmanship and care that went into the construction of older homes is incredible – and to think – they did it all without power tools! Beautiful mill work, leaded windows, transoms, real hardwood floors, picture rail, etc… are all stunning features that are unique to older homes.
Just like your thumbprint is totally unique, so are most older houses. Unlike some new subdivisions that are composed of 5 or 10 different floor plans throughout the entire neighborhood, older homes are generally all going to be unique. Even if they’re an old Sears kit house, they will inevitably have their own special variations. The building process has become much more model-driven over the past few years
As a general rule, the oldest homes were built in the most desirable parts of the city. When cities were originally developed, the residents would choose the best areas for their neighborhoods and begin building their communities. As time goes on, new homes are naturally forced out into suburbs and areas that are often less desirable. You’ll also likely be closer to an urban setting with walkability to entertainment and restaurants.
As older neighborhoods get restored, a purchase and restoration of an older home in a older neighborhood are often a far better investment than a home in a new neighborhood.
So… while remodeling an older home may be absolutely the challenge you have been looking for… it is definitely not for everyone. Time, money talent and fearlessness are all things to be taken into consideration before you jump in to this type of purchase. Happy remodeling if you do!