Thinking About Buying a Historical Home to Remodel?

Before you decide to jump in, here’s what you should know


A brand-new home with all of the modern bells and whistles can certainly be nice, but it’s not for everybody. Some people would much rather live in a house with the rustic charm of a bygone era. If you fall into this latter category and are looking to buy a historical home to remodel, there are some things you need to know.


The remodel can (and probably will) take a while


Remodeling a historical home is different than refurbishing a regular one, and it requires a lot of research. This includes closely examining the floor plan, finding photos of the home to use as a reference, and figuring out what original pieces can be salvaged and what needs to be replaced. This may require talking to an architectural historian or other experts with ties to the house. The design planning also typically takes longer for a historical house, as does the permitting process.  


There could be restrictions on remodeling


If your new old home is a registered historical landmark, there will almost certainly be restrictions on what you can and can’t do to it. This is why long before you walk through it and start envisioning all of the wonderful upgrades and augmentations you’ll make, you should check to see what its status is. If it is a landmark, buying it may be more trouble than most homeowners are ready for. 


You may have to first undo a lot of things


While you of course plan to treat your home lovingly, that might not be true of the previous owners. Chances are good that you will find some shoddy craftsmanship or cheap replacements, which means a lot of the early work could involve fixing mistakes. Plus, there is always the possibility of some unpleasant surprises like asbestos or materials that are not up to code.


6 tips for your remodel


If you’re still convinced remodeling a historical home is right for you, these tips can help make your project a little easier.


Think about your remodeling budget


Right away with a historical home, you know that a remodel is going to be pricey. Therefore, the bigger the house, the bigger your bill will be. This is why you need to create a project budget to determine exactly how much you can spend. If the budget is not a lot, you’re probably better off going with a different home.


Start the remodel with the practical stuff


While the roof may not be the sexiest part of the house, it’s a very good place to start when remodeling a historical home. It’s important to address things that will limit damage now and in the future, and in addition to the roof, this includes the windows and masonry. That latter one is particularly important because it’s possible that the mortar used in the chimney and fireplace has sand in it, which will weaken its integrity.  


Look out for water damage


Before deciding to buy a historical home (or really any home, for that matter), having an inspection conducted is vital. But even before a pro comes in, you can look for possible red flags, especially related to moisture. Closely examine the ceilings, floors, and areas around the windows for dry rot and other signs of water damage. If it’s extensive, you may want to walk away, as you could end up spending your entire remodeling budget just fixing those issues. 


Don’t think you have to live like someone in the past


Let’s say you’re thinking about buying a house that was built in the 1920s. Obviously you don’t need to grow a handlebar mustache and throw away all of your alcohol. In the same measure, you don’t have to rely on just a fireplace for warmth or candles for light. Without too much trouble, modern systems for heating, cooling, and electricity can be updated or installed without creating eyesores. 


Understand that things won’t be perfect


You probably fell in love with this house in large part because of its charm and quirks, not in spite of them. This means that even if you can change or get rid of something, you may be better off just accepting it and figuring out how to work with it, as this will save you both time and money.


“In Manhattan, I have a house that was built in 1827,” says architect and interior designer Steven Gambrel. “It’s crooked! So I left it crooked. I designed all the millwork, like the baseboards, to accommodate the crooked floors. The baseboard might be 6 inches high in one location and then 8 inches in another.”


Above all, Gambrel adds, anyone undergoing this type of remodeling project has to “make it a creative opportunity. That’s where the beauty, charm, and quirkiness of a renovation is.”


Seek the right help


Don’t be fooled by all those home improvement shows that lead you to believe that any sort of remodel or renovation is a piece of cake. It takes a lot of work and a team of experts, and this is especially important with a historical home. You need to hire a contractor who has experience with this type of work so you can get accurate information about what the process will entail. And this doesn’t just mean a contractor who will rip everything out; if preservation is your goal, you have to work with people who understand this. 

A successful historical-home remodel takes skilled and experienced professionals, and that’s exactly what you will get with Tandem Contracting. For a free quote on your project, call us at 973-864-3100 or send us a message through our online contact form.

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