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Saturday, November 5, 2011

So You Want to Restore an Old House

Restoring an old house is not for the faint of heart but I highly recommend it if you have an interest in historic preservation, you like old houses, and have a vision for bringing back to life an old house or building. The reward is unbelievably immense. OK, that's the romantic part of historic restoration. The reality is that you need to have an appreciation for the hard work that goes into the planning and execution of a restoration project. The planning piece can be fun but it does require attention to detail. You need to get educated on building codes and permits.  If you acquire a property in an historic district then you have to be prepared to deal with design guidelines for historic districts. On a more practical matter, you need to know what you're getting yourself into in terms of the property you're buying and restoring. Does the house have good "bones"? Is the foundation failing? Does the roofing need to be replaced? Will you contract the project out or will you be your own contractor?  Do you need the services of an architect?  How will you finance the project? Can the structure be insured?  These are some of the many questions that need to be answered as part of the decision and planning process. I strongly recommend that you develop a restoration or rehab plan that includes the scope of the restoration of the property, an inspection of the building to assess any damage or failing systems and a realistic budget.  Having a written scope of work is critical especially when working with the historic preservation office and to meet design guidelines for historic districts.

Every restoration project is different and you always learn something new during the project. The one thing that we've learned is to expect the unexpected.  For example, when we bought the old house we're currently working on we were able to get the property insured. However, shortly after the we closed we received notice from our insurance carrier that we needed to remove overhanging tree limbs over the house, repair a severely cracked concrete driveway and remove a large vine that had grown through the vinyl siding on one side of the house. The insurance company gave us 30 days to remedy those issues otherwise they would cancel our policy  We knew that we would have to fix those issues as part of the restoration process but did not expect to be hit with a cancellation notice on our insurance policy. We decided to address those issues to satisfy the insurance company. Expect the unexpected!

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