With the DIY movement in full swing, lots of homeowners are taking on projects they never would have dreamed of tackling before. And doing the work yourself is a great thing. It can save you money and can even be a lot of fun. But the task of restoring an older home is no small undertaking. Foundations can be weak, wiring can be frayed, gas lines can be rotted, and plumbing can be rusted. And more often than not, you will need to consult with experienced homebuilders for one or more areas of the project. Before you begin, here are just a few things you need to consider.
Heating and air units may have to be replaced
You will more than likely need to employ the services of a professional HVAC contractor to check out the heating and cooling system in the house. Chances are the unit in your old home are not up to code. There are specific regulations on the design regarding size, efficiency, and locations that may not have been a consideration when the home was first built. Also, central heating and air didn’t become commonplace until the 1960s. If your home was built before then, chances are it doesn’t even have the ductwork to install such a system. In other words, decisions about heating and cooling systems and the budget to install them should be made in the very early stages of renovation.
There are also safety concerns that may have to be addressed with older units. According to the National Fire Protection Association, “Heating equipment is a leading cause of home fire deaths.” This means it is crucial that HVAC units be inspected and serviced or replaced properly. In addition, you should arrange to have chimneys cleaned and inspected and install smoke alarms throughout the home.
Water damage can be more serious than it appears
Water damage can be critical. If you notice any water spots or leaks, you will want to have the home inspected thoroughly for structural damage before you take on any other repairs. Water damage can cause wood to rot, warp, or crumble, causing serious structural damage to the foundation and walls. And depending on how much water damage there is or how long it’s been allowed to sit, you could have to worry about mold and insect infestations that can cause all kinds of health problems. For example, black mold can aggravate allergies and even become deadly to those exposed to it. If black mold is found in a home, it is very difficult to remove and may cause serious health risks that make it uninhabitable. For this reason, it’s crucial that you have it inspected for such problems, especially if you’ve found water leaks.
Once you’ve assessed and repaired any water damage, you will want to ensure that the house is safe from future destruction. This can and usually does mean roof repair or replacement, window and door sealing or replacement, and basement waterproofing.
The plumbing may need to be replaced
Old pipes tend to rust and corrode over time, which leads to leaks and messes. And the problem with an old house that has been sitting for a while is that these issues may not surface until you’ve been living there a while. Unfortunately, plumbing can be one of the costliest repairs in your project. To completely replace old pipes in a 1,500-square-foot home could run anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000. And if they have to rip up flooring or cut into walls, you then have the expense of repairing that. For this reason, you certainly don’t want to have to replace pipes unless you have to, but in a much older home, chances are pretty high that it’s a necessity. As you can see, it’s important for your budget to hire a professional to inspect your plumbing before beginning your bathroom remodeling project. It would be a shame to have to cut up walls and pull out fixtures to make repairs after you’ve already taken the time and spent the money to renovate.
The age of your house may affect your loan amount
The bottom line when buying an older home is that the bank is not going to loan you more money than it’s worth. This means you will need to budget accordingly to make room for renovations. And because it might be a fixer-upper, you won’t have much equity to bargain with. But certain mortgage loans will allow you a little more leeway in terms of renovations. For example, a 203(k) mortgage is intended for improvements and repairs, even for the complete reconstruction of a home, as long as you keep the original foundation intact. A Fannie Mae HomeStyle Renovation mortgage is another type of home loan that can help with repairs and renovations. With these types of loans, the lender will oversee the renovations and will have certain requirements you will have to adhere to.
You may not be able to do everything at once
Because of the budget limitations you might have with an older home mortgage, you may have to pick and choose which projects come first. And because renovations in older homes can run into large amounts of money, you may be surprised at how quickly the costs add up. Start with the most important things like roof and foundation repairs, then move to HVAC and plumbing. Once the major obstacles are overcome, you can begin on cosmetic repairs and aesthetic improvements. Paint colors, cabinetry, and indoor and outdoor furnishings will probably be fun items to add and will give your home its personality. Just make sure you don’t spend all your money on decor before you get to the big things. If your home is unsafe or unfinished, outward appearances won’t do you much good.
You may not be able to save everything
One of the things you might love about the old house you’re restoring is all the details that went into the crown molding, light fixtures, cabinetry, and porch trim. But you might have to face the fact that some things simply can’t be saved. For example, you might be able to save a few of the trimwork pieces from the porch, but if it’s mostly rotted, it will probably have to be replaced completely. And old light fixtures can usually be reworked and rewired, but sometimes the one shade that broke on it is irreplaceable. In most cases, you can find someone to replicate the details you’d like to preserve, but it can also become quite costly. Ultimately, you will have to decide where the bulk of your budget will go and live with the fact that a few things will have to go.
Restoring an old house is one of the most rewarding experiences you may ever have. But it’s important to keep your expectations in check. Expect to spend more than you originally planned. Expect to hire professionals for part of the work. And expect to run into problems that you’re not sure how to fix. Most importantly, take your time, manage your budget, and enjoy the process.