Restoring an Old House

Restoring an Old House: 5 Tips to Succeed With a Fixer-Upper

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Restoring an old house that needs extensive repairs is always a challenging endeavor. Whether you’re into such projects and you’ve bought the property yourself, or you’ve inherited or have been given it, you will need a good plan and all the help you can reasonably get to succeed. However, as you’ll be the one responsible for every choice and every decision, the effect may well be worth all the hassle.

First, you need to take a step back, though. Assess the damage, ideally with a hired inspector, and make a list of things that need to be done. Then, calculate the costs, prioritize the tasks, and develop a budget. After that, you can look for ways that will help you finance your project, whether it’s a regular loan, a probate loan, local or federal funding, and so on. Find out if you need any permits and, once the formalities have been dealt with, you can start with the work, remembering the right order and priorities.

With a good plan, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t succeed with your fixer-upper – join us as we go through the steps one by one below.

Assess the Damage

The first thing you need to do is take a good, hard look at the property and assess the damage. This is best done with a professional inspector, but if you want to do it yourself, make sure you cover every nook and cranny, both inside and out. 

Look for structural damage, dampness, mold, rot, cracks, and anything else that needs to be repaired or replaced. Keep in mind that some issues, such as asbestos, may not be immediately obvious, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

Once you have a clear idea of the work that needs to be done, you can start making a list of tasks, prioritizing them according to their importance.

Calculate the Costs

The next step is to calculate the costs of the repairs and replacements that need to be made. This will give you a clear idea of how much money you need to finance your project. 

Remember to factor in the cost of materials, and labor if you’re not planning on doing the work yourself, as well as permits, if necessary. To get an accurate estimate, it’s best to get quotes from different contractors. For larger projects, such as structural repairs, it’s advisable to get multiple quotes. 

It’s best to overestimate than underestimate, so add a healthy margin to your calculations to be on the safe side.

Develop a Budget

Once you know how much money you need, you need to develop a budget and stick to it. This is vital to make sure you don’t overspend and to keep track of your progress. Make sure to include all the costs we mentioned earlier, as well as a contingency fund in case anything unexpected comes up.

This is where prioritizing the tasks on your list comes in handy – not all repairs are created equal, after all, and some may be more pressing than others. Start with the most important repairs and leave the cosmetic work for later. By doing this, you can save money and still end up with a livable, albeit not perfect, home. 

Of course, there will always be some flexibility – you may find that some tasks can be combined or that some are not as essential as you thought – but it’s always best to have a plan. Make sure you discuss your priorities with your contractor so they can plan accordingly.

Look for Ways to Finance Your Project

The next step is to look for ways to finance your project. If you have the money – great, you can start work right away – but if not, there are a number of options available, such as regular loans, home equity loans, lines of credit, and so on. You can also look into government programs that offer funding for such projects.

There are many possibilities available, so do your research and find the best option for you. If you’re not sure where to start, your best bet is to speak to a banker or financial advisor. They can help you figure out which option is best for you. Whatever route you choose, make sure you have a realistic idea of the costs before you start spending.

Get the Necessary Permits

Depending on the extent of the work that needs to be done, you may need to get permits from your local authorities, e.g., a general building permit, a demolition permit, or a zoning permit. In the case of a really old property, you should also check with your local Historic Preservation Commission to see if there are any special regulations you need to follow. 

This is usually the case for more major repairs, such as structural changes or electrical work. Make sure you get all the necessary permits before starting work, or you may be forced to undo what you’ve already done, which will cost you time and money. This will vary depending on where you live, so make sure you check with your local authorities.

The Bottom Line

Restoring an old house is a challenging but rewarding endeavor. As you can see, there are many considerations to take into account when undertaking a project to restore an old house. With a good plan, finances, and a bit of elbow grease, you can bring an old property back to life and give it a new lease on life, turning a fixer-upper into a livable and beautiful home. 

Just remember to take your time, do your research, stay organized, and get professional help when necessary, and you’ll be sure to succeed and end up with a beautiful home that you can be proud of.

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Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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