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Is Rehabbing an Older Home for You?

Especially in a city with such historical significance and longevity as Washington DC and the surrounding greater DC are (like Alexandria), the thought of restoring an older, historic home has a lot of romantic appeal. There is just something about taking a neglected, outdated, and sad-looking structure and turning it into a showplace.

Home buyers with smaller budgets are also sometimes urged to go for the “fixer upper”, as a way to save money. While a fixer upper may carry a more appealing price tag, an historic structure (one approaching or exceeding 100 years 0ld) goes a little beyond the traditional definition of fixer upper. It’s not for the faint of heart or pocketbook.

So just exactly what are you in for if you decide to rehab an older home? There are many things to consider beyond simply the cost of the necessary updates/upgrades:

Regulations Governing Historic Buildings

Buildings that have historical significance pose special restrictions and requirements. Even if the building is not currently on an historic registry, having a connection, no matter how tenuous (think “George Washington slept here!”), to important historical events or figures can elicit a lot of public pressure the minute the Sold sign goes up. Neighbors, and thanks to social media, perhaps even persons unknown from all over the world, may call local politicians and news media or sign petitions to restrict the new owners’ ability to make certain changes to the property. Fortunately, while stories like this may make good fodder for the news engines, it doesn’t happen that frequently.

However, purchasing an older home still may fall into the purview of a local neighborhood association or historical society, which exist to protect the look and feel of historic neighborhoods and ensure that all updates/changes protect and preserve key features and architectural elements of the property  and prevent new construction from encroaching on the neighborhood. These boards can vary in their power. Some rely on peer pressure from neighbors to keep everyone in line, and others have the power of legally binding requirements and codes that must be followed. It’s important that you know in advance what you are getting into, BEFORE you close on the home and are stuck in a challenging situation.

You might be thinking, “it can’t be that bad, right?”  I mean, you like that 100-year-old home for it’s original custom woodwork and the ornate fireplace mantle, so how could you possible run afoul of the neighborhood committee? You’d be surprised. Everything from the siding and roofing material and the colors for the siding and trim, to the interior flooring and whether or not you can add ductwork for central air could be dictated. The restrictions could raise the headache factor for renovations considerably.

Permits

Mot major renovations require permits for doing certain types of work, such as electrical, plumbing, or room additions/extensions. Even putting up a fence or a carport could require a permit. However, for historical homes, you can expect to ratchet up the complexity in obtaining the necessary permits and ensuring that all renovations comply with the permit.

Before you even make the purchase, you may need to make several trips to the local zoning board or agency, to gather information about the property and what would be required to get approval for the proposed work. You want to go into the transaction with a clear understanding of all the hurdles you might face during the renovations process.

Costs

Bargain hunters may like the fact that they can pick up a neglected rowhouse or single-family home for perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands less than the the cost of purchasing an renovated home. However, the costs of updating such an old home may cost significantly more than the initial savings.

For instance, older homes may have used hot water heat and radiators to heat the home. Remediating the home for central heat and air and the necessary ductwork can significantly damage a reno budget. Electrical is another area that may pose some challenges. Homes may look like they have updated electrical if you look in the obvious places (behind outlet covers and switch plates), but when you tear into the walls, you may discover that newer wiring has been cobbled onto older knob and tube wiring. Not only is this a major fire hazard, but it will mean that the entire house will have be rewired.

You may have to also deal with lead paint and pipes, asbestos insulation, collapsed sewer connections, and any number of other environmental hazards. In addition to the cost involved in replacing these systems, there will also be environmental regulations governing the disposal of hazardous material. Not only can this prospect be expensive, it can also be a logistical nightmare.

Bringing an older home back to its former glory with all the modern comfort and convenience can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling. The value you gain, not only in experience and knowledge, but also the value of the home when complete, can be a source of satisfaction as well. However, going into the project with your eyes open to the costs and challenges will ensure that the not-so-pleasant surprises you may encounter don’t lead to your financial downfall. Don’t rush the purchase of an older home. Do your homework, and get all the necessary inspections and cost estimates before you pass the point of no return.

We can help you find rehab opportunities and put you in contact with top-notch contractors and inspectors if you feel this option is right for you. When it is time to sell or buy a home, having a local team you can rely on will make the process a smooth one. Call the Realtors® who love where they live and understand the local real estate market. ADMC Realty Group happily serves the communities in and around the Washington DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia areas. From start to finish, we’re here to help with all your Real estate needs. Give us a call at (202)596-8101 or email us at [email protected].

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