Financing a historic-home project, Part II

Sorry I didn’t post yesterday, but this is the second part of the article I shared Friday. Stephanie Rose was my source, and she is the unrivaled preservation expert around these parts. She is my muse, and I’m honored to call her my friend too.

Remember this house from the Historic Homes for the Holidays tour? Stephanie breathed life back into it. And now it’s a vacation rental you can book here. AND I just might be staying there for a girls’ weekend in the not-too-distant future. 🙂 Without further ado, here’s Stephanie:

For veteran old-house enthusiast Stephanie Rose, who lives in a historic home, has fixed up two others, and is currently renovating two more, there are plenty of ways to make the most of an old-house project financially:

1. Not all contractors and subs respect old houses and will work to save what’s worth saving. So gauge their interest with careful questions. “Have conversations and say, ‘This is what I value. These are the parts of the house that matter to me, and if it can be saved, I want to save it,’” she said. (Editor’s note: See that gray brick in the photo? I insisted that it be saved in our house. You can see how it turned out below.)

Then check their responses. “We don’t have a strong preservation culture here. You’re lucky if you can find someone who has an affinity for old houses,” she said. When you find these tradespeople, capitalize on their skills.

Stephanie, who works on houses with her husband Bill Bauer and parents Gary and Jo Rose, said that although the four of them do a lot of their own work, they also hire a lot of it out. Working with people who share their vision is key to getting the finished product they want.

2. Sometimes a house suffering from a bad rehab will give you more liberties and likely cost less. If a historic home was remodeled in the ’70s, for instance, chances are that many original features will already be gone. But this will give you a “blank slate,” or freedom to choose the finishes you want rather than working with what’s there. “When you’re tearing that stuff out, you’re just tearing out junk,” Stephanie said, adding that renovating a house that’s already lost its original character will certainly be less expensive than buying one and restoring everything that deserves to be saved.

Photo by Casey James Photography

3. Whether the features inside are original or not, save the materials you pull out. “Salvage everything you can. If you take something out, you save it,” she said, noting that you can always rip down old wood to use elsewhere.

4. Pace yourself. Taking it slow might also mean paying for projects as you go, which is financially savvy but does require patience.

Stephanie said she cringes when she’s called a house flipper because there’s nothing fast about what she does. In fact, she recommends living in a house for a while before making major changes.

“Sometimes you need to live in a house for a while so it can talk to you,” she said, adding that some of the quirks of an old house will become your favorite features. But if you don’t give them a fair shot by living with them, you might never recognize their wonder. •

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