As one of the oldest cities in Texas, San Antonio boasts many beautiful historic homes that are unique to the area. From the King William District and Monte Vista to Monticello Park and Alamo Heights, there’s no shortage of historic neighborhoods in the Alamo City. Many of the homes in these areas are well-maintained bits of history, and can offer a unique experience for those looking to renovate an older home.
These older homes offer many unique touches and benefits that have become less common in modern building practices. Decorative ceilings, wide skirting and architraves and leadlight windows are just a few features you’ll find in an old house. However, like most things, there are usually downsides to accompany all the perks of renovating an older home. Bad plumbing, bad wiring, bad substances that were banned a long time ago and small spaces are just a few issues you may run into.
If you are like us and have an appreciation for heritage or character homes and you’re looking to embark on a journey of renovating old houses, then here are five things you should know first.
1. Renovating old houses is not for everyone
Yes, we’ve watched HGTV, too. They always make it seem so simple and straightforward to take an old, run-down house and turn it into a glimmering diamond in the rough. Let us dispel a common misconception right off the bat: renovating old houses is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Depending on the age and the condition, older homes can actually be off-putting to some buyers and the amount of work potentially required to bring the old home back to life can be overwhelming.
Most older homes have generally already gone through a few renovations throughout their lifetime. A few layers of paint would have gone on the walls, and most likely a few layers of wallpaper too. An addition may have been tacked awkwardly onto the side or the back and the rooms have likely been upgraded in stages making it a bit of a mish-mash of eclectic styles. For many, it can be hard to see beyond this visual to see the potential the home has to offer. And many buyers will take one look and put it in the ‘too hard basket’ before they move on to a more modern home.
But if you’re not scared off by an older home in its original form and can see beyond the outdated cosmetic features to see the true bones of the home, then there is an opportunity to restore a piece of history and make your home the envy of the neighborhood.
2. Old houses can provide both opportunities and challenges
Older homes can definitely be a mixed bag of both opportunities and challenges. And sometimes, these won’t reveal themselves until your renovation is well underway.
For example, until you remove the layers of carpet, old vinyl or old tiles you won’t know if there is gorgeous hardwood flooring underneath or something that should have rightly been covered up. You also won’t know how good or bad the plumbing or wiring is until you start using it and introducing modern fixtures into the home.
This can be both exciting and terrifying (and why we started this article explaining why renovating old houses is not for everyone). We always recommend finding out as much information about the home as you possibly can before you start your renovations, but there are some things you simply won’t know about until you start pulling things apart.
And this is where you start to pay closer attention to your budget. It’s fair to say that it’s always better to have a flexible budget with older homes. You may save some cash by finding quality flooring under all the layers but that cash may be eaten up by an unexpected plumbing upgrade that’s necessary to achieve what you want.
Anyone who decides to embark on the journey of renovating old homes needs to go in with an open mindset and be ready to face both the opportunities and challenges that the home will reveal. (If these words excite you more than they scare you, then renovating old houses may just be your calling).
3. Old houses can provide gold not found in modern houses
While many can be put off by the work required to renovate old houses, we’ve yet to see anyone be offended by the character features that you can only find in older homes. The beautiful decorative cornices, the gorgeous leadlight windows, picture rails, open fireplaces… Yep, older homes can be jam-packed with an abundance of character and personality. Combining this old-world charm with modern features can result in a beautifully unique home not found anywhere else. And this, my friend, is true gold.
If you are renovating to sell, then a respectful and expertly applied renovation on an older home can reap results on sale day, as emotional buyers will often pay more for unique qualities.
Oh, and we haven’t even talked about the features beyond the home. Most older homes are situated on larger blocks. And with larger blocks comes greater opportunities. Add a shed, a small casita or even subdivide. Extra space is almost always a universal plus!
4. Renovating old houses requires extra knowledge
Now, we’re not saying this because we are professional renovation builders, we are saying it because it’s true. Renovating old houses requires you to know more. And if you don’t know more, you need to do your research.
First and foremost, you need to know what you can and cannot renovate. The local council may have restrictions in place on what you can and cannot do. The house may be heritage listed, which means you cannot change anything on the home that is of historical significance. Or there may be a character overlay on the property restricting you from making significant changes to the external elements of the home. It’s always best to know this information before you buy the property.
Secondly, there may be finishes and materials used within the home that can pose serious health risks if disturbed. Asbestos is one of those products. This can be perfectly harmless if left alone, but once you start pulling it down, sanding it, cutting it up or altering it in any way, you are putting yourself and everyone else at risk of inhaling harmful particles that can cause lung issues and cancer. Asbestos is not to be messed with. For major structural renovations and changes, all Asbestos should be removed by qualified professionals before any work begins.
Lead paint is another product commonly found when renovating old homes. This finish, just like asbestos, needs to be handled carefully and removed with the greatest of care to avoid lead poisoning.
We all know that as Texans, we love a good DIY project, but it’s strongly recommended that with older homes, you work closely with professionals to not only get the best outcome for the home but to also renovate safely.
5. Renovating old houses can be extremely rewarding
We’ve touched on this a few times, but we’re going to say it again because we cannot stress it enough. Renovating an old home can be extremely rewarding. If you’ve taken the time to get to know the character of the home, worked through the process of retaining the old-world charm to sit seamlessly alongside modern products and features, you will be rewarded with a completely unique home. A home that can retain its past history, continue its story and see a growing family into the future.
Have you renovated an older home? Do you want to get help and advice about renovating old houses? Urbano Design & Build is San Antonio‘s leading renovation and restoration home contractor, and we excel at serving heritage homes and old-style house renovations. See examples of our work, over in our portfolio, and then contact our team to start the restoration project you’ve been dreaming of taking on.