Reader’s Letter – Taking on a BIG renovation project.

There are times when life gets in the way of our website. Thankfully, we have this blog which allows us to keep up with our readers in the meanwhile.

We recently received an email from a brave reader in Washington DC, who is looking to restore a row house shell and asked if we at RowHouse had any advice.

I love people who are willing to restore an old home. Neighborhoods are reborn through restoration. It’s our very favorite type of recycling. And, to reward the intrepid owner for saving a row house in need, they get a custom home. But there are some things to consider.

Renovations are expensive. Tally up the total you think it will be and double it. For every cost you are aware of, there will be sneaky things like eating out, renting tools, permits and cookies for the workers. Renovation is not decorating. You can’t compromise or go cheap on things that will affect safety or stability of your home. Cutting corners results in horror stories later on. Make sure you have ample budget.

Along with plenty of money, make sure you have plenty of time. A realistic time frame will allow you enough time to make informed decisions about everything from the layout and interior design to the small details like palette and fixtures.

It is unlikely a larger renovation will be something you can do entire alone so you’ll need to assemble a team of professionals like an architect (someone who can not only design but also navigate the permit process), engineer, contractor, plumber and electrician (at least). Having friends who can help out, provide moral support and the occasional place to stay is also helpful. To get the best team, ask your friends who’ve had work done for recommendations. Angie’s List and ServiceMagic are great websites for honest reviews of contractors/plumbers/etc. Remember, the people you hire to help you are going to make or break you so do a lot of research and check all references, confirm insurance and proper licenses.

Before you buy, you want to make sure the row house has a sound foundation. If the bones aren’t good, all the other repairs you do will fall apart so you want to make sure there is no structural damage. If that’s ok, your team will help you decide what to do next.

Take some time to educate yourself about home restoration. Most cities also have development groups, such as an historic architecture/preservation committee, who can also provide guidance. Again, the more research you do and the more knowledgeable you become, the better your renovation will turn out.

Renovating is an adventure. It’s also like running a marathon. Taking your time and pacing yourself usually gets the best results. Go into the project knowing that things will go wrong and take twice as long as you anticipate and you’ll be fine.

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