June 11, 2013

How to Keep a Renovation/Rehabilitation Project from Breaking the Bank

[10 on Tuesday] How to Keep a Renovation/Rehabilitation Project from Breaking the Bank from PreservationNation

Last week, in our ongoing series about renovating and rehabilitating historic homes, we looked at managing the construction process -- and today, we’re looking at the closely related topics of managing the budget and keeping costs down. Of course, everyone wants the best work they can afford, and by following a few easy steps, you can make your dollars go farther.

1. Know your budget. How much you have (and want) to spend on a project is a personal decision that needs to take into account your finances, home value, local real estate values, availability of loans, etc. Having this number in mind at the start of the project is key because it can help you make decisions from what contractor to select to the kinds of materials and finishes you can afford.

2. Gather estimates. Creating an accurate estimate for a historic home can be difficult for even seasoned professionals, because of the unknowns that may surface in a project. (Hello, asbestos abatement!) Most estimates are based on the time required to complete a project, the number of workers needed to complete it, and the hard costs of materials. You should get several estimates and compare both the price and the experience level of the professionals you select.

Tip: Always be sure to check references before you hire any firm or individual.

3. Set a payment schedule. Typically, you will pay for work as milestones are reached in the project plan you’ve agreed to with the contractor. Be sure the work is completed to your satisfaction before making payment. In the event your contractor wishes to be paid on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, assess the amount of work that remains and plan the payments accordingly.

4. Create -- and stick to -- a plan. Not sure how to get started with developing a construction plan? You’re in luck! We covered that in last week’s toolkit.

5. Follow a sequence. Completing like work together and in an order that doesn’t require backtracking cuts down on set-up and break-down time for craftspeople, keeping your costs down as well.

6. Be realistic. Make sure your plan and construction schedule have some flexibility built in to cover the inevitable delays without racking up additional costs.

7. Talk to the experts. In the event you’ve chosen a do-it-yourself route for your project, be sure to consult with knowledgeable researchers, architects, or landscape architects about your project.

8. Do not “fake it ‘til you make it.” Your DIY home restoration or rehabilitation work is not the time for on-the-job training. Before you start, learn the skills you’ll need to succeed -- either in a classroom setting, from material suppliers, or with hands-on training from craftspeople. Making mistakes due to lack of knowledge will end up costing in the long run.

9. Look for assistance. Though most low-interest loans, tax abatements, easements, and assistance for restoration or rehabilitation projects are for income-generating properties, you may be able to find a state or local program for homeowners. Check with your statewide historic preservation office (SHPO) to learn more.

10. Keep quality high. All these money-saving ideas aside, don’t skimp where it matters. It’s better -- and in the long run, cheaper -- to do things right the first time. Shoddy craftsmanship and/or inappropriate materials generally increase future costs, due to the need for repair or additional maintenance.

Sarah Heffern, the National Trust's former director of social media, embraces all things online and pixel-centric, but she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having first fallen for historic places in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class.

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