May 16, 2023

Should You Hire a Professional?

Once you've decided whether you need to restore or rehabilitate your historic house, the next step is deciding whether you want to DIY it or hire a professional.

Taking on a restoration or rehabilitation project can be enjoyable if you like hands-on work, whereas hiring a professional can save you time. Or, you might want to do a little of both, where you work on the projects you’re passionate about and contract experts to finish the rest.

Whatever approach you take, the decision involves knowing how much time and money you want to spend, what your interests are, and what skills you’re looking to hire someone for. This list of questions will help you explore different types of professionals who can help you, plus important things to consider before hiring them.

Stained-glass craftsman demonstrating his skill.

Should I contract with a historical researcher?

A historical researcher typically provides the homeowner with a written report detailing the history and architecture of the house, along with biographical sketches of former owners or inhabitants. Researchers can also complete nomination forms to list properties in the national or state register or local list of historic buildings.

What can an architect do for my project?

Architects can inspect the historic house to determine existing conditions; develop an architectural program to determine best uses for existing rooms; provide conceptual drawings; assist homeowners with obtaining and reviewing bids from contractors; and develop a construction schedule and oversee work.

Tip: To find an architect qualified for your project, contact your local or state chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). You can also reach out to your state historic preservation office (SHPO). Note: Neither the AIA nor the SHPO guarantees or endorses the work of the architects on the list.

What could an interior designer add to my project?

An interior designer specializes in interior finishes, including wall, floor, and ceiling surfaces, fixtures such as lighting, kitchen, and bathroom, and furnishings.

How do I decide on a landscape architect or designer?

A landscape architect or designer can analyze the existing landscape, design one that is appropriate to your house, and prepare drawings and specifications for its restoration or rehabilitation. They can also help obtain bids from landscape contractors and oversee the work.

Tip: Check your state chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), as well as your SHPO. As with architects, no endorsement is given or implied.

What does a general contractor provide?

A general contractor provides the construction services required to actually restore or rehabilitate your house. Typically, services include securing and providing materials, labor, and equipment, as well as managing subcontractors and craftspeople. General contractors also usually obtain building and other permits required by the local government.

Tip: The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) can provide you with a list of general contractors who have listed their expertise in residential remodeling. Like the others, NAHB does not endorse or guarantee the work of the contractors on the list.

Should I consider a design/build firm?

When architects and contractors join together, they become a design/build firm, offering a full range of design and contracting services. On one hand, hiring a design/build firm instead of an architect and contractor separately may save you time and possibly money. On the other hand, you will not have the benefit of an independent architect acting on your behalf to oversee construction and make sure the contractor is doing work properly.

How do subcontractors work?

Subcontractors provide specialized building trades or services, such as finished carpentry, plastering, masonry work, and plumbing. The general contractor is usually responsible for selecting the subcontractors, coordinating their work, ensuring that it is done correctly, and paying them.

When should I hire preservation craftspeople?

Craftspeople provide specific crafts or services not typically used in new construction, such as repairing or installing stained glass or applying gold leaf to surfaces. To find craftspeople in your area, check with your SHPO, or contact the pertinent professional or trade associations.

How do I know the professional is qualified?

We can’t say it enough: Please remember that lists from your SHPO and other professional and trade associations do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee for contractors’ work. Ask family, friends, and neighbors for recommendations as well, then interview those you’re considering hiring—as well as their former clients (see next item)—and visit completed projects. Ultimately, select professionals on the basis of the quality of their work, how well you like their work, and how well you think you can work with them.

Ok, I’m considering hiring a professional for my restoration or rehabilitation project. What questions should I ask their former clients?

When you interview former clients of potential professionals, here are some questions you can ask:

  • Did the professional listen to the owner’s ideas and explain how they could be incorporated into the design (or why they should not be?
  • Did the professional help define a reasonable project to fit your budget?
  • Was the design sensitive to the historic and architectural character of the house?
  • Was the design produced on schedule and for the agreed-upon fee? If not, were the changes reasonable?

And again, if possible, try to visit their completed projects.

Donate Today to Help Save the Places Where Our History Happened.

Donate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation today and you'll help preserve places that tell our stories, reflect our culture, and shape our shared American experience.

An earlier version of this story was published on May 28, 2013.

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