How Old Is Too Old to Renovate?
Whether you’re in the market for a historic house or you’re looking for a cheap flip, you may be asking: How old is too old? Is there an era, a decade or a year that marks the line between a fixer upper and a money pit?
Unfortunately, there’s not a cut-and-dry answer to that question. There’s no hard and fast rule that homes built after 1900 are salvageable, but homes built 1899 or before are lost causes.
Every home from every era is unique. Some were built wisely by master craftsmen and others are filled with cut corners and poor planning. Some have not been updated since the original build date. Other homes have been given careful upgrades to keep up with changing codes. Still others have been renovated again and again, all by inexperienced or untrustworthy workers who have destroyed the home’s structural and aesthetic integrity.
The best way to tell if a home is worth renovating is to compare its specific aesthetic, functional and structural needs against your budget, skill set, time and similar factors. If you need help financing your renovation project, you may apply for rehab loans.
Removing hazardous materials and repairing severe structural issues are big budget tasks. Unfortunately, they yield little returns other than safety and peace of mind. Repairing foundations, removing asbestos or replacing wiring make your home livable, but they don’t tend to affect the resale value.
While older homes are more likely to contain out-of-code electrical work or hazardous building materials, newer homes are not a guarantee of structural stability.
Major concerns may include:
- Outdated electrical: Replacing your home’s wiring can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000 depending on the size of your home. Homes with knob and tube wiring (common in 1920’s homes) will automatically require an overhaul for safety reasons.
- Faulty plumbing: Plumbing costs vary depending on the type of material used. Replacing all the plumbing in a modest home could run between $4,000 with PEX to $10,000 with copper pipe. Plumbing should last for half a century or more without issue, but it does require a watchful eye. Homes built between 1900 and 1940 had steel plumbing, which has a nasty tendency to rust closed or burst.
- Foundation issues: Repair is the only option when major foundational issues threaten the structural integrity of your home. Unfortunately, these issues have more to do with workmanship or drainage and little to do with a home’s age. If your repair requires a hydraulic lift, you can expect a bill upwards of $10,000.
- Old or faulty roof: A good roof usually only lasts 20 to 30 years so, again, this issue is not era specific. Angie’s List users reported spending an average of $11,095 to replace their roofs in 2014. Costs can vary widely due to material and size.
Concerns like mold, asbestos, fire hazards or shoddy work by previous owners are difficult to price. Costs can vary from a few hundred dollars to thousands based on the extent of the issue and the man hours required to fix it.
If you’re willing to accept a faulty structural item in the house and have plans to replace it, there are a few environmentally-friendly upgrades to consider. Options like a “Green Roof” can increase a roof’s lifespan, improve your roof’s thermal performance, and filter pollutants out of your rainwater. You can also add solar panels if you live in a generally sunny and open area.
A word to the wise, though, make sure you know the full extent of any structural damage. Addressing major concerns can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. The scope of the issue, worker availability and unforeseen complications can all play a role in determining a project’s completion time.
Cosmetic and Functional Changes
Replacing a roof or repairing a foundation may be necessary, but it’s not very fun. Making cosmetic or functional changes is where most homeowners have fun putting their personal stamp on a home.
These changes tend to rely on personal preference rather than urgent safety concerns and can include:
- Renovating a kitchen to maximize square footage.
- Replacing dated appliances and upgrading cabinets, countertops and other features.
- Renovating a bath to maximize square footage and upgrade tubs, showers, sinks and other features.
- Replacing dated light fixtures.
- Changing dated design choices that don’t fit the owner’s aesthetic.
- Returning a home to a period-accurate aesthetic.
- Changing the layout or adding additional bedrooms or bathrooms.
These preference-based changes can cost anywhere between $30 for a can of paint to upwards of $25,000 for a kitchen renovation. As with structural repairs, costs can vary depending on your area of residence.
Timelines will vary by project. Repainting a room is a day’s work, while a complicated kitchen renovation could take months to reach completion.
These changes are more likely to affect resale value, but they do have their limits. To get the most value out of your renovation, use your home’s current value to help calculate your budget. A kitchen budget, for example, should cost no more than 10 to 15% of your home’s value.
What This All Means
The bottom line is this. When you’re looking at renovations or repairs, “Is this home too old?” isn’t the best question to ask. Instead ask, “What do I want?”
Do you want a quick flip to make money? Do you want a home designed to your specific, modern specifications? Or do you dream of restoring an old home to its historic glory? By combining your personal desires with a realistic budget, you can move on to determining whether a specific home is right for your renovation goals.
Author: Megan Wild wants to inform homeowners about the possibilities and problems that their home may have. To read more of her tips and ideas, visit her blog, Your Wild Home.