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A few weeks ago I had coffee with an architect, Richard Pratt of Pratt Design Studio/Historic Home Architects, and lost track of the time we spent talking over project planning and how to properly approach a historic home renovation. He mentioned that on a daily basis, he encounters people moving projects into the design phase before adequate research is conducted. This, in his opinion, is like a doctor starting surgery without a thorough diagnosis or trying to build a house on a bad foundation.

I couldn’t help but wonder what the main differences are from a more current home renovation to a house dating back decades if not centuries. Given our uncertainty, I asked the expert himself.

What are some of the main considerations critical in the renovation of a historic home?

  • There can sometimes be regulations/structural restrictions if a home is a designated, registered historic home.
    • Registering federally does not directly impose design restrictions on the renovation or remodeling of the building’s exterior or interior. However, municipal zoning bylaws or other ordinances may restrict what you can do with your home if it’s in a town historic district or otherwise qualifies as a historic structure. (Your home may be subject to such bylaws whether it is registered as a historic building or not!)
  • Registering sometimes qualifies a property for grants, loans, and tax incentives. He said that a homeowner may be able get local incentives, but state and federal incentives usually require that the house be owned by a non-profit and open to the public as a museum a portion of the year. Other incentives may be available if the house is very special in the type of construction that was used, have been special to the community it’s in, be lived in or designed by someone notable, etc.

What is a good rule of thumb for forecasting costs of a historic home renovation (in the New Jersey region)?

For a reference point, the following table can be used to form a preliminary estimate the cost of a new home’s construction:

Style                   Standard                         Medium                           Luxury

Cost/SF               $250/SF                           $300/SF                           $350/SF

1,000SF              $250,000                         $300,000                           $350,000

2,000SF              $500,000                         $600,000                           $700,000

3,000SF              $750,000                         $900,000                           $1,050,000

A renovation project cost estimate is as follows:

Style                   Standard                         Medium                           Luxury

Cost/SF               $300/SF                           $350/SF                           $400/SF

1,000SF              $300,000                         $350,000                           $400,000

1,500SF              $450,000                         $525,000                           $600,000

2,000SF              $600,000                         $700,000                           $800,000

It’s important to remember that this serves as strictly a planning tool. These cost estimates are inclusive of general construction cost ranges only (excluding architect fees, consultants, land acquisition, permitting fees, and other soft costs acquired in the process).

Although every case is different, these points are critical to brainstorm prior to beginning the restoration of an older home or in designing a new home based on the styling of the past.

Sources referenced:

https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/faqs-about-buying-a-home-thats-a-designated-historic-property.html