When Cassie and Steve Murray moved to upstate New York, they loved the idea of buying an old home, even though finding one that needed extreme renovations would be a huge project for their growing family. But because of the history and charm that can come with an old house that is 100 years or older, they were willing to put in the work.
“We both really like the character of old homes,” said Cassie. “When we started looking to buy, we decided we wanted to take on an old house if one came up in our price range.”
Since Steve is a contractor who specializes in remodeling homes, the couple planned to tackle the project themselves. They found the perfect home built in 1850, and as you can see from the photos – they had their work cut out for them!
If you’re considering buying an old home, especially one that is 100 years or older, in dire need of repair and remodel and making it your own, keep reading for a few tips from the Murrays who say the charm, and the price tag, is worth the work.
Buy an Old Home with ‘Good Bones’
Although many houses built in the 19th and early 20th centuries are going to have issues, it’s important to find one that has a strong foundation, said the Murrays.
“Whatever home you buy, make sure it has good bones,” said Cassie, who writes about her remodeling adventures on her blog Mountain View Lane. “You want a good structure. Because if it’s built well, it will last.”
When you’re touring old houses, Cassie said you should bring a pencil or tennis ball to give you an initial idea of how strong the structure is.
“Put the tennis ball or pencil in the middle of the floor, and watch to see how fast it rolls,” she said.
“The faster the roll, the more the floors are bowing. And that could mean structural problems.”
It’s important to also have a home inspector confirm your structural suspicions during a thorough inspection, if you put in an offer on the home.
Budget for a Major Remodel and a Rental Home
An old home – especially one that needs major repair – may come with a cheaper price tag, but you may need extra cash to complete the renovations. The Murrays recommend expecting, and budgeting for, extra projects that may come up.
“You just never know what you’re going to get into during a remodel,” said Steve. “I had an open mind that there were going to be electrical and plumbing problems, but I wasn’t planning to find a lot of old beehives in the walls.”
If you plan to gut and remodel your entire home, as the Murrays did, you should budget for a rental property to stay in during major construction.
“We rented a home for a couple months, so we could do the big projects,” Cassie said. “We ended up moving into the house during the remodel. There were times when expenses got overwhelming.”
In case you may need to move into your home before the end of the remodel, Steve recommends having the essential rooms done early.
“Get the master bedroom done, so you have a place to live in during the construction,” he said. “Once your bed is in, you don’t want to move it again.”
The Murrays recommend saving money by DIYing some of the easier renovations, like laying tile or adding landscaping. As you can see here, Steve repainted their home himself to take it from drab to farmhouse fab!
“Don’t be surprised what you can do yourself,” Cassie said. “But it’s important to know your limitations, and don’t be afraid to call experts when projects become too difficult.”
Keep an Open Mind When Buying an Old Home
Most of the time a home that’s been around for a century or so is going to have some rough edges. But it’s important to get past the present and think about the future possibilities!
“When we first toured our house, it only had one bathroom and it was upstairs,” said Cassie. “When our house was built originally, it probably didn’t have a bathroom. It’s really interesting to think about how the people who lived here so many years ago had such a different way of life.”
The Murrays added an extra bathroom, and they even moved their once-tiny kitchen to fit into the open floorplan they wanted in their home. As you can see, they added modern cabinets and crown molding! They had to see past the old home and imagine the new home that would work for them.
And don’t expect the project to happen overnight. A home remodel is a huge project, after all!
“Be patient when you’re redoing an old home,” said Cassie. “We’re not done yet. My kitchen cabinets still need doors and things like that. But it will get to where we want it.”
Photos courtesy of the Murrays.