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Renovating an older property


I am always impressed by anyone who takes on the restoration of an old building.

I have done so twice in my lifetime.

It is never an easy journey and will be fraught by delays, cost overruns, several disappointments and many strategic errors that could have been avoided.

Ask anyone who has renovated a heritage home why they chose to practice this form of masochism they will likely use the word “character”.

But owning and renovating one comes with a price greater than its cost. While some buildings have a heritage designation that protects features of a property that are of special heritage interest, most do not.

For designated properties, any plans for repairs or alterations must be approved by a government-designated committee which is usually regulated at the city level and can take several months to approve.

However, buying a building without a heritage designation does not negate an owner’s responsibility to maintain the historic fabric of a building.

The features that make a building full of that character everyone talks about are most often architectural features like the doors or windows, trim details, or the masonry. These features can easily cost 50 per cent or more with a heritage home.

Always get a building inspection before buying.

Heritage properties are notorious for their surprises that will quickly blow away any budget.

A certified inspector will know the true cost to bring a building up to par.



Do not be in a rush to discard/replace things.

Installing vinyl windows may be the easiest and cheapest solution, replacing the original wood will eradicate any “character” no matter how “olde worlde” the vinyl may appear. The same rule applies with any architectural trim. There are many ways to fix and restore any original features at a reasonable cost.


When uncertainty about a decision occurs, stop, and do the necessary research.

Whether you are doing the work yourself or you’ve hired a professional builder, questions will inevitably arise on how to proceed with specific stumbling blocks. Never decide on the spot.

Take the time you need to do the appropriate research so that you make the right choice.

While the adage “time is money” is true, doing it right, once, is always less expensive.

Budget for a contingency fund, usually about 10 to 15 percent, then double it.

Make no mistake, renovating an older building will inevitably cost more than a newbuild.

Aside from the aforementioned “surprises” that may occur, today’s inflation and supply chain issues are making effective budgeting anybody’s guess.

Be conscious of “might-as-well-isms”.

They can never be completely avoided. Opportunities to do one thing while you’re doing another (”We might as well change the tile since we’re changing the cabinet”) are sometimes justified, especially when they will ultimately save money.

But too many will send a budget spiraling out of control.

Never be afraid to ask for help or advice if you feel stuck or overwhelmed.

Asking for help when you need it is infinitely smarter than wallowing in mistakes, delays and costly overruns caused by silly human pride.

Just say "Help!".


Always consider an offer of help or advice.

See Rule Number 6.







If at any time you feel in over your head, call in someone who knows best.

Self-confidence is essential and YouTube is a great resource for any DIY-er, but there will be times when hiring someone to do a specific job will be faster, easier, and cheaper.


The good news is, this amazing project will likely be one of the most fulfilling you will ever undertake. Please remember that when you feel like giving up.


And you will.

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