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Should You DIY or Hire a Pro for your Historic Reno?

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 toolkit explains different types of professionals who can help you, plus important things to consider before hiring them.

1. Contracting 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.

2. Choosing an architect. Architects can inspect the 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.

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Set of architectural plans.

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

4. Deciding 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.

5. Choosing a general contractor. 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, and 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.

6. Considering 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.

7. Understanding your subcontractors. 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.

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Stained glass craftsman demonstrating his skill.

8. Hiring appropriate 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.

 

9. Finding qualified professionals. Reference Historic Wilmington Foundation’s Preservation Resource Network or contact the NC State Historic Preservation Office or other trade associations. These lists are reference tools and do not necessarily 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 — 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.

10. Talk with former clients of potential professionals you are considering hiring. If possible, visit completed projects. Some questions you can ask include:

  • 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?
With the exclusion of the reference to HWF’s PRN, this article was written by Emily Potter and published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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