Can't afford restoration? Don't give up hope

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Historic Preservation

If you live in an old house, chances are you are well versed on both the charms and the not-so-wonderful parts. The latter can include the cost of upkeep on the house, high utility bills and the price tag attached to renovations and restorations. In fact, there might be times when you throw up your paint-stained hands and say, "Forget it. There's no way I can afford the time, effort or cash to renovate this place the way it deserves."

But before you walk away from your old house restoration, get creative. There are many ways to afford the changes -- you just have to have plenty of patience and the fortitude to find them.

5 ways to afford historic preservation

With an old house, it's easy to get in over your head. This is especially true if you are looking to restore your property to its original glory, rather than taking the renovation route. If you do run into funding problems, consider these options to help you over the hump.

  • Take advantage of a unique status. If you have a historic home that happens to have a storied history, you might get lucky with a conservation group that wants to preserve the home and can help you do that with some funding. However, if you have a property that is very unique, such as a converted library, firehouse or even an old barn, some states offer financial incentives to keep the property looking great. The Preserve Mass Barns program in Massachusetts is one good example.
  • Look into tax credits. Some states offer tax credits for homeowners who seek to restore historic homes. This is especially true if your home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In some areas, a home in a designated historic district or a home that is a historic landmark might be eligible for additional tax credits or some funding from historic organizations. As of July 2012, thirty states offered some sort of credits for historic commercial properties, and some of those states included help for residential properties. The State of Rhode Island offers a good example of this.
  • Speak to friends and family about the situation. When I was working on my first old house, I ran into the very common problem of not enough cash to finish the job. My mother came to the rescue. She had some funds tucked away and loved the idea of preserving a home for generations to come. If you have family and friends who feel as strongly about old houses and restoration as you do, invite them to come over and take a look. You never know where that might lead.
  • Turn it into a community effort. Those who live in historic communities want to see the houses around them restored to their original glory. If you need help with funding or simple labor when it's time to tackle restorations, turn to your neighbors for help. In fact, consider a working weekend capped off with a neighborhood barbecue. That kind of community spirit can provide much more than help with your restoration!

Finally, remember that restoration or renovation on old houses will cost more than you think -- always. So it pays to set money aside in a rainy-day house fund in order to pay for the little surprises that will pop up when it's time to take the plunge into fixing up your old house.