Family Home Restoration is a Labor of Love

Photo: David Sawyer/flickrIn my early twenties, I had a dream. My beloved maternal grandmother had recently passed away and I longed to live in her old home, nestled in the mountains of upstate New York. I had such wonderful memories of the joyful summer vacations my siblings, cousins, and I used to spend there, exploring the woods, picking wild mulberries and blackcurrants, and generally enjoying a taste of freedom. Unfortunately, the property burned down before I could make a move. However, it seems that I was not alone in my dream. These days, increasing numbers of young people are restoring and returning to old family homes.

Why Restore a Family Home?

Taking on the restoration of a home that once belonged to your grandparents or even great-grandparents is a labor of love. There is history and emotion attached to a home where you and your peers, as well as preceding generations, played, fought, and celebrated as a clan, gathering for holidays, birthdays, and reunions. In earlier, stabler times, your forebears may have lived in the home for years, perhaps all of their married life, and may have even built it with their own hands. Your family might use a nickname for the place, usually something simple but evocative like "The Farm" or simply "Grammy's."

If your grandparents are still alive, ask them for details they remember about the home's original construction and appearance. They will likely be proud to watch the home restoration take shape. Perhaps you will eventually host them for special family occasions just as they hosted you in years past.


There are several ways to acquire ownership of a family home. You might purchase it from family members, buy it from current owners who have no familial connection to you, or inherit it. In the first case, you will need to negotiate the tricky area of whether to request a professional inspection before putting your money on the line. (In the second case, of course, an inspection is a must.) Make sure that your whole family is on board with your plans for the property to avoid disagreements further down the road.

You may find that the home will need to be cleaned and completely gutted before the remodel can begin. Hire a contractor who has experience not only with general remodeling, but also with successful restoration of old homes. Ask to see samples of past work to make sure that the two of you are on the same page when it comes to your ideas.

Before work begins, check with your State Historic Preservation Officer to find out whether local law will dictate permissible upgrades. Make sure that all necessary permits have been pulled.

Identify the era and the style of the home (for example, Craftsman, as in the photo accompanying this article) so you can best preserve its character and integrity. Use classic materials and period-authentic design. And while you're going to the trouble of restoring the home, why not repair and reupholster the original furnishings as well?

Safety issues are paramount if you are taking on any part of the reno as a DIY job. Watch out for ancient wiring, falling plaster, and similar hazards.

Dollars and Cents

Renovation or remodeling is always a tricky business, notorious for coming in over budget, and restoration of an older home, especially if it's long been neglected, even more so. It's highly probable that you will need to live elsewhere for many months, paying rent on top of a mortgage, while the work is proceeding. Make sure that you are financially prepared.

Your down payment plus mortgage must be sufficient to cover not just the price of the home, but also restoration costs. FHA's 203(k) program and Fannie's HomeStyle Renovation Mortgage are two possible sources of home loans for your project. Some funding may be available through the IRS's Rehabilitation Tax Credit or the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well.

Laura Firszt writes for

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