There is something both romantic and challenging about old houses. You enter one and tell yourself… I can make it so much better, this can be brought back to life. Once you set your heart on your property, you will have a target in mind and the fantasy that it will be splendid when finished. Possibly, you include a ‘happily forever after’ at the end of your musings and hopefully so.
But, whether an old house may start off as a bargain-full bargain, or an expensive investment, in the end, you need expertise to make it come together. Most people will engage a turnkey company and just let it happen in its own time. You might opt to go solo and carry out the management of works like a project manager and that is where you really need to know your stuff to keep sane. Here are some guidelines to help you pave your way:
Money, money, money…
You will need cash, ready cash in hand. Renovations in old buildings cost money and will involve plenty of different workers along the way. Keep track of payments, ask for fiscal and VAT receipts and never, ever engage anybody without a written quote in hand.
Put an architect in your life
Find a good, reliable, patient, efficient and careful architect. You might think this is impossible, but really and truly, such professionals do exist. Once you find one, treasure him or her like a gem. The architect will guide you along, become a point of reference, assist and advise in solving issues with authorities, builders and other workers, help you turn things round and come on site whenever you need to consult.
Changes cannot happen haphazardly most especially in old constructions. You will require permits which come wrapped in red tape; you will need time because even a coat of paint needs time to dry properly; you will need to be diplomatic with people you don’t know well and who don’t know you well either. You can always sit and rage in the car and only let steam out in public when somebody foolishly knocks off one of the old stone staircase steps.
Think beyond your property
Think telephone lines, water and electricity supply, TV cables, road access, road permits, parking permits. All related companies, bodies or authorities will need to be contacted to get systems connected, disconnected, wires aligned and adjusted, etc, etc. Compile a contact list including the local council office, wherein yours will become a familiar face… You will need to reserve parking space for cranes, lifters, movers, and book bulky disposal service too. Have the local police station number also at hand in case somebody carelessly blocks your booked parking slot just when you’re expecting the cherry picker to deliver the window frames.
Hunting the workers
Seek builders, electricians, plasterers, painters and plumbers and arm yourself with pen, paper and, again, time. Typically, several of those you call, will turn up to get an overview of what needs doing, promise a quote and never produce it. Others will ask you to call them for their quote. Don’t. If they cannot be bothered, neither should you. Ignore the exorbitant prices but use them so as to become diffident of those who quote cheaply. The latter will eventually stagger hidden costs that raise expenses exponentially. Personal recommendations may or may not work. Again, once you find somebody reliable, consider yourself blessed.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help
Unless you are personally organised forget it all and ask somebody else to do it. You need coordination and thought to make things happen as smoothly as possible. There will be days when you will need to engage somebody to bodily remove an old window frame, so that the plasterer can prepare the window space, before the carpenter comes in with the new wooden window frame and fits it in. It has to happen in one morning since the weather man conveniently said it will rain at siesta time.
Be prepared for hiccups
One of the workers may need time away for a family mourning, somebody may get the flu and there are public holidays. Neighbours may complain of the noise, so you need to step in to iron things out. The building itself may decide to surprise you when the architect informs you of some unexpected fault that needs attention… a floor that requires resurfacing before laying new tiles, for instance.
But it is doable
Every so often you will need to step away and look from a distance, ask yourself whether you know what you are doing and then drink some more coffee before settling another bill. Once it is all complete, you may have lost a few calories, built up your stamina and gotten heartburn, but you will have lived to tell the tale. And that old house and its ghosts will thank you for it.
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