How to Find and Hire Contractors for a Historic Home Restoration

Lauren Murphy
Written by Lauren Murphy
Reviewed by Robert Tschudi
Updated January 27, 2022
The facade of a an early 20th century grand mansion
Photo: Jon Lovette / Stone / Getty Images

Hiring a historic home restoration contractor can be a daunting task that requires thorough vetting to ensure everything goes smoothly

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Restoring your historic home is a big project that requires plenty of skill and care. So finding the right contractor to work with is crucial. While the vetting process can be a painstaking one, following this hiring guide will make it a little easier.

Historic Home Restoration or Renovation?

Essentially, restoring a home means returning it to its original state, while renovating means adding something new to it.

If you want to preserve the features of your historic homes, like classic crown molding and stained glass windows, restoring it is the way to go. Through historic home restoration, you can keep all of the home’s old features while refurbishing them to look almost new again.

Renovation usually means starting from scratch. It’s a great option if you prefer a more modern space. In a renovation, you (or your contractor) will rip out old cabinets, flooring, appliances, etc. to replace them with brand new versions. Typically, that takes more time, labor, and materials, making renovation more expensive than restoration.

Some contractors are experts at restoring historic home features, while others are better at renovations. Research the professional that’s right for your project before breaking ground.

Before Hiring a Historic Home Restoration Contractor

First things first—call your local historic preservation office, historical society, or house museum. The people there may have suggestions for reputable contractors to work with. You can also ask them about historic home restorations that you have seen and liked in your area to determine who worked on them.

“Renovating historic homes is more than another job for a general contractor; it’s a passion,” says Bob Tschudil, a Angi Expert Review Board member and general contractor in Raleigh, NC. “If your contractor is not excited about the historic component, then you need to find another contractor. Historic renovation often requires extra work to make it historically ‘correct.’”

Before you hire a contractor to restore your historic home, do your research. Break out that yellow legal pad and make a list of potential contractors or firms that you’re interested in working with. Check out each one’s past work and read as many customer reviews as you can handle to get an understanding of their skill level.

Check Your Historic Home Restoration Contractor’s Qualifications and References

When you’re deciding which contractor to hire to restore your historic home, ensure that they are fully qualified, licensed, and insured. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, so check your state’s requirements online.

Check for the contractor or firm’s license and see how long they have been in business. The longer they have worked on historic homes, the more experienced (and skilled) they will be.

After you have thoroughly vetted the contractor, talk to people they have worked with in the past. It’s best to target past customers with projects similar to yours. They can let you know how their overall experience was. And, if possible, you can ask to visit to see the finished work first hand.

Questions to Ask Your Historic Home Restoration Contractor

Ask your contractor about their qualifications and past work before hiring them. Their answers to other questions, covering things like the project’s timeline and payment options, will help you gauge whether or not this is the right person for your project. Questions to ask your historic home restoration contractor include:

  • Are you licensed and insured?

  • Will the project require building permits?

  • How long have you been in business?

  • Do you have experience with historic homes?

  • How much do you charge?

  • Will you use subcontractors?

  • Are there dated features, like knob and tube wiring or lead paint, that should be replaced?

  • What would you recommend replacing vs. restoring?

  • Are there significant structural concerns, like a sagging basement or vertical cracks?

  • What modern day features, like Internet or heating & cooling, can be added?

  • What is the timeline for completion?

Hiring a Historic Home Restoration Contractor

Now that you’ve settled on a contractor, here’s what to do next.

Get a Contract and Arrange Payments

You’re ready for next steps when a contractor checks all of your boxes. Once they’re on board, make sure you have a written contract to spell out every little detail of the project. A signed contract ensures that all parties are aware of the expected work, the project’s timeline, and expected payment. This document will save you in the event that a problem arises or the contractor goes back on their word. So even if you know the contractor personally, having a signed contract is essential.

Some contractors will ask for a payment plan that calls for periodic payments throughout the entirety of the project. They usually don’t require the money upfront. Detail all of this in the contract.

Keep Records of Your Historic Home Restoration Project

A traditional cape house built by the coast
Photo: ideeone / E+ / Getty Images

Once again, break out that yellow legal pad and get ready to take notes. Document the contractor’s progress throughout the project. Keep track of how many hours they work and whether or not they are sticking to the schedule they agreed to. Then, if something goes wrong, you’ll have some proof that they violated the contract. If a problem occurs that needs to be resolved in a court of law, your diligent note taking and trusty yellow legal pad will come in handy.

Be Aware of Any Contractor Red Flags

Unfortunately, home improvement scams aren’t all that uncommon. That’s why vetting contractors before hiring them is so important (as is having them sign a contract). Be wary of contractors who want cash upfront or who ask you to secure the proper building permits themselves.

After Your Historic Home Restoration Contractor Has Finished

The weeks (or months) of stress and hard work may be over, but you still have a few to-dos before all is said and done. Do a final walkthrough of your newly-restored historic home with your contractor. They can point out the specific work that was done and you can ask questions and ensure that everything is up to snub.

If everything looks good, make the final payment to your contractor and congratulate them on a job well done. Make sure to leave them a review or agree to be a reference for them for future projects if you’re happy with their work.

Now it’s time to put away your yellow legal pad and break out your cleaning supplies instead. Home remodels are notoriously messy, so you may find yourself picking up stray paintbrushes and random nails even after the contractor finishes. Home projects of this scale also leave a thick layer of dust that covers every nook and cranny. Thoroughly clean your home to get it looking sparkling again. Bonus—no more worrying about stepping on a loose nail while wandering around barefoot.

Congratulations—you made it! Time to brew a strong cup of tea and sit down to admire your like-new home.

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